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Black ice creates havoc


November temperatures, half-a-month overdue, arrived with a vengeance last week, bringing with them that bane of winter travel: black ice.

Between 6 a.m. and noon on Tuesday, Nov. 18, the KPD recorded nine motor vehicle accidents — eight of them in South Kearny — all involving black ice.

In the first crash, which occurred on Fish House Road, Officer Steven Hroncich suffered head, neck and back injuries when his patrol car was read-ended by a DMS Express truck, Chief John Dowie reported. The patrol car was deemed “totalled” and was towed to headquarters, where it sits in the police yard.

Dowie said there were “severe icing conditions” on the road at the time and a request was made to Hudson County to come and salt it.

The subsequent accidents occurred at 6:12 a.m. on Harrison Ave.; 6:14 on Fish House; 7:33 on Harrison; 7:44 on Fish House; 8:05 on Harrison; 8:12 on Rt. 1/9; 10 (there was a lull) on Jacobus Ave.; 11:45 at Kearny and Bergen Aves., and at noon on Pennsylvania Ave. in South Kearny.

But that didn’t end the motor vehicle havoc.

Although ice did not necessarily play a role, additional accidents on that day were reported at 3:30 p.m. at Bergen Ave. and Belgrove Drive; 3:49 on Kearny Ave.; 6:45 on Rt. 1/9 and 11:20 on Harrison Ave.

Aside from those to Hroncich, there reportedly were no serious injuries.

– Karen Zautyk 

KPD: Mother knows best

A teenage auto-theft suspect who led police on both a car chase and a foot chase ended up cooling his heels in the Hudson County Youth House last week, KPD Chief John Dowie reported.

The adventure began at 4:20 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 16, when the KPD issued a BOLO that a 1998 beige Lexus had just been stolen from the area of Kearny and Quincy Aves. Moments later, Officer Daniel Esteves spotted the vehicle and attempted to stop it at Belgrove Drive and Woodland Ave., but it fled south on Belgrove, police said.

Esteves pursued it along Belgrove to Sheridan Ave. to Johnston Ave., where the driver attempted to turn west and struck a parked car. At that point, police said, the thief abandoned the Lexus and began fleeing on foot east on Johnston, down Grant Ave., across Belgrove, along Clark St. and then on a “serpentine route” through the Gen. Kearny apartment complex. Esteves, also on foot, was after him the entire way.

Backup Officer Luis Moran, who had arrived on Belgrove, saw the youth attempting to hide in some bushes on the apartment grounds.

The suspect then feigned compliance with the officers, but had to be forcibly cuffed by both, police said. At headquarters, he allegedly lied about his identity, but it was confirmed that he was a 16-year-old from Kearny.

Dowie said the youth’s mother was contacted but she told police she would not come to HQ to take custody of him and that they should “put him in jail.”

“Her sentiments were relayed to Hudson County Juvenile Intake,” the chief said, “and he was remanded to the Youth House.”

The teen has been charged with auto theft, eluding police, resisting arrest and hindering apprehension by lying.

• • •

Other recent reports from the Kearny police blotter included the following:

Nov. 14 

Officer Patrick Becker responded to ShopRite at 4 p.m. to take into custody Jose Rodriguez, 52, of Newark, who had allegedly attempted to shoplift: a canned ham, two cans of coffee, two haircutting kits, some Irish Spring soap and a loaf of bread. In a search incident to arrest, police said, he was found to be in possession of six Xanax pills and a hypodermic needle – and to be wanted on two $5,000 Newark warrants. He was charged on all the offenses.

• • •

At 4:30 p.m., Officer Esteves was on patrol when he saw two cars stopped on Passaic Ave. near Ross Lane. One driver, Kevin Flores, 25, of East Orange, reportedly admitted that his BMW had rear-ended the other vehicle, a Honda operated by a Belleville woman, as he was trying to retrieve something he had dropped in his car. Police said a check of his credentials showed that his license was suspended and that he had three warrants – from Lyndhurst, Fairfield and Totowa — all for driving while suspended. He now has a fourth such charge, along with a summons for following too closely.

Nov. 15 

At 6 p.m., Esteves stopped a GMC SUV with no rear lights at Davis Ave. and Tappan St. He reportedly detected the odor of marijuana and, in plain view on the center console, saw a smoking pipe and a clear container of suspected pot.

Jorge Rojas, 37, of Kearny, was charged with possession of the drug and paraphernalia, and driving while suspended, and received a summons for the lights violation.

• • •

At 8 p.m., a 45-year-old Lyndhurst woman was putting items into her car in in the Kmart lot when she was punched in the back by a man wearing a black ski mask who then grabbed her purse and ran to a maroon-colored getaway vehicle.

Police said the victim was not hurt. Officer Moran took the initial report, and Det. Scott Traynor is conducting the follow-up investigation.

Nov. 16 

At 3 a.m., after the KPD had closed the Belleville Pike due to a vehicle fire, Officer Ben Wuelfing was guiding a firetruck through the blockade when he saw that it was being followed closely by a Nissan Maxima, whose driver was talking on a cell phone. After repeated signals, police said, he finally got the car to stop and, when questioned, the driver reportedly replied that she “didn’t see a firetruck.”

After FSTs and an Alcotest at HQ , Angelica Cruz, 26, of Jersey City, was charged with DWI, reckless driving, driving on a closed roadway and use of a hand-held phone while driving.

Nov. 17 

Officer Jordenson Jean, patrolling at Midland Ave. and Forest St. at 1 a.m., saw 30-year-old Kearny resident Alexander Harkes reportedly peering into parked cars. Police said a field inquiry revealed he was wanted on a drug-related Newark warrant. He was taken into custody, and the Newark PD was notified.

• • •

Investigating a 7:30 p.m. accident at Kearny and Bergen Aves., Officer Jay Ward found that a Dodge pickup, operated by James Ryan, 46, of East Newark, had struck a Honda that was stopped in traffic. Ryan, given FSTs and an Alcotest, was charged with DWI, reckless driving and following too closely. His truck was impounded.

• • •

At 11 p.m., Officers Ward, Steven Hroncich and Chris Medina responded to a report that, on the 40 block of Kearny Ave., a woman had been threatened by an acquaintance who allegedly had a gun. After speaking with the woman, they went to another Kearny Ave. address supplied by her to interview 33-year-old Luis Torres of Kearny. When confronted, he reportedly gave a fictitious name but was subsequently identified by Det. Ray Lopez. No weapon was found, but Torres was charged with obstructing the administration of law, hindering apprehension and on an outstanding East Newark warrant.

Nov. 18 

Officers Brian Wisely, Kevin Arnesman, Chris Levchak and Frank West went to Kearny and Stewart Aves. at 2:10 p.m. on a report of a heated “lovers’ quarrel” taking place in the intersection outside Roosevelt School. According to police, a 34-year-old Newark woman, who works in the area, said she had been confronted by Jason Smith, 34, of New York City, who pushed her to the ground and then fled. He was apprehended as he attempted to board a bus

In a search incident to arrest on an assault charge, Smith was reportedly found to have two bags of suspected cocaine and was also charged with possession of the drug and paraphernalia. In addition, police said, he was wanted on a Jersey City warrant.

Nov. 19 

At 10:30 p.m., Officer Michael Santucci responded to a Belleville Pike warehouse, where the owner and manager reported that two employees who had been unloading a trailer attempted to steal 20 dress shirts, priced at $50 each — and that one had even put on a shirt under his work clothes.

Arrested on charges of theft and conspiracy were Diomedes Gomera, 46, of Union City, and Marcio Miranda, 46, of North Bergen. In addition to the shirts, police said, four bottles of “Sexy Lover” perfume were found secreted in the trailer.

 – Karen Zautyk 

Merchant stuck with fake bills & more: NPD blotter

A Franklin Ave. business in Nutley was the apparent victim of a counterfeit sting. The business representative informed Nutley PD that a woman walked into the shop last Saturday, Nov. 15, and asked for a prepaid credit card and said she needed $900 loaded onto the card.

Police said an employee completed the transaction and received nine $100 bills from the woman who then hurriedly left the store.

Belatedly discovering that the bills were reportedly phony, the employee tried to catch up to the woman outside the store but couldn’t stop her in time, police said.

Police said the phone number used for the transaction was found not to be in service.

The woman was described as African-American, age 40s to 50s, over 200 pounds, 5-feet-six to 5-feet-eight, with blonde corn rolls tied up in a bun, wearing glasses worn low on the bridge of her nose.

Detectives are investigating.

Nutley PD also logged the following incidents reported between Nov. 15 and 21:

Nov. 15 

Cesar Lazo, 30, of California, was arrested at Kingsland St. and Bloomfield Ave. on a warrant from Belmar. He was transferred to the custody of Belmar PD who, in turn, released him pending a new court date.


Someone stole a 16G 2nd Generation iPad with a black and red case from a vehicle parked on William St., the victims told police. The victims reported that they left their truck to accept a donation for the Salvation Army and when they returned, the iPad was gone.


A Daily St. resident reported someone made fraudulent charges totaling about $1,000 on their American Express card. Police advised the resident to check their credit reports and alert their credit card company’s fraud department.

Nov. 16 

A Hillside Ave. resident told police someone pelted their car with eggs while it was parked during the night. Other than the mess, the car wasn’t damaged, the resident said.

Nov. 17 

Multiple police units converged on a Baltimore St. location on a report of a motor vehicle accident where a driver was allegedly trying to get away. When officers arrived, police said they instructed the driver, Roberto Candelaria, 25, of Carteret, to exit but they said he ignored them and displayed combative behavior at HQ. He was charged with possession of marijuana under 50 grams, possession of drug paraphernalia and disorderly conduct and was ticketed for violations of DWI, possession of CDS in a motor vehicle, reckless driving, failure to wear seatbelt and tinted windows. Police said a resident’s fence was damaged and a fire hydrant dislodged as a result of the accident.


A motor vehicle stop on Franklin Ave. led to the arrest of Emmanuel Ndupu, 62, of Hillside, on an active warrant from Newark. Ndupu was also issued a summons for unregistered vehicle. He was turned over to the custody of Newark PD.


Police said a phone scam was perpetrated on a Vreeland Ave. resident who got a call from “Team Viewer” warning that their computer was about to crash but that if the resident paid for their services, they could help fix the problem. Police said the resident sent an electronic payment of $399 to “cash” from their checking account but, after checking with police, the resident contacted their bank and managed to stop payment. Police said the resident told them their computer was frozen and could have been hacked. Police advised them to contact a PC repair person.

Nov. 18 

A fraud victim walked into HQ to report that someone had sent $180 by Western Union using their Wells Fargo Visa card. Police said the money was sent and picked up in Chicago but the Visa card never left the victim’s possession. The victim’s bank was advised and a new account number was issued.


A Lakeside Ave. resident reported that someone stole three street trees from along their driveway. Each tree was valued at $50.


A resident alerted police to an apparent phone scam. The resident said a man called to say that their brother was involved in an accident and that the resident had to pay for the damages or the caller would kill the brother. Police tried calling back the number provided but it came back as a mailbox not yet set up.

Nov. 19 

A victim of criminal mischief reported to police that when they left Nutley Municipal Court, they noticed a large key mark on the driver’s side of their parked vehicle and suspected that their adversary in court may have been responsible. Police said they observed a fresh key mark from the driver’s side rear door and across the front door. After reviewing surveillance tape where an individual was seen walking alongside the vehicle where the damage occurred, police charged Richard Afflitto, 48, of Nutley, with criminal mischief, requiring a mandatory court appearance.


A motor vehicle stop on Bloomfield Ave. resulted in the arrest of Christopher Liloia, 26, of Nutley, on charges of possession of drug paraphernalia and disorderly person.

Nov. 20 

A Mountainview Ave. resident reported that someone charged their credit card, without authorization, $2,093 for transactions made at a Restaurant Depot at an unknown location. The resident canceled the card.

Nov. 21 

A Charles St. resident reported an identity theft. The resident was notified by Capital One Bank about a possible fraudulent account opened in their name. No charges were made on the account, however.

– Ron Leir 

Gold & Diamond Trading: a gem in our own back yard


By Kevin Canessa Jr. 

Observer Correspondent 


If you’re looking to buy gold, silver, platinum or diamond jewelry, Gold & Diamond Trading in Harrison likely has what you need. If you’re looking for a great Rolex, they’ll have that, too. And, if you already possess such items and are looking to sell them, you’ll be able to make some cash at the most reasonable buy-back rates in the area.

For the last six years, Gold & Diamond Trading has been operating at 15 Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard North.

Owner Jack Malki is a third-generation jeweler.

“This has been in the family for three generations,” Malki said. “Before I opened here in Harrison, I operated a business in Rockaway. I really enjoy what I do.”

While there are several jewelers to choose from locally, Malki said there are numerous things that separate his business from the competition. Most notably, he says, 90% of all repairs are done right on site.

“And if a customer has something that needs to be repaired, and we don’t have a part for it, and this rarely happens, we will never ask to keep the customer’s things here – we’ll order the parts — and they come back when the parts arrive. They can leave their items here. But I completely understand that most people don’t want to leave valuables somewhere for any amount of time,” Malki said.

Because all repairs are done on site, chances are if you need something fixed, your wait time will be minimal.

“We do the repairs with great care and concern,” Malki said. “And because I have all the machines here that can do the repairs, if a customer comes in and we have the parts, they can simply wait here and the repairs will be done very quickly. It’s the advantage of having the equipment here — come in, give us what you want repaired, and I’ll do it.”

While there are other employees at Gold & Diamond Trading, Malki says he’s the only person who performs the repairs. His many years of experience — and care for his customers — won’t allow him to do otherwise.

“I want to be sure everything is done correctly and quickly,” he said.

While not all jewelers buy things, Gold & Diamond Trading prides itself on its commitment to buy topquality gold, silver, platinum, diamonds and watches.

“We will assess anything anyone brings in to sell,” he said. “And what separates us from others, again, is that we will offer a very fair price. If someone has a better offer and it’s within reason, we’ll match the offer, as well.”

Generally, most of the watches he buys are genuine Rolexes. And he can spot an authentic one from a fake in a heartbeat.

“Absolutely, I can tell the real ones from the others,” he said.

Another indication of the quality of his work, Malki said, is that he draws customers from all over — not just locally.

“We have customers from Jersey City, Bayonne, North Arlington, Harrison, Kearny — all over,” Malki said. “And we’re able to do this because our customers know if they’re buying, they’ll get the best at the fairest prices. If they’re selling, they’ll make the fairest money back. We treat everyone like they’re our own — and that’s part of the reason we’ve always been successful.”

Visit Gold & Diamond Trading at 15 Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. North, Harrison, Monday to Friday, from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit them on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/golddiamondtrading. Call 973-484-3000.

around town


Belleville Public Library and Information Center, 221 Washington Ave., announces:

  • A screening of the animated action adventure film “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (PG) is slated for Saturday, Dec. 6, at 2 p.m.
  • Pajama Storytime, open to all ages, will be held Tuesday, Dec. 9, at 6 p.m.
  • Saturday craft, open to all ages, is offered Dec. 13 at 3 p.m.

The Woman’s Club of Belleville meets the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at its clubhouse, 51 Rossmore Place. Prospective members are welcome. For more information, contact Terry Landon at 973-751-6529.

Belleville High School’s Music Department presents its 2014 winter concert series, starting with the instrumental music program, featuring the BHS Wind Ensemble and Orchestra, on Thursday, Dec. 11, and the vocal music program, with the BHS Concert Choir and Acapella Chorus, on Tuesday, Dec. 16.

Both concerts start at 7 p.m. in the Connie Francis Theatre at the high school. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. Admission is free but donations are accepted at the door.

For more information, email band director Anthony Gotto at Anthony.gotto@belleville. k12.nj.us or vocal music director Carol Lombardi at carol.lombardi@belleville.k12. nj.us.


A cat food drive is being conducted through Dec. 12 for Kearny’s TNR (Trap, Neuter and Return) program. Drop off cat food donations at K-9 Corner, 169 Midland Ave., at Elm St.

A motorcycle run/toy drive for St. Claire’s Homes for Children kicks off at the Kearny Elks Lodge, 601 Elm St., Sunday, Nov. 30, at 1 p.m. Registration is from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Participants are asked to bring a $20 registration fee and a new, unwrapped toy. No stuffed animals are accepted. The lodge hosts an after-run party for riders.

Those who don’t wish to participate in the run can still drop off donations at the lodge or at Arlington Lawn Mower, 483 Schuyler Ave., between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

For more information, call Paul at 201-991-1076 or 201- 726-2315. Visit www.aidsresource.org.

Kearny PTA Council will hold a Tricky Tray Nov. 29, from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Irish American Club, 95 Kearny Ave. Tickets are $20. Proceeds go towards a scholarship for Kearny High School’s Class of 2015. For tickets, call Judy Hyde at 201-998-5812 or email JH519@aol.com. People wishing to simply make a donation are asked to contact Judy Hyde and/or the PTA.

Presbyterian Boys-Girls Club, 663 Kearny Ave., hosts its annual carnival on Friday, Dec. 5. and Saturday, Dec. 6, from 7 to 9 p.m. Try your hand at more than 30 games of skill, including the goldfish toss, spin the wheel, go fish and more. There will also be a table of arts and crafts, homemade toys and baked goods. The entire community is welcome.

Kearny UNICO meets on Thursday, Dec. 4, at 7:30 p.m. For more information about the meeting or Kearny UNICO, contact Chapter President Lou Pandolfi at 201- 368-2409. Kearny UNICO is a member chapter of UNICO National, the largest Italian American service organization in the U.S.


Lyndhurst Health Department, 601 Riverside Ave., Suite 1, holds a blood screening Friday, Dec. 5, at the Community Center on Riverside Ave. Appointments begin at 8 a.m. This service is available to Lyndhurst residents ages 18 and older for a $20 fee. Preregistration is required. For appointments, call 201-804- 2500. Payments are accepted in cash or checks, payable to Medical Laboratory Diagnostics.

The Humane Society, 221- 223 Stuyvesant Ave., invites members of the community to bring children and pets for photos with Santa on Sunday, Dec. 7, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Appointments are available, but walk-ins are also welcome. All pictures will be taken by a professional photographer. Proceeds benefit the animals at the Humane Society. Photos with an attractive holiday folder cost $10. A CD of all pictures taken is available for $20. For more information, call 201-896-9300.

Visit the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission’s DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst for a free “Green Friday” guided nature walk on Friday, Nov. 28, beginning at noon inside the Meadowlands Environment Center, 2 DeKorte Park Plaza. The event, sponsored by the NJMC and the Bergen County Audubon Society, features a walk, from noon to 1:45 p.m., on DeKorte Park’s Marsh Discovery Trail and Lyndhurst Nature Reserve. A brownbag lunch is recommended. For more information, contact Jim Wright at jim.wright@njmeadowlands. gov or 201-460-2002, or go the NJMC nature blog, www.meadowblog.net. Inclement weather cancels.

Knights of Columbus Council 2396 sponsors a Tricky Tray Friday, Jan. 16, at the Senior Center, 250 Cleveland Ave. The $15 admission includes coffee plus one prize sheet of tickets. No alcohol is permitted. No tickets will be sold at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call Steve Cortese at 201-657-0800 or Sal Russo at 201-446-7244.

North Arlington 

Santa Claus will visit North Arlington neighborhoods on Saturday, Nov. 29, from 9 a.m. to noon. The borough’s volunteer firefighters will transport St. Nick atop a fire truck. Santa’s journey concludes at the firehouse behind Borough Hall, where children can mingle with Santa.

Santa and the Fire Department will also collect food for Queen of Peace Church food bank. Families wishing to donate non-perishable food items are asked to have their donations ready for Santa as he passes their homes. Residents are asked not to bring food to any of the borough’s firehouses.

The borough will conduct its annual holiday tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 2 in front of Borough Hall. Check the borough website, www.northarlington.org., for the time.

The ceremony will include carolers and music provided by local school children.

American Legion Alexander Stover Post 37 meets Monday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m., at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, 222 River Road. All veterans are invited. For more information, call 201-214-8253.

North Arlington Senior Activity Center, 11 York Road, hosts a holiday celebration Friday, Dec. 12. Bingo starts at 10:30 a.m., lunch is served at noon and dancing begins at 1:30 p.m. For more information and reservations, call 201-998- 5636.

North Arlington Woman’s Club sponsors a trip to the Sands Casino, Bethlehem, Pa., on Dec. 6. The bus leaves from Borough Hall at 9 a.m. Cost is $30 with $20 slot return and $5 food voucher. For information, call 201-889-2553.

North Arlington Public Library, 210 Ridge Road, hosts a talk by food historian Judith Krall-Russo on Colonial and Victorian Christmas on Saturday, Dec. 13, at 11 a.m. Registration is recommended but not required. Call 201-955-5640, ext. 126.


Nutley Abundant Life Worship Center, 390 Washington Ave., sponsors a blood drive on Sunday, Nov. 30, from noon to 4:30 p.m. Sign up at the center or to schedule an appointment, visit nybloodcenter. org and use group code 68275. Walk-ins are welcome. For questions about eligibility, call 1-800-933-2566 or visit the website. Donors must be at least age 17 or 16 with parental consent and remember to bring ID.

Children can send letters to Santa Claus by placing them in the “Santa Express Mailbox.” starting Friday, Nov. 28, at the Park Oval entrance on Chestnut St., in conjunction with Santa’s arrival at the Oval. The last day of collection will be Wednesday, Dec. 17. Children must include their age and return address on each letter. Santa doesn’t always have the luxury of time to look up addresses during the busy holiday season. For more information, contact the Department of Public Affairs at 973-284- 4976.

NJSIAA Group I run with school’s 25th state title


Blue Tide romps past Haddon Township to complete dominant run

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 


It took 36 minutes of onesided dominant play for Harrison High School to take the lead in the NJSIAA Group I state soccer championship against Haddon Township Sunday afternoon at Kean University.

It took all of 20 seconds after halftime for the Blue Tide to enforce their will against their beleaguered opponents. Then it took a span of just one minute and 45 seconds to blow the doors off the contest, like the Blue Tide did in each of their five previous state playoff games prior to Sunday.

Christian Restrepo scored a goal with four minutes left in the first half, then Cristian Marquez, Ali Lakhrif and Ali Lachgar all tallied in the second half, as the Blue Tide romped to a 4-0 victory, giving the school its state and national record 25th NJSIAA state title – and the school’s first since 2008.

The 4-0 whitewash of Haddon Township capped an incredible streak of dominance for the Blue Tide, who finished their season with a 24-3 record, including their six straight wins in the state playoffs by an incredible margin of 31-1.

“I was expecting a really tough game,” said veteran Harrison head coach Mike Rusek, who enjoyed his seventh overall NJSIAA state title and incredibly, the 300th victory since Rusek and his younger brother John took over the Harrison program some 15 years ago.

For the first 36 minutes, it was a tough one – for Haddon Township goalkeeper Kieran Burns, who was diving left and right to make save after save, as the Blue Tide just kept the pressure on from the outset.

The Blue Tide unleashed a barrage of shots at Burns and the onslaught just kept coming. The Blue Tide shot it wide right, wide left, dead on to where Burns had to make a diving save. Leandro Gonzales thought he had a goal, but hit his blast over the crossbar. Marcelo Esquivel hit the crossbar. Restrepo hit the post.

At one point, the Blue Tide held a 20-1 advantage in shots, but had nothing to show for their hard work.

“We just needed to get one,” Rusek said. “We were playing well. I thought we needed to get the first one.”

Finally, Restrepo secured a rebound of a Lakhrif shot and knocked it past Burns for the only goal the Blue Tide would need.

“After we got the first goal, there was a sense of relief,” said Restrepo, a senior midfielder who played a huge role in each of the last two Blue Tide state playoff runs that came up just a little short. “I thought one would just keep us going.”

After halftime, that’s exactly what happened – and it didn’t take long.

Marquez, a junior midfielder, collected the ball immediately after the second half began, moved within shooting range and fired a low shot to the far right side of the goal that eluded Burns. Just 20 seconds into the second half, the Blue Tide had a 2-0 lead.

Photo by Jim Hague From l., assistant coach Mickey Rusek, senior Leandro Gonzales, head coach Mike Rusek, assistant coach John Rusek, senior forward Ali Lakhrif and senior midfielder Jorge Castro pose with the NJSIAA Group I state championship trophy after the Blue Tide rolled past Haddon Township, 4-0, Sunday at Kean University. It was the 25th state title for the school, the seventh in head coach Mike Rusek’s regime and the 300th win since Rusek took over the Harrison program 15 years ago.

Photo by Jim Hague
From l., assistant coach Mickey Rusek, senior Leandro Gonzales, head coach
Mike Rusek, assistant coach John Rusek, senior forward Ali Lakhrif and senior
midfielder Jorge Castro pose with the NJSIAA Group I state championship
trophy after the Blue Tide rolled past Haddon Township, 4-0, Sunday at Kean
University. It was the 25th state title for the school, the seventh in head coach
Mike Rusek’s regime and the 300th win since Rusek took over the Harrison
program 15 years ago.


“I definitely knew it was coming,” said Marquez through the help of an interpreter. “I just didn’t expect it to happen that quickly.”

“We were pushing to get that second goal,” Rusek said. “That was a great goal.”

However, it paled in comparison to the one that followed.

Ten minutes later, Lakhrif knocked in one of the most amazing goals ever witnessed. The senior forward, who came into the game already holding the school’s single-season goal record with 36, secured the ball just outside the box, then somehow maneuvered his way through three defenders including using a spin move, then shook the final defender with a fake and chipped the ball toward a helpless Burns for a 3-0 lead.

“His touch is incredible,” Rusek said. “He made me fall over with the last fake.”

“One goal wasn’t enough for us,” said Lakhrif, who cemented his place in Harrison soccer history with his 37th goal of the season. “I just needed to score one more. It was my last game. I just made the defender go for the ball. He fell down and I shot it.”

Sounds simple, but in reality, the goal was a truly a strike of genius.

Less than a minute later, the Blue Tide put the finishing touches on the masterpiece. Lachgar, who incredibly was stranded at Journal Square last week trying to get home in time for the state semifinal against Waldwick, missing the game, was pulled down in the penalty area. The senior, who lives in Harrison, but attends County Prep, calmly nailed the penalty kick for his first and only goal of the season, pushing the lead to 4-0.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d score a goal like that,” Lachgar said.

Goalkeeper Nick Araujo wasn’t seriously threatened, making just three saves to secure the shutout, his fifth of the state playoffs.

“It was nice to be part of something this special,” Rusek said. “These seniors had a crushing defeat in the state playoffs last year after being undefeated. To end it like this might have been better than any other team we’ve had.” Certainly no other state champion enjoyed such a dominant run. In championship seasons past, there were overtimes and penalty kick shootouts and drama galore. Not this time. This was pure dominance, top to bottom.

“We were pretty sure that since we got another chance to come back (to the state championship game), we weren’t going to let this one slip away,” Rusek said. “We’ve really enjoyed a special time here. When things come together and the kids are out here with a sense of purpose and reason, it’s really nice to be a part of it. It’s unique that they all play for the team, rather than themselves. It’s very unique that way.”

“It was a great way for us senior players to finish,” Lachgar said. “After the last two years, we came so close, but we didn’t have the luck. It’s a great feeling to dominate the way we did.”

“It was a great year,” said Lakhrif, who wore one orange shoe and one lime green cleat for good luck. “I’m going to miss it.”

It’s also a United Nations of sorts, with kids from different backgrounds in Latin America, South America, Europe and now the Middle East, with the two Moroccans (Lakhrif and Lachgar). What are the odds of two players from Morocco who never knew each other before high school joining forces to carve out their own little slice of Harrison soccer history?

Rusek said that the Blue Tide dedicated their state championship victory to the memory of late Harrison Mayor Raymond McDonough, who died last February of a heart attack.

“I think we all miss him a lot,” Rusek said. “We wanted to win it this year for him. He was a big supporter of our team. He was definitely here in spirit.

‘Dig Pink’ event big moment for Nutley volleyball


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Cristina Nicastro took over the Nutley High School girls’ volleyball program this fall and wanted to have the Maroon Raiders get involved with a community- related project during the season.

For the prior three years, while she was the head coach at Cedar Grove, Nicastro organized a “Dig Pink” fundraiser, where all of the proceeds of the event would go to the Side- Out Foundation, a group of volleyball teams on the high school, college and club levels that raise money for breast cancer awareness and research.

“I wanted to do the same thing here in Nutley,” said Nicastro, who just recently completed her first season with the Maroon Raiders. “Everyone was so supportive. The school’s administration, the kids, especially the parents, all got behind this cause.”

So as the season wound down, the Maroon Raiders played host to Bloomfield and held their first-ever “Dig Pink” fundraiser, where anyone and everyone was asked to don pink clothes and reach into their pockets to help the worthy cause.

“As soon as someone walked into the gym, there was pink everywhere,” Nicastro said. “It really was amazing. It was truly a ‘Pink- Out.’”

The parents made baked goods to be sold that day. The players were at the gym all day prior to the match decorating the gym and making the place pink and festive. “

Our players made paper volleyballs with their names on it, asking for a donation,” Nicastro said. “We probably made 1,000 paper volleyballs. It was really nice.”

The Third Half Club of Nutley, an athletic support group comprised of Nutley alumni, donated the money to purchase the pink T-shirts that the players wore.

“We also asked everyone there to wear something pink,” Nicastro said. “It really was a special night.”

More importantly, the Maroon Raiders managed to raise $3,000 for their efforts, one of the top schools in the “Dig Pink” fundraiser nationwide

And to make the evening complete, the Maroon Raiders won the match against Bloomfield, avenging a defeat earlier in the season.

“Next year, it will be bigger and better,” Nicastro said. “Hardly anyone knew about it this year. Hopefully, we will turn it into a Nutley volleyball tradition, a community event for years to come.”

The Maroon Raiders completed the first year of the Nicastro era with an 11-11 record. The new coach had hoped for better results, but after all, as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“I’m happy we got to .500,” Nicastro said. “We had a rough start and it was hard to come back from it.”

The Maroon Raiders dropped their first four matches this season, putting them in a hole that was difficult to climb out of.

“We were 0-4, but it was so frustrating, because we were losing games in three sets and losing by two or three points,” Nicastro said. “We were so close, right there in every single game.”

The Maroon Raiders had a chance to upset perennially state-ranked power Livingston in the opening weeks, but fell to a hard defeat.

“I think that was all part of the growing pains,” Nicastro said. “The girls were getting to know me and I was getting to know them. It was tough for a while. But then, things finally clicked. The girls got used to the rotation and started beating teams left and right.”

Senior Molly Demgard was one of the top Maroon Raider performers. The outside hitter earned First Team All-Super Essex Conference honors and finished the season with an astounding 127 kills.

“She was my top returning varsity player and I really depended upon her experience,” Nicastro said. “She has a great serve and held us on the line.” Senior setter Jennifer Lohr also played a huge role.

“We relied on her to set on every single point,” Nicastro said. “We played a 5-1 formation, which meant that we were asking a lot of her. She did a phenomenal job. There were very few balls that she didn’t get to.”

Lohr had 191 service points to lead the team.

The team also relied upon senior reserves Victoria Matturro, Kristen Palermo, Abigail Gardner and Amanda Llano, who aided in the cause.

Matturro and Gardner were defensive specialists, Palermo an outside hitter and Llano a middle hitter.

“The seniors really helped to acclimate me to the program,” Nicastro said. “They were a huge help.”

Assistant coach Jenna Dwyer, a Nutley alum and former volleyball and basketball standout at the school, was also a huge help.

Junior Claudia Martin was the Maroon Raiders’ outside hitter, with twin sister Tess the opposite hitter.

“Claudia has a very unique serve who came up big for us on the back,” Nicastro said. “Tess had a big role in that she played three of the six rotations on the back row and helped us keep balls alive.”

Sophomore middle hitter Jessica Robinson had 226 digs, tops on the team.

“She was the libero once and we switched her position,” Nicastro said. “She studied hard and learned the position well. She became a great defender and was very consistent. She’s an excellent utility player.”

Sophomore Sara McEnery was another middle hitter, with good size (5-foot-10) at the net.

“We relied on her a lot,” Nicastro said of McEnery, who had 52 blocks, tops on the team.

Junior Emily Varga was the team’s reserve setter. She also spent a lot of time studying the game this year.

“She will be ready to step into that role next year as our top setter,” Nicastro said of McEnery. “I’m confident she can step into that role well.”

So the Maroon Raiders made Nicastro’s first season a successful one.

“I did consider it a very successful season,” Nicastro said. “I came in and had to make some changes. They had to understand my way of teaching the game.”

And for a change, the postseason won’t be that long.

“The girls are already talking about next season,” Nicastro said. “They’re ready to go now. They’re all excited about it and talking about it. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Harrison’s Lachgar finds his way and makes finale memorable


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

The Harrison High School boys’ soccer team was all set to take on Waldwick in the NJSIAA Group I semifinals last Wednesday and senior defender Ali Lachgar was definitely excited to play in the game and get a chance to avenge last year’s loss in the same round of the state tournament.

But disaster struck. Lachgar, who attends County Prep in Jersey City but plays soccer for his home district of Harrison, left his school in plenty of time to get back home to Harrison in time to catch the team bus.

“I left school at 1 p.m. and got to Journal Square about 1:50 p.m.,” Lachgar explained. “When I got there, there was an announcement that all (PATH) trains from Journal Square to Newark were suspended temporarily.”

Apparently, a woman had fallen onto the train tracks and needed to be rescued. Service was shut down.

After an hour, Lachgar was panic stricken.

“I tried calling my parents, but they were at work,” Lachgar said. “There was no one else I could think of. Every minute that went by was so frustrating.”

The Harrison team bus was leaving school at 4 p.m. in time for the scheduled 6 p.m. kickoff at Indian Hills High School in Oakland.

It was at that time that Lachgar realized his worst nightmare had become a reality. He was going to have to miss the Blue Tide’s huge state semifinal game.

“I had to wait for my Dad to come get me,” Lachgar said. “No trains were running all night. I missed the game, what could have been my last game. I was so disappointed not to be there.”

“It was terrible,” Harrison head coach Mike Rusek said. “He was actually texting me and telling me where he was. I asked him if there was any way he could get someone to take him to the game, but there was no chance.”

The transportation issue had plagued Lachgar in the past.

“Since he goes to County Prep, he would come and go at practice,” Harrison head coach Mike Rusek said. “We didn’t know if he would be able to make it to practice every day. It was difficult being at another school.”

“My parents had it in mind that I would go to County Prep to further my education,” said Lachgar, who is another player of Moroccan descent on the Blue Tide roster, joining record-breaking goal scorer Ali Lahkrif. “I always played soccer with my friends down the courts. I never thought I would play soccer in high school.”

Lachgar went from Washington Middle School to County Prep, instead of going to Harrison High.

“At first, I was a little disappointed, because all my friends went to Harrison,” Lachgar said. “I was a little heartbroken and hurt, but after a few months, I got over it.”

But there was always that transportation thing. “Especially this year,” Lachgar said. “Practice would begin at 3:30 and there were times I didn’t get there until 4. But the coaches were understanding and were really lenient. Coach (Mike) Rusek always told me that he knew he had a place for me.”

Rusek definitely liked Lachgar’s potential, especially his size along the backline.

“He was a JV (junior varsity) player his first two years and last year, he came in off the bench,” Rusek said. “(Assistant coach and brother) John (Rusek) and I always thought that Ali would help this team out. He’s smart. He’s such a tall kid, but he’s smooth for his size. He could pretty much play anywhere, but he definitely helped us on the back line.”

Lachgar missed the game against Waldwick, a game won by the Blue Tide, 4-0, to advance to the overall NJSIAA Group I state championship game against Haddon Township Sunday.

“It was a big loss for us,” Rusek said. “I had to make a few adjustments on the way to the game. I was a little nervous that he wasn’t there, because Waldwick had a high scoring forward (Andrew Hymson) who had 20-plus goals this year. But the rest of the team stepped up without Ali. It could have been a tough one.”

Lachgar was obviously pleased that his high school career didn’t end in Journal Square.

“It was a huge sigh of relief for me, because I got to play one more game with my teammates,” Lachgar said. “I was checking updates on line about the game. I knew we would do well. We dominated.”

And Lachgar was not about to miss the state finale. “I was going to be at the school early,” Lachgar said.

Lachgar was with his teammates when they got to Kean University Sunday afternoon and the Blue Tide rolled once again, defeating Haddon Township by a similar 4-0 outcome, capturing the school’s national record 25th  state championship.

And as luck would have it, Lachgar, who went the entire season without a single goal, got his chance to make the score books.

With the Blue Tide holding a commanding 3-0 lead, Lachgar was taken down in the penalty area, earning a penalty kick.

“We have a rule that if you get fouled in the box, it’s your penalty kick,” Rusek said. “You earned it. Unless you want to pass it off to someone else, it’s yours.”

Lachgar didn’t hesitate at all. “He just grabbed the ball and went to the line,” Rusek said. “He didn’t have a goal all year, but he knew he was taking that shot.”

“Usually Leandro (Gonzales) takes the penalty kicks and he wanted to take it,” Lachgar said. “But I always joked with my friends that I was saving my goal for the state finals. This was my last chance, so I was taking that penalty kick and burying it.”

Which is exactly what Lachgar did, putting a cherry on the one-sided sundae that gives Harrison yet another state championship.

“There’s no better feeling in the world,” Lachgar said. “I can’t even put it into words. Was this really possible? I was the last one to score in the 25th state championship in the school’s history. You can’t even explain it. It’s amazing. It’s kind of like a Cinderella story. From not being able to help on Wednesday to scoring a goal in the state championship. Just amazing.”

“It really is incredible,” said Rusek of Lachgar, who has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week and the final honoree of the fall scholastic sports season. “It was well earned. Here’s four years of hard work all coming together in that one moment. It’s really like a Hollywood ending. Ali is the kind of player that every coach would like to have. It’s a great way for him to end his career.”

Lachgar would like to continue playing soccer in college. He has received moderate interest from schools like Seton Hall and Ramapo. He would also like to major in athletic training in college. Needless to say, he would be a major get for any school who gets him – provided he gets to the game on time.

Frank’s GMC donates to The Valerie Fund

Franks GMC_web

The Valerie Fund is the recipient of more than $750,000 thanks to the New Jersey Auto Retailers Unite campaign, a one-of-a-kind partnership between the fund and 177 franchised dealerships in the Garden State. The generous efforts will enable The Valerie Fund to continue its mission of providing hope, care and compassion to children with cancer and blood disorders in New Jersey.

In Bergen County, Frank’s GMC contributed $5 for every car sold during the official four-month campaign period, totaling a donation of nearly $2,500.

Spearheaded by the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers (NJCAR), the campaign also increased awareness of the fund and highlighted the philanthropic work auto retailers do in communities throughout New Jersey.

For more information or to make a donation to The Valerie Fund, visit www.thevaleriefund.org.

New owner at Smile Centre


Dr. Blair Schachtel is the proud new owner of the well known dental practice, The Smile Centre, located at 837 Kearny Ave. in Kearny.

Dr. Schachtel graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Doctorate of Medical Dentistry. He was born and raised in New Jersey and has been practicing dentistry for 18 years.

“I am excited and enthusiastic to have acquired this reputable dental practice in Kearny,” states Dr. Schachtel. “The practice has a long reputation in the community of providing exceptional quality dentistry and exceptional customer service to its many loyal patients. Most importantly, The Smile Centre still has the same friendly staff including Dr. Jeffrey Poirier and Dr. Sharon Jacobson.”

Should you be interested in meeting Dr. Blair Schachtel or any of the doctors of The Smile Centre for a complimentary consultation or second opinion, please call Alexis at 201/991- 1055 or email alexis@thesmileandimplantcenter.com. The Smile Centre offers convenient appointments including Saturdays. It offers a wide variety of multispecialty dental services including oral surgery, periodontics, general and cosmetic dentistry, dental implants, Zoom Teeth Whitening, Dentistry While Asleep with our own anesthesiologist on staff. The Smile Centre also offers Botox to look good and feel younger.