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Category: Sports

Kearny grapplers prep for solid season


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Tony Carratura is a wrestling lifer.

The veteran Kearny High School wrestling coach is so dedicated to the sport that he now has his son, Tony Jr., coaching a middle school program, getting kids involved in wrestling at an early age. Carratura also has his finger on the pulse of the Kearny Recreation program.

So Carratura knows that last year was a building year for the Kardinals on the mat.

“Last year was a bit of a down year for us,” said Carratura, who guided the Kardinals to a 6-15 dual meet record. “But we had a nice turnout this year with about 40 kids. Wrestling is a sport that you have to dedicate yourself to, especially if you want to take it to the next level. I feel comfortable with the way we’re moving forward.”

The Kardinals will begin the 2014-15 campaign Saturday morning with their traditional Holiday Tournament, with seven other teams joining the Kards to begin the mat slate.

Lyndhurst/North Arlington, the local cooperative program, will also begin its season at the Kearny tournament.

“We’re starting at the ground level,” Carratura said. “We have a bunch of talented freshmen. We have seven heavyweights, five are freshmen. There were years when we couldn’t buy a heavyweight. The football program is working hand-inhand with us. We have a bunch of guys from the football team. The whole offensive line is with us.”

That’s good to see the football program, spearheaded by head coach Nick Edwards, is encouraging kids to wrestle in the winter months. Edwards, a former wrestler during his days at St. Peter’s Prep, has encouraged his players to wrestle to keep in shape in the offseason.

“We have a nice little mix,” Carratura sad. “There’s a little bit of competition in the lineup, It all depends upon who wants it.”

The team’s 106-pounder is sophomore Jason DeKerr, a football player despite the lack of size.

“He’s learning and doing fine,” Carratura said of DeKerr. “We have about five guys at that weight as well. Jason is coming along.”

The team’s 113-pounder is senior Diego Poma. “I think he’s finally coming around,” Carratura said of Poma.

“He’s at the right weight now and he’s very committed. He’s one of our captains.”

The 120-pounder is junior Stanley Lliguichuzhca, pronounced exactly as it is spelled. In his spare time, the Kards’ 120-pounder can use his last name as the eye chart at the optometrist office.

“It’s his first year in our lineup,” said Carratura of Stanley, whose name would have been remembered if he were part of the varsity.

The team’s 126-pounder is Josh Guerrero, who was third at the NJSIAA District 16 tournament last year.

“He’s one of our leaders,” Carratura said of Guerrero. “He looks really good so far. I think he’s going to have a good season for us. He has some talent.”

The 132-pounder is returning senior Juan Lamboy, who won more than 15 matches last season and was fourth in the districts in a very tough and competitive weight class.

“I think he’s hungry,” Carratura said. “He’s dedicated himself to the sport and is ready to go to the next level.”

The Kardinals have a battle royale going on in the middle weights, like at 138, 145 and 152 pounds. Carratura believes that the competition in those weights is good for his team and keeps them fresh with a lack of complacency.

The team’s 160-pounder is sophomore Justin Baeza, who won 17 matches last year as a freshman. Last year, Baeza was in a tough weight class. This year, the road to Atlantic City has become a little tougher.

“I still think he’s going to go a long way,” Carratura said.

Sophomore Lukasz Glazewski is another tough wrestler who will find his way into the Kardinal lineup. Sophomore Tomasz Pryzbilski and junior Christian Rodriguez are others who will get a chance to earn time either in the vacant middle weights or at the 172-pound class.

“We may have to get one of them to face the 182-pound class,” Carratura said. “We have four kids battling for three spots.”

The 220-poumd class will be manned by senior Pedro Ugaza.

“He was with us last year and then he broke his arm,” Carrartura said.

The heavyweight bracket will be handled by senior Brian Carpio and freshman Spencer Toledo, both of whom have a ton of promise.

Carratura has a team that will contend later in the season, as the Kards gain experience and confidence.

“I think they’re working very hard,” Carratura said. “We have 40 kids that are always there for practice. I think we’re teaching them the basics a little more. But these kids are hungry. They want it.”

Carratura better feed his team before they take the mats this weekend, just to quench the team’s hunger pains.

Kearns out as QP grid coach


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The revolving door at Queen of Peace continued to spin out of control recently. Not only is principal John Bellocchio leaving after just two years, but it was learned that both football coach Bob Kearns and softball coach George Steel were not retained.

Kearns, who has spent the majority of his adult life at Queen of Peace in some capacity, including two stints as the head football coach, was caught blindsided by the move.

“I received a phone call from (athletic director) Joe Torchia Tuesday morning at 9 in the morning to tell me that I wasn’t going to be rehired,” Kearns said. “I didn’t even get a chance to meet with my players. I had the legs cut out from under me. I was crushed by it. I’ve been there for 35 years and I get a phone call. It reeks of unprofessionalism.”

Kearns was asked to come out of retirement to take over the program after Steve Romano left two years ago.

“They asked me to come back,” said Kearns, who guided the Golden Griffins to a 6-5 record, a berth in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state playoffs and a victory in the first round of the state tournament in 2013, before posting a 1-8 record last season. “I’m a QP guy, so I said I’d do it. They only had 26 kids in the program, but I took it.”

Kearns said that he established a good working commitment from the Brick City Lions youth football team in Newark, with as many as 20 products of that organization going to Queen of Peace beginning in the fall.

“We basically had a team of all freshmen and sophomores,” Kearns said. “I knew that we were going to take our lumps this year. I formed a bond with those kids. But I knew that we would be better off down the road.”

Now, Kearns will not get the opportunity to coach those kids.

“It’s like getting a punch in the face,” Kearns said. “I’m devastated. I can go on and on about the nonsense that goes on there. I never had anything like this happen to me before. It’s just unbelievable what’s gone on.”

Kearns was commuting daily from Tinton Falls to coach the team.

“I had to drive back and forth with no one paying for the tolls,” Kearns said. “I was trying to build a little consistency that QP has never had. But it just goes up and down and out the door. It’s a circus.”

Over the last 12 years, Queen of Peace has gone through eight different head football coaches. There’s no consistency there at all.

There has also been the hiring of someone like Mike Miello as athletic director, to make a huge splash, bringing someone in who had been a successful head coach at Ramapo and Hackensack and a college coach at Rutgers and William Paterson. Miello didn’t last a full week at the school.

Last fall, the school promoted former All-State football player Joe Torchia to the role of athletic director. Torchia, who went from QP to the University of Virginia as a tight end, then had a solid tryout with the Washington Redskins, took over from long-time athletic director Ed Abromaitis, who has bounced in and out of the AD chair for the last four years.

Torchia was asked about the firing of Kearns as football coach.

“It was a decision made by the school’s administration to look elsewhere,” Torchia said. “There were various reasons behind the board’s decision, but those will remain internal.”

Torchia was asked about the school asking a loyal soldier like Kearns to take the head football coaching position.

“When he was hired, it was not under my tenure,” Torchia said.

Sure, because no one can keep up with when what coach was hired when. It’s a complete revolving door, spinning out of control. Kearns and Steel are just pawns in what is a complete disorganized mess. There’s no denying it.

“I didn’t know about (Kearns’) 35 years at Queen of Peace,” Torchia said. “We thanked him for his services and wished him luck.”

Torchia was asked about the means in which Kearns was terminated – meaning the early morning phone call.

“He was notified in writing as well,” Torchia said. “There’s no policy that says he had to be told face-to-face.”

How about Kearns meeting with his players before being shown the door?

“There was no need for that,” Torchia said. “We just want someone to come in and make Queen of Peace successful in the future. We’re excited for the future and what’s best for the kids.”

The new softball coach has already been hired in former QP standout Leanne Sleboda, who served as Steel’s assistant last year. The new football coach could be anyone’s guess. There is talk that Torchia may move up in the school’s administration and that there could be a new athletic director, maybe even Abromaitis, who has been unceremoniously removed from the AD slot twice in the last six years.

One thing is for sure: The new football coach won’t be Bob Kearns.

“I will never go back,” Kearns said. “If I did, I’d have to be in a straitjacket.”

And another thing is certain: The coaching wheel keeps spinning like a revolving door. One coach leaves, another arrives. One after another. There is certainly no consistency, but that lack of consistency can be spelled with just two letters – QP.

Maroon Raider wrestlers more than ready

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

The Nutley High School wrestling team is getting the opportunity of a lifetime as the season begins this weekend.

The Maroon Raiders will head to the Grapple at the Garden tournament this weekend at Clarkstown South High School in Nyack, N.Y.

The top two finishers at the tourney Saturday will then head to Madison Square Garden on Sunday to be part of the Grapple at the Garden festivities.

“I was approached a few years ago about this tournament,” said Nutley head coach Frank DiPiano, who has elevated the Nutley program to elite status in recent years. “It’s a little different, but it’s a great opportunity. It’s a great day of wrestling at Madison Square Garden and it’s a great day for the sport.”

There will be collegiate wrestling going on that day at the Garden, as well as the introduction of professional wrestling – and not the kind seen at the WWE Smackdown. But traditional wrestling is now being moved into the professional ranks.

In any case, Nutley will be a part of it.

“We’re really fortunate to get this chance,” DiPiano said. “It’s a great start to the season.”

DiPiano is excited about his team’s chances this season and whether the Maroon Raiders can add another NJSIAA District 14 team championship. Nutley has captured the last three district titles.

“We have more depth than we’ve ever had,” DiPiano said. “It’s a good problem to have. We’ve never had numbers before. We’re almost two-deep at every weight class. It’s the most experienced team we’ve had in the past several years. We only have two kids with zero experience.”

The Maroon Raiders will use either freshman Frank Gabriele or freshman Jimmy Quinn at 106 pounds. At 112, Quinn might get a shot, along with freshman Kyle Conca.

At 120 pounds, freshman Frank DeMaio is showing signs of developing into a solid wrestler.

“He has some experience on the rec (recreation) level and knows how to wrestle,” DiPiano said. “He’s going to do well there.”

Senior Tom Hickey is also a solid wrestler at the lighter weight classes. Senior Joe Ferinde is the team’s mainstay at 126 pounds. Ferinde finished eighth in the entire state last year in Atlantic City, winning 32 matches.

“He’s ready to have another solid year for us,” DiPiano said of Ferinde, who has a chance to be at the podium once again in Atlantic City come March.

Senior Kenny Pena is another solid wrestler in the lighter class. Pena finished second in the districts last year.

“I have to be creative how I use them,” DiPiano said of Ferinde and Pena. “I need to move one up and one down.”

Junior Robert Duxbury is a solid wrestler at 130 pounds. Duxbury won more than 20 matches last season and was a District 14 champion.

The 138-pound duties will be shared by senior John Zarro and sophomore Joe DiPasquale.

Junior Darwin Pena (cousin to Kenny) is the team’s 145-pounder. Darwin Pena was second in the district last year and competed in the region tournament.

The 160-pound class is being shared by seniors Andrew Aiello and Kevin Goudie, the latter coming off a solid football campaign.

Senior Jason Castellanos is a solid 171-pounder.

“He was hurt last year, breaking his hip,” DiPiano said. “But he’s healthy now. He was having a good season when he got hurt.”

The 182-pound class will be shared by junior Gerard D’Alessio and junior Lou Long.

At 195 pounds, the battle will be between senior Vin Scherer and junior Justin Bivona. At 220 pounds, sophomore Brian Mercado, a transfer from Illinois, will hold fort.

The team’s heavyweight is senior Adam Touah.

The Maroon Raiders were 10-17 in dual matches last year. DiPiano scheduled some tough teams because he thought he had the makings of a great group, but was hurt by some transfers.

“We went through the ringer a little last year,” DiPiano said. “But that got us ready for the District (14) and we saw them get at it a little and win. It was our third in a row and I was very pleased with it.”

DiPiano likes the makeup of this year’s team.

“I think we’re going to be better,” DiPiano said. “From what I see, we have a good group of hard working guys. I think that’s going to make us better come tournament time. We’re going to be much more competitive than we were last year.”

That’s good news for Nutley wrestling followers. From start to finish, it should be an exciting year.

Vikings look to build on huge first-season under coach Corsetto

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

After being away from the game of high school basketball for a few years, veteran coach Rich Corsetto had no idea what to expect from his return to the sidelines, taking over the North Arlington High School program.

Corsetto, a veteran of coaching on the high school and more prominently the collegiate ranks, inherited a good squad when he arrived last year and the Vikings rewarded their new coach with a 20-win season.

The Vikings finished the season with a 20-8 record a year ago in Corsetto’s first campaign.

But can Corsetto expect more of the same success in his second go-round?

“It’s definitely a challenge,” said Corsetto, a member of the National Junior Colleges of America Hall of Fame. “We lost two starters and our sixth man. But we did go to the William Paterson team camp over the summer, played in the Kearny summer league and the Bloomfield fall league.”

Corsetto made his mark as the head coach at Hudson County Community College from 1990 through 1996. When that school dropped basketball, he moved on to become the head coach at Passaic County Community College from 1996 through 2010.

In 20 years as a college coach, Corsetto won 435 games. He also owns a gaudy 255-91 record on the high school level, so Corsetto has won a total of 690 games as a basketball coach over 33 years. With a little luck, Corsetto might reach the magical 700-win plateau this season.

However, luck hasn’t been kind to Corsetto thus far.

First, Mike Paolello, who was penciled in as the Vikings’ point guard, suffered a serious knee injury during the football season and will be lost for the season after undergoing knee surgery.

“That was a big loss,” Corsetto said.

Then, senior Edgar Carranza, who had some big moments for the Vikings last season, will start the season on the side lines for academic reasons.

“He has to clear some things up before he can come back,” Corsetto said. “He was a key rebounder for us last year.”

Corsetto doesn’t know how long Carranza will be out. He could be out until Jan. 1 or even longer.

“We’re hoping it’s sooner than that,” Corsetto said.

One of the key returnees is senior forward Jose Checo. The 6-4 Checo averaged eight points and 10 rebounds per game last year, but those numbers need to improve this season.

“He’s worked very hard in the offseason,” Corsetto said. “I think he’s ready to step up. He’s definitely improved. I’m expecting a lot from him. I’m hoping to see better production.”

Junior Kevin Cerqueira is a 5-11 forward with a lot of promise.

“He did a nice job for us last year,” Corsetto said. “He’s a good defensive player. He’s going to have to be more of a scorer this year. He’s worked very hard over the summer.”

Junior Stephen Velez is a 6-1 forward and strong inside player.

“He works hard on the glass,” Corsetto said. “He’s a good rebounder and he’s good around the basket.”

Junior Joe Morales is a 6-1 forward.

“Joe is a banger on the boards,” Corsetto said. “He’s an aggressive kid. He’s a garbage man in a good way.”

Senior Jonathan Hurley is another solid performer at guard. The 5-11 Hurley possesses a nice touch from the perimeter.

“We need him to make shots,” Corsetto said.

Timmy Ford is a 5-8 junior guard who can play either guard slot.

“He’s in good shape physically from playing football,” Corsetto said. “We have a number of kids who also played football. He’s a tough kid who helps us in a lot of different ways. He can also shoot the ball.”

Corsetto is very excited about freshman Isaac Aguilar, who stands 6-foot-5.

“I’ve been in basketball a long time and I haven’t seen many like this kid,” Corsetto said of the freshman. “He’s going to grow more. I think he’s going to get a chance to start right away. He can block shots and rebound. I think he’s a big-time player.”

Senior Anthony Rotondo is a solid 5-8 guard.

“He does some nice things for us and he can shoot the ball,” Corsetto said.

Dylan Brown is a 5-9 junior guard who also possesses a nice shooting touch from the perimeter.

Junior Darien Nogueras is a 5-9 guard who adds depth to the Vikings’ bench.

Corsetto believes that his team is a work in progress.

“I don’t think I’ll ever change my strategy as a coach,” Corsetto said. “If it works, don’t mess with it. We’re going to press and trap and try to run up-tempo. I’m a strong believer in defense. I think defense creates offense. That’s the reason why we won 20 games last year. I’m looking to do that again this year. We’re still going to press and we’re still going to play up-tempo. That’s what I’m familiar with.”

The Vikings tip off the season against St. Mary’s of Rutherford Dec. 19. The Vikings will also host the William Ferguson Holiday Classic Dec. 29-30, with Trinity Christian, Lenape Valley and Hoboken Charter in the field.

NA’s girls’ hoop squad looks to new coach Lado


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Rob Lado has enjoyed a smooth transition in taking over as the girls’ basketball coach at North Arlington High School.

“I think things have gone pretty well,” Lado said. “They’re adjusting well to a new routine and a new system. We’ve had nothing but a positive attitude. We’re improving every day and I think we’re going to have a good season.”

Lado introduced the Vikings to a faster paced, up-tempo style of play. “They’re catching on with my system,” said Lado, who was an assistant coach on the high school level and head coach on the AAU level before taking the North Arlington job this season. “They weren’t familiar with up-tempo play.

We want to get out on the fast break. We are going to be built on the pick and roll on offense. There are a lot of things I’m implementing that they’ve never done before. But they’re interested and asking questions.” Lado said that he has been helped by JV coach and assistant Karissa DePena, as well as Stephanie Sinclair, who was brought in to work with the program’s freshmen.

“The girls are all really working hard,” Lado said. “I’m encouraged.”

The Vikings have two seniors on the roster in 5-10 forward Brianna Cappuccino and 5-8 forward Samanta Quinones. Both saw limited action last year.

“Brianna is going to get solid minutes and help us with our rebounding,” Lado said. “Samanta is also good with rebounding, but she’s also defensively quick. She can go after the ball well. She’s doing all the dirty work.”

Junior point guard Denaijah Gainza will play a prominent role in Lado’s system.

“She’s a good ball handler,” Lado said of the 5-5 Gainza. “She also can be a big-time scorer. She’s a good shooter and will control a lot of what we do with the ball in her hands. She’s also a solid defender. I expect big things from her.”

Junior Marissa Piscal is a 5-9 forward with good skills.

“She’s our starting power forward,” Lado said. “She’s also a good offensive threat. She’s very strong and moves her feet well to get into good position on the floor. She’s going to be a solid player for us on both ends of the floor.”

Junior Samantha Veloso is a 5-9 forward.

“She’s also a very good athlete who has a nice little offensive touch,” Lado said.

Junior Theresa D’Errico is a 5-3 guard.

“We’re going to count on her defensively,” Lado said. “She’s not afraid of anything. She’s not afraid of mixing it up. She’s the fastest player on the team and she has a nice little shot.”

Junior Victoria Namnama is a 5-4 guard.

“She’s another great athlete who can get after it,” Lado said.

Sophomore Danica Krawczyk is a 5-7 forward who plays both the small forward and shooting guard roles.

“She has a very nice shot and is good defensively,” Lado said. “I’m going to count on her a lot.”

Sophomore Melissa Torres is a 5-7 versatile performer who can play a variety of positions.

“She’s a tremendous athlete, one of the best athletes we have,” Lado said. “She does a little bit of everything. She’s going to play a pretty important role.” Junior Mariah Moreno is a 5-3 guard who will also see playing time.

“She’s fearless and goes well to the basket,” Lado said. Lado likes the depth that he has with his team.

“Because we’re going to play up-tempo, we will have nine or 10 girls who will play,” Lado said. “I’m definitely happy with the turnout. We have a lot of girls who are interested in playing. They’re very energetic. They just have to get used to the up-tempo approach.”

The Vikings open up the 2014-15 season against St. Mary’s Dec. 19. They will also host the Ferguson Holiday Tournament Dec. 29-30, with local rivals Queen of Peace and Lyndhurst in the field, along with Trinity Christian. The Vikings will face nextdoor neighbor Golden Griffins in the opening round.

“I’m looking forward to at,” Lado said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting season.

” Sure looks that way.

Lyndhurst looks to improve in second year under Palek


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

It’s the second year of Paul Palek’s tenure as the head boys’ basketball coach at Lyndhurst High School and he can already tell the difference.

“You could tell in the first week of practice that it was a lot easier,” said Palek, who guided the Golden Bears to a 10-13 record in his first season. “We had a lot of our offense in already and the kids all knew the drills. They’re learning things a lot quicker and it’s remarkable how much you can do after you have a year under your belt. It makes a big difference.”

The Golden Bears also spent the entire offseason together, playing in the Bloomfield summer league and attending open gyms together.

“We graduated six off the team last year and three of them started,” Palek said. “So this is the first time in my coaching career that I had no idea who is going to start. It has made preseason to be very interesting.”

One player who has to be in the mix is 5-10 senior guard Marc Estevez, who averaged 18 points per game last year for the Golden Bears.

“He broke his hand in February and missed the last seven games of the season,” Palek said. “You could see the drop off. We just weren’t the same without him. I expect him to have a big season.”

Palek will expect Estevez to play a lot more at point guard this season.

“It is what it is,” Palek said. “He has to have the ball in his hands. It puts added pressure on him, but he’s our best player and we’re going to rely on him. The others have to find their roles.”

Another key contributor will be 6-1 senior forward Brandon Karlok, who played a lot last season.

“Brandon is very athletic, but he needs to step up,” Palek said. “He needs to get his 10 points per game and he needs to get to the foul line more. But he’s a very good athlete and he’s an excellent defender.”

Junior Vinnie Dorio, a 5-foot- 9 guard, will also get a chance to make an impact this season. Dorio, a baseball standout like his older brother Anthony, saw some time with the varsity basketball team last season, especially after Estevez got hurt.

“He got his feet wet and had some experience,” Palek said of Dorio. “He’s a good shooter. He’s going to have to score for us.”

However, Dorio is also coming off an injury.

“He suffered a back injury that shut him down in July and August,” Palek said. “He wasn’t able to do anything, so he’s still catching up a little. But he’s a good athlete and an excellent piece to the puzzle.”

Sophomore Peter Lazeris is a 5-10 forward who has some promise.

“He’s still learning the game a little bit,” Palek said. “But he plays hard and is going to get his opportunity.”

Junior Ryan Brown is a 6-0 forward.

“He didn’t play basketball last year, so we’re trying to see where he fits in,” Palek said. “We’re looking for him to make a contribution to this team.”

Junior Justin Smith is a 6-2 center.

“He’s a physical presence close to the basket,” Palek said. “He can defend well and rebounds.”

Junior Nick DiTommasso is a 5-8 guard who will see time coming off the Lyndhurst bench.

“He can really shoot the ball,” Palek said of DiTommasso. “He’s a legitimate 3-point threat.”

Senior Joey Cosenza is another contributor.

“He helps us inside by being a physical presence,” Palek said. “He makes a big difference defensively.”

What hurt the Golden Bears’ chances this winter was the loss of Peter Guerriero, who suffered a severely broken hand during the football season. The injury required surgery, so Guerriero has been subjected to life on the sidelines.

“If he was healthy, I think we might have had the best backcourt in the league,” Palek said. “We need everyone to step up. I think it’s a transition year, because we lost so much to graduation. We have so many roles available right now. It’s like putting together a puzzle, trying to fill the different roles.”

The Golden Bears open up the 2014-2015 season at New Milford. They then have a week off before facing Hasbrouck Heights.

“I think we have a chance to get better,” Palek said. “The kids have to rely on each other and play hard, which they’re doing.”

Whether that translates into results remains to be seen.

Kearny girls’ basketball squad has solid leadership


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

The Kearny High School girls’ basketball team won 15 games last year, featuring a team that had no returning starters. Basically, the Kardinals had to learn on the fly – and they did, but it might have taken a little longer than veteran head coach Jody Hill might have liked.

However, as the Kardinals begin practice for the start of the upcoming season later this month, Hill feels a little better this time than she did at the start of last season.

“For the last two years, we were pretty much in a unique situation,” Hill said. “We had two years in a row where we graduated all five starters from the year before. It just happened that all five starters were seniors. But that’s not the case this year.”

Hill is fortunate to have three returning starters from last year’s team, plus others who have returned to playing basketball after a hiatus from the sport.

“It’s beneficial to know we have some returning experience,” Hill said. “It should help us get off to a better start. To have that leadership on the court is going to make a big difference. It’s definitely going to help us down the road.”

The Kardinals also have strength in numbers. There’s a new interest in basketball in the town, as the number for tryouts increased into the 50s, thanks to a new program instilled in the new Kearny middle school.

“I really think we’re seeing this program explode,” Hill said. “It’s definitely going to help get more girls involved. I think the new program is going to kick start our numbers even more. It’s going to benefit us in the long run. It only can help us being successful.

” For the time being, Hill will count on senior returnees like talented forward Emilia Fernandes, a 6-foot presence who is getting some attention from colleges.

Fernandes averaged 10 points per game last year, but those numbers should improve, thanks to Fernandes’ dedication to the sport in the offseason.

“I’m very excited for her,” Hill said. “It’s a true pleasure to watch Emilia develop. Her commitment to basketball has been excellent. She played AAU basketball in the summer and went to FASST in Lyndhurst for strength and conditioning. Her hard work is definitely showing.”

Hill said that Fernandes has been working on her game.

“She’s become well rounded with her moves,” Hill said. “She has a soft shooting touch and can make shots. She’s a great passer and becomes dangerous if teams try to double her. She’s in better shape and she knew that was an issue in the past. She got herself in the mindset that she needed to get in better shape to be a better player. She wants to play college basketball. That’s the goal. She’s definitely going to get looked at. I think she’s going to be right up there with the best post players in the county.”

Daniella Echevestre is a 5-foot-6 guard who has also worked hard improving her game.

“I couldn’t get her to shoot the ball last year,” Hill said. “But she partnered with Emilia to become a better player. She dedicated herself to improving her game. She has the potential to have great speed and take that speed to another level. She’s also an excellent passer.”

Soccer standout Barbara Paiva has returned to playing basketball after concentrating on soccer for the last two years. But now that Paiva has secured a scholarship to play soccer at St. Peter’s University next fall, Paiva has decided to come back to the hardwood.

“Barbara coming back was a huge surprise,” Hill said. “We missed her and we’re happy to get her back. She might be a little rusty basketball- wise at start, but she’s going to catch on, because she’s such a great athlete. She’s progressing with her basketball. She’s getting better and has so much speed to deal with. She does things you just can’t teach.”

Sophomore Sydney Pace has returned to basketball, after missing the soccer season due to a knee injury. But the 5-foot-7 Pace has rehabilitated the knee and is ready to go.

“She’s back to full action,” Hill said of Pace, whose two older sisters, Stefanee and Samantha, are now coaching soccer at Secaucus High School. “We’re working on getting her speed and strength back, but she’s going to help us.”

Pace averaged seven points per game last year as a freshman.

“She’s absolutely going to be a better player this year,” Hill said. “She’s so ready for the varsity level. She has a good outside shot. She can handle the ball well. She’s just a great athlete. She’s going to be very special this year.”

Senior Nicole Sanchez is another solid all-around performer. Sanchez, a 5-foot- 4 guard, thrives on playing defense.

“She knows she can play defense,” Hill said of Sanchez. “She wants to play the best player on the other team and that’s great to have. We just have to make her a little more of a threat offensively.”

Sophomore Isabel Fernandez is a 5-foot-6 guard who Hill calls “a huge asset to the team.”

“She’s another soccer player,” Hill said. “She got hurt at the end of the soccer season (wrist injury), but she’s coming around. She’s a phenomenal athlete who could be the fastest player on our team. She has the defensive instinct to get steals. It’s fun watching her play. Her speed and instinct are going to help us.”

Junior Nawal Farih is another returning player. The 5-foot-8 junior forward has the ability to leap and get rebounds.

“She’s a great team player and a good vocal leader,” Hill said of Farih, whose brother, Mohamed, plays basketball at St. Peter’s University. “She’s very consistent and has a positive attitude.”

Junior Isabella Staszewski is a 5-foot-10 forward who gets her share of rebounds. “She’s a nice inside player with nice size,” Hill said. “She fills the lane well.”

Senior Amanda DeSousa is another addition from the Kearny soccer team. “She’s been a nice surprise and it’s nice that she came back,” Hill said. “She is very quick and a good athlete.” Senior Ashley Matos suffered a dislocated knee last season, but has returned to the team this season.

“She’s bouncing back nicely from the knee,” Hill said. “She’s trying hard.”

Senior Patty Sheldrick is a pure shooter and a 3-point field goal threat.

Freshman Megan McClelland is a great ball handler with a bright future.

“She has a good chance to help us right away,” Hill said.

The Kardinals open their season Dec. 19 against Union City. The Kardinals will host their own holiday tournament, with St. Anthony of Jersey City, Roselle Park and Becton Regional also participating.

Needless to say, things look good for the Kardinals on the hardwood.

“I think we will have a tougher schedule,” said Hill, whose team will be with the A Division of the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League. “Everyone has to step up. But I like the team. I really do.”

McDonnell vows improvement in Kards this season


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Kearny High School boys’ basketball team won eight games last year in Bob McDonnell’s first year as head coach.

So what does McDonnell, the retired Kearny police officer, expect in Year Two?

“I’m quite honestly looking at 15 wins at least,” McDonnell said.

That’s setting the bar pretty high for a program that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season in quite some time.

But McDonnell is confident about the Kardinals’ chances, as the new season begins later this month, for a few reasons.

One, the Kardinals will play in a more competitive division of the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League this fall. Instead of getting thrown to the wolves of the county like St. Peter’s Prep and Bayonne, the Kardinals will face teams that they can actually compete against.

“Without a doubt, that has to help,” Mc- Donnell said.

Plus, the Kardinals have a lot of players back from the team that ended up being competitive a year ago.

“We have four of our top six players returning, including three starters,” McDonnell said. “We have also played about 80 games since the end of last season.”

McDonnell had the Kardinals play in the Bloomfield and Cliffside Park summer leagues, as well as their own.

“That helps the camaraderie,” McDonnell said. “The kids have played so many times together and spent so much time together. They learn to lean on each other, both on and off the court. The kids all know where they’re supposed to be. They’ve spent a full year with me, so they know what to expect from me and the coaching staff and we know what’s expected of them.”

McDonnell also liked the commitment he received from the players in the offseason.

“They spent a lot of time with conditioning and weight lifting,” McDonnell said. “We’ve had 27 kids going to those sessions: 95% of our players went to the conditioning and weight lifting every day.”

McDonnell also thinks the mental attitude of the Kardinals has helped.

“The kids have all matured,” McDonnell said. “We have our top seven guys with varsity experience and that helps. They are more mature and they’re working hard. They wanted to be part of the group that turned things around. They definitely believe that they can do that. I just hope that their closeness translates into wins. Hopefully, we’ve learned from past mistakes.”

Leading the returnees is senior forward Zach Latka, who averaged more than 14 points per game last year. The 6-foot-4 Latka saw some action as a sophomore two years ago, then blossomed under McDonnell.

“His whole approach to the game has changed,” McDonnell said of Latka. “He’s more mature. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen, not just athletically, but academically as well. He’s become a great leader for us.”

Senior Gus Chemin is a 6-foot-3 solid rebounder and scorer. He’s also a standout volleyball player.

“He’s a versatile player who is extremely quick and a solid leaper,” McDonnell said. “He also has a good shot. He gives us strength under the boards. He’s also a good athlete and shows that during volleyball season.”

Junior George Smyth is a 6-foot-4 power forward who has also improved.

“He led the team in rebounding (193 rebounds) last year,” McDonnell said. “He played AAU basketball over the summer, He’s going to have a solid year.”

Junior Joe Baez saw considerable action a year ago at either guard slot.

“It depends on the other team’s offense,” McDonnell said of where Baez will end up. “He’s more of a two (shooting) guard, but can play both.”

Junior Joseph Esteves is another key member of the Kardinals’ backcourt.

“He’s another good athlete,” McDonnell said of Estevez. “He plays spirited and intense. He’s also a good 3-point shooter.”

Sophomore Gralen Vereen is a 5-10 point guard supreme. McDonnell liked what Vereen brought to the Kardinals last year that he played seven games as a freshman, but it’s Vereen’s show this time around.

“He sees the court very well and makes plays,” McDonnell said.

Junior Sammy Sanchez, who had a good football season, gets into the mix at guard. Kenny Rankin, another football player, is also a junior who plays swing.

Sophomore Ryan Tully, the promising baseball player, is another member of the Kearny roster.

Devon DaSilva, Exavier Horne, V.J. Shala and Eric Morales, are all striving to get on the field for the Kardinals.

“Our tryouts were spirited and intense,” McDonnell said. “The kids have really worked hard and are looking forward to the season.”

Blue Tide girls’ hoops squad looks to continue winning ways


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

The Harrison High School girls’ basketball team won 18 games a year ago and lost a solid group of players to graduation.

But that doesn’t mean that Blue Tide head coach Al Ruiz expects his team to struggle this season.

“We lost a good amount of talent to graduation, but we’ve had other years where the others picked up the slack in the following year,” Ruiz said. “That’s what we’re hoping happens to us. We have some good players back that have to help us this year.”

The Blue Tide also won first round games in both the Hudson County Tournament and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs last year, so it was a successful season all around.

“We definitely need our seniors to help us out,” Ruiz said. “They have to lead by example and lead on the floor.”

One aspect to the game that Ruiz likes about the Blue Tide is their defensive intensity.

“I feel we have the best defensive backcourt in the league (the NJIC Meadowlands),” Ruiz said. “We feel they are among the quickest and can get after the ball very well.”

Senior Amber O’Donnell is the top returning backcourt player for the Blue Tide. The 5-foot-6 O’Donnell averaged 10 points and six assists last year.

“It makes it a lot easier, knowing she’s back,” Ruiz said of O’Donnell. “It’s a little bit of a relief and takes a lot of the pressure off, because I know she’s there to lead us. She’s been in almost every situation possible and understands how to handle things. She’s just gradually improved since her freshman year.”

The other returning guard is 5-foot-6 senior Kayla Montilla, who is another speed demon ball hawk on defense.

“She’s almost too fast for herself,” Ruiz said. “Between her and Amber, I don’t know who goes faster. But they enable us to do a lot of different things.”

Montilla averaged close to eight points per game last year.

“She can sprint the floor 50 times when others can go about 35 times,” Ruiz said of the speedy Montilla.

Ruiz said that Montilla averaged nearly seven steals per game last year.

“She’s a point guard’s worst nightmare,” Ruiz said. “No one wants to see her when they walk into the gym.”

Sophomore Cynthia Ferreira is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 13 points per game last year.

“She can score the ball, no question,” Ruiz said. “She can play down low or she can shoot the ball from the outside. She has a nice shot. She plays bigger than what she is.” Ferreira is roughly a 5-foot-8 forward, but she can play any position.

Junior Tabatha Ferreira (no relation to Cynthia) is the team’s shooting guard. Tabatha is a 5-foot-6 guard.

“She’s also pretty quick defensively,” Ruiz said. “She’s also an athletic player. That’s the way we have to go to ex get after the ball.”

Junior Shaneida Falcon is another guard. Falcon is about 5-foot-4.

“We may play four guards at the same time,” Ruiz said. “We hope to get up early by getting up and down the floor.”

Senior Kayla Ortiz is a 6-foot post presence.

“She has been working on her shooting,” Ruiz said. “We need to have that post presence if we play so many guards.”

Junior Alona Ortiz, Kayla’s sister, is another who plays close to the basket. The younger Ortiz is 5-foot-8.

Senior Renee Clifford is a 5-foot-7 versatile player.

“She is a very good outside threat,” Ruiz said of Clifford. “She can shoot it well.”

Freshman Jailyn Montilla, the sister of Kayla, is a welcome addition.

“She can play well down low,” Ruiz said of the 5-foot-7 rookie. “She will allow us to keep building for the future.”

The Blue Tide got ready for the coming season by being very busy during the summer months, playing in the Kearny summer league and the Paterson Kennedy Great Falls summer league.

Ruiz said that the early start to practice, getting three tryout sessions prior to Thanksgiving vacation, enabled the Blue Tide to hit the ground running.

“We were able to build on what we did over the summer,” Ruiz said. “It was very helpful going into the first practices (Monday). We can start rolling right away.”

And start running, pressing, trapping, doing what Harrison girls’ basketball teams do best.

“We haven’t skipped a beat,” said Ruiz, whose team will tip off the new season Dec. 19 against neighboring rival Queen of Peace. “I think we’re going to be alright. I think we will at least be .500 and make the state playoffs. That’s the first goal. We have to see what happens.”

State champs again!


The Harrison High School boys’ soccer team shows off the NJSIAA Group 1 state championship trophy it won after defeating Haddon Township, 4-0, Sunday at Kean University in Union. It marked the 25th NJSIAA state championship in the school’s rich and storied history, adding to their state and national records. It was the first time since 2008 that the Blue Tide earned a state title. Senior Ali Lahrif increased his single season school scoring record to 37 goals in the process, as the Blue Tide avenged defeats in the overall state title game in 2012 and the state semifinals last year. For more about the Blue Tide’s latest state title, read Jim Hague’s reports from the state title game in The Observer sports section.