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NA boys’ soccer: Ready to take next step

 

North Arlington looks to be a threat in the NJSIAA North 2, Group I bracket this fall. Front row, from l., are Ed Lozado, Conrad Malinowski, P.J. Sirotiak and Moises Polanco. Back row, from l., are head coach Jesse Dombowski, Ryan McKenna, Ricardo Alves, Joe Cappelluti and Frank Pace.

North Arlington looks to be a threat in the NJSIAA North 2, Group I bracket this fall. Front row, from l., are Ed Lozado, Conrad Malinowski, P.J. Sirotiak and Moises Polanco. Back row, from l., are head coach Jesse Dombowski, Ryan McKenna, Ricardo Alves, Joe Cappelluti and Frank Pace.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The North Arlington High School boys’ soccer team had a stellar 2012 season, winning 13 games and advancing to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I semifinals before falling to Brearley Regional.

As Jesse Dembowski embarks on his fourth season as the Vikings’ head coach, he wants the team to have much higher goals in mind.

“We’re hoping each year to raise the bar,” said Dembowski, whose team opened the 2013 season with a solid 4-2 win over a strong Hasbrouck Heights squad. “We’re not asking for the stars and the moon. We just want to keep moving up. Every year, I tell the kids my expectations and they know what I want. Their mindset is the same. They want to reach our goal.”

So this year, Dembowski is hoping the Vikings can compete for the state sectional championship.

“If they stay together and keep pretty calm, they can go a long way,” Dembowski said. “They ask a lot of each other. They’re a good group.”

Junior Joe Cappelluti has moved from the midfield to goalkeeper this season.

“It was a bit of an adjustment for him,” Dembowski said. “At first, he was nervous, because he hadn’t played goalie in a whole, but by the end of the game (against Hasbrouck Heights), he was being more vocal and calling for the ball. I think he can handle it.”

The sweeper is senior P.J. Sirotiak, who returns for his third season in the Vikings’ starting backline.

“He’s very athletic and fast,” Dembowski said. “He knows how to handle the ball.” The stopper role is being shared by junior Conrad Malinowski and senior Ryan McKenna.

“They’re splitting the time regularly,” Dembowski said. “It depends upon the style of the opponent.”

Junior Ed Lozado is a returning starter to the Vikings’ backline. He is joined by sophomore Moises Polanco.

“I think we can be pretty solid in the back,” Dembowski said.

The midfield is even stronger and might be one of the strongest units in the entire New Jersey Interscholastic Conference.

Leading the way is center midfielder Danny Cordeiro, who had 16 goals and 19 assists last season and started 2013 off with a bang, scoring two goals against Hasbrouck Heights.

“I probably have to expect the same from him this year,” Dembowski said. “The only bad thing is that as soon as he steps on the field, there are two or three guys shadowing him. But somehow, he still gets off his shot and he can shoot anywhere from 35 yards and in. He has a great shot and he makes things happen. He’s a playmaker first. He’s not greedy at all and knows the game well.”

Senior Derek Perez is another returning player in the midfield. Always known for his diminutive stature, Perez has bulked up over the offseason and actually grew a few inches.

“He gained a little height, but he has natural ability and has great height,” Dembowski said.

Junior Vinny Ribeiro transferred from Brazil to the United States and North Arlington last year during the season. He made an impact, scoring five goals, but should do more this year.

Junior Jose Ruiz is another returning midfielder. Ruiz scored a goal in the win over Hasbrouck Heights.

“He has a real good quick shot,” Dembowski said of Ruiz. “He can shoot the ball, then make it back to play defense.”

The other midfielders are the Bajaj brothers, who transferred to NA last year from their native Albania.

“We’re really a multicultural team,” Dembowski said. “We’re like the United Nations.”

Senior Bestor Bajaj (pronounced BAI-YAH) is more of an offensive minded player in the midfield, while brother Juxhin is a junior who concentrates on defense. However, Juxhin Bajaj was the one to score a goal in the season opener.

The forward line features junior Nick Awad, who played last season, as well as junior Cesar Marquiz, whose family left the district last year, but has since returned.

Junior Ryan Duffy is the team’s utility player, seeing time both at midfield and at forward.

“He runs indefinitely,” Dembowski said of Duffy. “I’ve never seen a kid with the energy that he has. It’s amazing. No one can believe how much he can run. That’s an asset.”

Another asset is that the Vikings will have the new FieldTurf facility in Riverside County Park to play on. That’s going to make a highly skilled player like Cordeiro even that much more efficient and dangerous.

And as for the season-opening win?

“It’s enormous,” Dembowski said. “We want to get in the county tournament this year. This is going to help. We never beat Hasbrouck Heights in my four years here. I told them that we had a chance to start off the season in the right way and we got a quality win to start the season. It’s going to mean a lot down the road.”

It means a lot now. The Vikings are poised for a great season ahead.

Blue Tide ready to roll once again

Harrison boys’ soccer ranked among state’s best

 

Photo by Jim Hague Harrison looks to improve on the 20-2-2 mark they had last season. From l. are head coach Mike Rusek, Modou Sowe, Carlos Yacsavilca, Rodrigo Esquivel, Nick Araujo, Manuel Vigo, Marcelo Esquivel, Abel Faler, and assistant coaches Mike Rusek and Mickey Rusek, the head coach’s brother and father.

Photo by Jim Hague
Harrison looks to improve on the 20-2-2 mark they had last season. From l. are head coach Mike Rusek, Modou Sowe, Carlos Yacsavilca, Rodrigo Esquivel, Nick Araujo, Manuel Vigo, Marcelo Esquivel, Abel Faler, and assistant coaches Mike Rusek and Mickey Rusek, the head coach’s brother and father.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Harrison High School boys’ soccer team enjoyed a sensational season in 2012, winning 20 games and advancing all the way to the overall Group I state championship game, where the Blue Tide eventually lost to Haddon Heights.

But posting a 20-2-2 record is certainly nothing to be ashamed of – unless you’re Harrison, where the program has a win-it-all mentality.

Veteran coach Mike Rusek returns for his 11th year as the head coach and he’s certainly enjoyed his fair share of success during that time, winning six overall state crowns. But last year was a bit of a disappointment because the Blue Tide came so close and came home from The College of New Jersey empty.

“Our program is using that as a motivation this year, because the majority of this year’s team was on the field for that game last year,” Rusek said. “We only lost three seniors from last year. So you can see already that the team has the passion you need to win. I’m more comfortable with the talent we have returning from last year’s team. I’m comfortable with their passion.”

The man who gets the job to protect the Blue Tide’s goal is junior Nick Araujo, who was a backup net minder last season.

“He grew up mostly as a field player, mostly in the midfield, but we made him a goalie,” Rusek said. “He’s doing a good job. He’s ready to play.”

The Blue Tide will abandon the traditional sweeperstopper defensive formation this year, mainly because of the brilliant player they have returning on the backline.

All-State Group I player Modou Sowe is back for his senior year. Despite being a defender, Sowe scored an astounding 18 goals and had 10 assists last year, producing midfielder’s offensive numbers.

“He’s such a great presence back there that I think he’s the reason we can go four across,” Rusek said. “He’s a physical player who gets to the ball. I think there are a lot of similarities between Modou and former Kearny player Hugh MacDonald (who was the firstever Observer Male Athlete of the Year in 2003). He’s a weapon on set pieces. We haven’t had a weapon like that in Harrison so we’re taking advantage of it.”

So we already scored a goal in the Blue Tide’s 3-0 season opening win over Wallington last Friday.

The other defenders are junior twin brothers Rodrigo Esquivel and Marcelo Esquivel. The two twins both started last year along the Blue Tide’s defensive line.

Photo by Jim Hague Senior midfi elder Kevin Villanueva had a sensational junior year with 11 goals and a school-record 28 assists.

Photo by Jim Hague
Senior midfi elder Kevin Villanueva had a sensational junior year with 11 goals and a school-record 28 assists.

 

The other defender is Carlos Yacsavilca, who is a senior.

The midfield is talented more than words can describe.

Senior Kevin Villanueva had an incredible junior year at center midfield for the Blue Tide, scoring 11 goals, but collecting 28 assists, the highest assist total in school history. He’s joined by returning standout Leandro Gonzales, who is as equally skilled with the ball.

Others in the midfield include senior Exequeil Baez, who started last season, and Jorge Castro, a junior.

The forwards are Jose Neto, who had 10 goals and 10 assists last season, and Leonardo Trujillo, who had five goals and four assists.

As you can see, this team is absolutely loaded with talent.

“We have outstanding juniors and seniors,” Rusek said. “We’re really hoping for a solid year. This team all has a year under their belts and that has to help.”

There is one slight problem come state tournament time. Harrison is now a school with a Group II enrollment, so the Blue Tide will have to compete in that bracket for a change.

“It’s been five years since we won a state tournament,” Rusek said. “We’ve had a lot of success over the years, but this team hasn’t won one. Maybe it’s their turn.”

Lyndhurst girls’ soccer: Putting lost season behind

 

Photo by Jim Hague The Lyndhurst girls’ soccer team will be much better this year, provided the players can stay healthty. Front row, from l., are Claudia Engels, Gabriella Franchino, Brittany Ferreira and Gianna Nerney. Back row, from l., are head coach Kim Hykey, Sara Barreiros, Dina Ingenito, Bianca Fata, Nicolette Carrion and Joanne Arvanitakis.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Lyndhurst girls’ soccer team will be much better this year, provided the players can stay healthty. Front row, from l., are Claudia Engels, Gabriella Franchino, Brittany Ferreira and Gianna Nerney. Back row, from l., are head coach Kim Hykey, Sara Barreiros, Dina Ingenito, Bianca Fata, Nicolette Carrion and Joanne Arvanitakis.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Kim Hykey has been around the sport of girls’ soccer for a while now. Even though she’s not far removed from her playing days, first at her alma mater Lyndhurst High School and then later at Seton Hall, Hykey has seen quite a bit.

But nothing like what she had to endure last year as Lyndhurst’s head coach.

“It was cruel,” Hykey said. “I can’t imagine anything like last year. We didn’t have a full lineup from October on. I never saw that in any sport, anywhere.” Injury, illness, personal setbacks, you name it, the Golden Bears had it in 2012.

“It really was amazing,” said Hykey, who somehow managed to coach the injury-riddled Golden Bears to a 10-9-1 record and a win in the NJSIAA state playoffs against West Essex.

Now, a year has passed and the Golden Bears’ returning players are finally healthy and raring to go.

“We have nine seniors who have really been showing leadership,” said Hykey, who begins her fourth season as head coach. “We have three captains and last year, we didn’t have any. Of the nine seniors, four are four-year players. That’s a lot of leadership.”

Hykey also likes the influx of new blood into her program.

“We had 18 freshmen come out this year and that’s a crazy total for a small Group II school,” Hykey said. “Four or five of them will see varsity time. They are talented players and they are fast. They’re going to make an impact right away. So we have a good mix of senior leadership and young players. They’re doing a great job and doing anything I ask of them.”

Leading the way is senior goalkeeper Bianca Fata. It’s Fata’s third year as a goalkeeper, so the idea of her being unsteady from being moved back from the midfield isn’t even a question.

“She’s not a field player playing goal anymore,” Hykey said. “She’s a true goalkeeper. She’s come a long way. She’s comfortable in goal and does a great job there.”

The sweeper is senior Dina Ingenito, who has held down that position for the last three years.

Senior Brittany Ferreira is the team’s stopper. The rest of the defensive unit includes senior Nicolette Carrion and sophomores Gabriella Franchino and Joanne Arvanitakis.

“It’s a solid defensive group,” Hykey said.

The center midfielder is four-year varsity starter Grace Tomko. Now, Tomko is a senior and she can make sure that this is her best year. She had 11 goals and four assists last season.

“She is absolutely deadly on corner kicks,” Hykey said.

Another key midfielder is senior Amanda Nowak, who scored nine goals last season, but eight came in a three-game stretch, one of which where she scored four. Nowak, an Observer Athlete of the Week honoree last year, missed a good portion of last year’s campaign with a knee injury.

Junior Giana DiTonto is a talented midfielder, as is fellow junior Jessica Sailace.

But the player to watch is freshman Amanda Fulcher, who is moving right into the Golden Bears’ picture.

“She can shoot righty or lefty, but she has a great left-footed shot,” Hykey said. “She knows how to finish. She plays the running game well.”

Senior Alissa Pipon is another player to watch on the Lyndhurst midfield.

The forward line features senior Cassie Franchino, the older sister of Gabriella who had six goals in just five games last year, and senior Gianna DeLuca.

Others who will see time include sophomores Destiny Keith, a midfielder, and Gianna Nerney, a defender and midfielder; freshman Kelsie Kearns, an energy player who could play anywhere; freshman Claudia Engels, a defender and backup goalkeeper Sara Barreiros.

Hykey likes her team’s chances.

“As long as we stay healthy, I think we’ll be okay,” Hykey said. “I can’t imagine anything like last year. We have a good mix of youth with the experience of our senior class. Hopefully, we’ll jell together and make some noise later on.”

The Golden Bears open up the 2013 season Thursday against Dwight-Englewood.

Maroon Raiders should be improved this season

Photo by Jim Hague The Nutley football team will look to improve with the work of their front line. From l. are Gabriel Tortora, Randy Rauco, Jesse Defuria, head coach Tom Basile, Brian Devine, Mike Buckley and Chris Palma

Photo by Jim Hague
The Nutley football team will look to improve with the work of their front line. From l. are Gabriel Tortora, Randy Rauco, Jesse Defuria, head coach Tom Basile, Brian Devine, Mike Buckley and Chris Palma

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Nutley High School football team was 3-7 in 2012, the first year of new coach Tom Basile’s regime.

Now, with a full year under their belts and a veteran group returning, the Maroon Raiders look to be much improved as the 2013 season kicks off this weekend against neighboring rival Belleville.

“I think we’re very much improved,” said Basile, a long-time assistant to former head coach Steve DiGregorio who took over last year after DiGregorio stepped down. “Knowing that we have practically everyone back is a big help. The offense is looking very smooth. Last year, we started a lot of inexperienced kids and we went through a lot of ups and downs. We had so many question marks last year. These kids have gone through a lot of practices and drills and we believe that it was all a learning experience that hopefully will pay off on the field this year. And I think it will.”

Basile has a very modest goal as the season begins. “We want competitiveness,” Basile said. “Obviously, we want to win, but where we’re going to show a lot of improvement is in the competitive nature. We’re not going to get our doors blown off every game. We’re going to be in games in the fourth quarter and hopefully win a few. We’re going to be much better off. Here we go.”

Leading the returnees is senior quarterback Mark Carnevale (5-11, 180), who started at quarterback last season.

“He’s emerged from the group,” Basile said. “He throws the ball real well and has become more of a leader. He has the familiarity of what we’re trying to do. We want to speed the game up this year and he has a full understanding of that and the game.”

Senior Joe Iannini (5-6, 175) returns for his final year. Iannini had a fine junior year, including a huge game against Livingston in a 29-9 win, earning Observer Athlete of the Week honors.

“He’s a very tough kid,” Basile said. “Pound for pound, he’s our toughest player. And the kid can make plays.”

Senior Mike Foster (5-8, 165) and junior Joe Iorio (5-10, 180) will also get considerable playing time at halfback, with sophomore Craig Merkle (6-0, 195), the next in the line of Merkle brothers who played for Nutley, also in the mix.

The Maroon Raiders are fortunate to return both starting receivers from last year in seniors Ryan McGlone (6-0, 180) and John Conca (6-0, 170).

Senior Gabriel Tortora (6-1, 180) also returns at tight end. Tortora is a fine blocker and a sure-handed pass receiver.

If there is a little bit of a concern, it’s in the offensive line, where Basile has had to do some mixing and matching in the preseason to find the right combination.

Senior Randy Rauco (6-2, 245) is the lone holdover from last year and he’s just been moved from guard to center.

Senior Chris Palma (6-1, 255) and sophomore Devin White (5-10, 195) are the tackles, with senior Mike Buckley (5-10, 190) and junior Jesse Defuna (5-8, 245) at guard.

The Raiders utilize a 4-3 alignment on defense, with Buckley and Tortora at defensive end and Rauco and Palma at defensive tackle.

Iorio is a standout at middle linebacker, flanked by the promising sophomores Merkle and White and junior Frank Malanga (5-9, 165).

They might not be the biggest linebacker corps in the Super Essex Conference, but they will be among the toughest.

Senior Vin Sasso (5-7, 155), another undersized player who plays bigger than his size, is at cornerback, along with Foster. Iannini, another tough customer on the defensive side, is at safety, along with junior Pete Russo (5-11, 175). Russo also serves as the team’s backup at quarterback.

After the Raiders face off with the Buccaneers this week at the Nutley Oval, they have Newark Central, so it’s essential that the Raiders start off strong.

Because then the Raiders face the big boys, tackling Montclair, Seton Hall Prep, Livingston and West Orange in succession.

“It’s important for us to be in position to win games,” Basile said. “We have to be competitive. If we’re competitive into the fourth quarter, then we’ll let our chips fall where they may. We’ve done a lot of work and preparation to make sure that we’ve improved into the fourth quarter and make each game a close game.”

If that happens, then it’s a positive first start.

North Arlington primed for solid football season

Vikings look to improve on last season’s 4-6 mark

Photo by Jim Hague The North Arlington football team looks to be much improved over the 4-6 mark they posted last season. From l. are Ryan Austin, Dominic Reo, Brandon Pipher, head coach Anthony Marck, Matt Karras, Danny Goffredo and Anthony Muriale

Photo by Jim Hague
The North Arlington football team looks to be much improved over the 4-6 mark they posted last season. From l. are Ryan Austin, Dominic Reo, Brandon Pipher, head coach Anthony Marck, Matt Karras, Danny Goffredo and Anthony Muriale

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Although North Arlington’s football team lost a key player in A.J. Nocciolo, the Observer’s Male Athlete of the Year for 2012-2013, veteran head coach Anthony Marck believes that his Vikings can be an improved team this fall.

“Don’t get me wrong, we obviously can’t replace someone like him,” Marck said of Nocciolo, who is now at ASA College in Brooklyn, a junior college. “He was with us for four years. He did so many great things for us. We can’t replace him, nor do we try to do it. But we have a different kind of team now.”

In fact, Marck likes the character of his current team.

“In my eight years, this is the tightest group we’ve had,” Marck said. “They are so close together. They work so hard together. They work harder than any group we’ve had. It’s a pleasure every day to come to the field and be with these kids. I genuinely get up every day excited to be with them. They’re a great group of kids.” And because of that, Marck believes that the Vikings can improve on last year’s 4-6 mark, mainly because the Vikings won their final three games of the tumultuous 2012 season, one that featured a loss of their practice facility at Rip Collins Field due to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

“We can be better,” Marck said.

Leading the way is senior quarterback Kenny Kuzmuk (5-10, 190).

“Kenny was the backup quarterback the last two years and he patiently waited his turn,” Marck said. “He’s a very bright kid and an outstanding athlete. We’re going to run the ball more this year. That’s the plan and we have to get his athleticism to the outside.”

Another key returnee is senior running back Mike Brazzel (5-7, 175). Brazzel rushed for 400 yards and had more than 300 yards in receiving last season while battling an assortment of injuries. Healthy, Brazzel is a very dangerous back.

“Mike may be the fastest kid we’ve ever had,” Marck said. “He’s a speed burner. He can get to the outside. He’s a super athlete and we have to line him up all over the place and get him the ball. He’s going to carry more of the load this year. He knows it and prepared well for the season.”

Junior Adrian Foote (5-9, 185) is a transfer from East Orange who will play right away and make his mark.

“He’s another fast kid and athletic,” Marck said. “The one thing I like is that they’re all athletic.”

Perhaps the best athlete of the bunch is senior Nick Martin (6-2, 235), who is a brilliant student athlete and is getting recruited by all of the Ivy League schools – a testament to Martin’s excellent academic standing.

“He’s what you want in a high school football player,” Marck said of Martin. “We recently had Cornell, Yale and Harvard in to see him. He’s in the top 10 of his class.”

Martin was a tight end last year who caught an astounding 63 passes last year, the top mark for any tight end in New Jersey. But to get Martin even more chances to touch the ball, he’s been moved inside to fullback. It’s going to make Martin even more of a serious threat.

“We feel that he can also help us there if he’s the lead blocker,” Marck said. “We’re a much better team with Nick at fullback. He gets positive yards when he gets it and we can run behind him.”

Senior Mohammad Jalal (6- 0, 170) is at one receiver.

“He’s been waiting in the wings for his chance,” Marck said. “He’s a hard working kid with good hands.”

Junior Alex Samaan (5-10, 170) is another quality target for Kuzmuk to throw to.

“He’s another speed burner,” Marck said. “He’s new to the position (wide receiver), so he’s still learning.”

Senior Ryan Austin (6-2, 215) is a capable tight end, making the Martin move to fullback that much easier.

The offensive line features four returning starters. Junior guard Danny Goffredo (5-10, 185) has been a three-year starter at guard.

“He’s been a starter since he came in as a freshman,” Marck said.

Senior Matt Karras (6-3, 250) started last year at center, with senior Anthony Muriale (6-0, 210) and junior Dominic Reo (5-10, 220) returning at tackle. Junior Brandon Pipher (5-9, 205) is the other starting guard.

Defensively, the Vikings play a 4-4 alignment, with Muriale and Reo at defensive end and Pipher and Karras at defensive tackle.

Photo by Jim Hague Nick Martin is one of the best student athletes in northern New Jersey. The North Arlington senior has a lot of the Ivy League schools recruiting him.

Photo by Jim Hague
Nick Martin is one of the best student athletes in northern New Jersey. The North Arlington senior has a lot of the Ivy League schools recruiting him.

 

Despite being a quarterback, Kuzmuk is an outside linebacker, where he led the team in tackles last season. The other starter at outside linebacker is sophomore Joe Morales (5-10, 180).

Martin is a downright stud at inside linebacker. That might be the position he plays on the next level. The other inside linebacker is one of the best names you’ll find in local football. Junior Giuseppe Gugliuzza (5-10, 190) is a name right off the set of “The Sopranos.”

“He’s our most improved player,” Marck said. “He was our best camp player. He can definitely play.”

The cornerbacks are Brazzel and Foote, with Samaan at safety.

The Vikings open up their season Sept. 14 at Elmwood Park. They get their first chance to play on the new facility in Riverside County Park on Friday night, Sept. 20.

Marck believes the Vikings will be better this year.

“The schedule is relentless,” Marck said. “We have to get off to a good start. But the team chemistry is the key. It’s tremendous. Because of that alone, I feel we can be a lot better than we were last year.”

It should be exciting to watch.

Blue Tide girls’ soccer: Movin’ on up

 

Photo by Jim Hague The Harrison girls’ soccer team looks to be improved this season. From l. are Chelsea Uribe, Katherin Merino, Alexia Garrison, Cindy Passos, Lucy Pinto and head coach Annemarie Sacco.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Harrison girls’ soccer team looks to be improved this season. From l. are Chelsea Uribe, Katherin Merino, Alexia Garrison, Cindy Passos, Lucy Pinto and head coach Annemarie Sacco.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

As she begins her third season as the head coach of the Harrison girls’ soccer team, Annemarie Sacco believes that her team will be improved this year, simply because they spent the summer months together.

“Our Harrison Recreation program sponsored our team playing in the Kearny Thistle league,” Sacco said. “It showed their dedication to the game.”

And in turn, the summer months have led to improvements on the field as the 2013 season begins.

“You can definitely see that they move the ball better,” Sacco said. “They have more of a concept of open space and they’re utilizing that. They faced better competition over the summer and that has to help. We were very inexperienced last year, so we’re hoping that the experience they got over the summer together will be a positive thing.”

The Blue Tide posted a 4-13-1 record last season, but Sacco feels that it will be a better mark this time around.

“We’re definitely looking to improve,” Sacco said.

Senior Maribeth Carias was set to return as the goalkeeper, but she suffered a shoulder injury that seems to be recurring, so sophomore Alexia Garrison has been a capable fill-in as the Blue Tide keeper.

The sweeper is junior Gabriella Ortiz, who was a defender last year. The stopper is senior Viridiana Garcia, another defender who has moved into a more important role this year. Freshman Lucy Pinto is also along the back line. Sacco likes Pinto’s potential.

“She’s played a lot of soccer and has a lot of experience at a higher level,” Sacco said of Pinto. “I feel very good about her.”

Senior Sabrina Aiello is a returnee at defender.

Junior Cindy Passos returns to her slot at center midfield. Passos, who has good ball skills, had five assists last season.

“She’s our leader and our playmaker,” Sacco said.

Anne Doyle, a senior, is more of a defensive midfielder.

Junior Chelsea Uribe is an offensive-minded midfielder.

“She is a good ball distributor,” Sacco said. “She can make some great runs on the outside.”

Junior Melissa Carriera is another member of the Blue Tide midfield.

Junior Katherin Merino is back to lead the Blue Tide forward line. Merino was the Blue Tide’s leading scorer last year, finding the net eight times.

“We need her goal scoring,” Sacco said.

Sophomore Raquel Seeback is another forward, as is sophomore Eva Kiss, whose name might make all romantics happy.

The Blue Tide suffered a crushing blow when senior Stefanie Bento suffered a knee injury in the offseason. She is still wearing a bulky knee brace, so her return remains in question. Bento would have added some needed offensive punch.

Sacco knows that her team will be concentrating on one area this year.

“We have been focusing on defense,” Sacco said. “That’s what we need to do.”

The Blue Tide has also been focusing on conditioning. Before one early morning practice recently, the team was timed as they ran laps around the Harrison High School complex. This was at 7 a.m., before even the birds were chirping.

But the team was out there, chugging along, under the watchful eye of the head coach and her staff. In terms of dedication, it doesn’t get any better than that. It’s hard to get teenagers out of bed at 7 in the morning, never mind have them run miles under a stopwatch.

“We’re really hoping that the experience they got in the summer pays off,” Sacco said. “It’s helping them be aware of what it takes. Now they have experience playing with each other at a high level. It has to help.”

The Blue Tide begins the 2013 season with a match against Leonia Sept. 12.

Golden Griffins move forward with new coach Kearns

 

Photo by Jim Hague Queen of Peace’s football team has a lot of returning players, making new head coach Robert Kearns pleased. Kearns was a long-time assistant and former head coach of the Golden Griffins. From l. are Michael Akanbi, Babatunde Ojo, Shadaun Brown, Kearns, Andrew Gonzalez and Peter Lorfink.

Photo by Jim Hague
Queen of Peace’s football team has a lot of returning players, making new head coach Robert Kearns pleased. Kearns was a long-time assistant and former head coach of the Golden Griffins. From l. are Michael Akanbi, Babatunde Ojo, Shadaun Brown, Kearns, Andrew Gonzalez and Peter Lorfink.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Even though he had been gone from Queen of Peace football for a few years, Robert Kearns never felt like really left.

“I’ve been Queen of Peace all my life,” Kearns said. “My brother went to QP. So did my sons. I coached here for more than 10 years. My heart is at Queen of Peace.”

So when the head football coaching position opened upon Steve Romano’s resignation at the end of the 2012 season, Kearns made one call to longtime friend and QP athletic director Ed Abromaitis.

“I said that if there was anything I could do for the school, I would do it,” Kearns said. “I want to see football keep going at QP.”

Kearns, who recently was the defensive coordinator at Cardinal McCarrick in South Amboy, was a longtime assistant coach at Queen of Peace under both Andy Cerco and the late Ralph Borgess. He was even the head coach for two seasons in 1997 and 1998.

So there was a sense of familiarity when the school brought back Kearns to be the head coach for the 2013 season.

“I was very excited,” Kearns said. “I told them that I’m there for them.”

Kearns has been rejuvenated in his return to his old stomping grounds.

“It’s probably the most excited I’ve ever been for a new season,” Kearns said. “The attitude is tremendous. But as I started to watch this team, I realized that this is a very talented club. There are a lot of good athletes.”

The Golden Griffins were 2-8 last season, yet still managed to qualify for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 playoffs, losing to St. Anthony.

However, several of the key players from last year’s team have returned – despite rumors of a mass exodus upon Romano’s departure. All of the key personnel have returned.

Leading the way is senior quarterback Anthony Villano (6-1, 185), who has been the starting signal caller for the Golden Griffins for the last three seasons.

Kearns is in amazement when it comes to Villano’s talents.

“Without a question, Anthony is the purest passer I think Queen of Peace has ever had,” Kearns said. “I told him early on that he was in charge. When he calls the plays, he has this confidence built in him. He’s like having another coach on the field. I told him that he’s the guy driving the car. Every day, he grows more confident and that’s a pleasure to see.”

Top running back Kevin Momnohin has also returned. Momnohin (5-11, 200) has been the most electric player QP has had the last two seasons and he’s back for his senior year. The only thing that has sidetracked Momnohin in the past has been injury. Other than that, he’s been next to unstoppable.

“We have to get him the ball,” Kearns said. “He’s a complete football player.”

Another returnee in the QP backfield is Momnohin’s twin brother Keith (5-10, 220).

“He’s a quiet kid, but a tough quiet,” Kearns said. “He has that look about him, that presence.”

The fullback is senior Tajier Jefferson (5-9, 225), who might be built low to the ground, but he’s deceptively fast.

“He’s a bowling ball, but he can go,” Kearns said. “He’s elusive.”

Senior Danny Douelfakar (6-2, 210) is the team’s tight end/wide receiver.

“He has great hands,” Kearns said of Douelfakar. “I think he has a great thing going with Anthony. The two work so well together and help each other.”

Another wide receiver is senior Justin Thomas (5-9, 175).

“He’s the best route runner on the team,” Kearns said. “He is a heck of a receiver.”

Senior Michael Akanbi (6-4, 220), the standout high hurdler in the spring track season, is another returning starter at tackle. Akanbi is joined at tackle by senior Shadaun Brown (6-1, 215). Senior Babatunde Ojo (6-2, 240) returns at one guard slot. He is joined by mammoth senior Peter Lorfink (6-7, 350), who moves extremely well for a player of his stature. Sophomore Maurice Helena (6-2, 220) is the center.

“We have nice size up front,” Kearns said. “They’re meshing well together.”

Defensively, the Golden Griffins use a 3-4 formation, with Akanbi and Ojo at defensive end and sophomore Chima Dunga (6-2, 210) at nose guard.

Thomas and junior Jeraldy Napoleon (5-10, 185) are the outside linebackers, with Douelfakar and Jefferson at inside linebacker.

Jefferson is a player to watch on the defensive side.

“He’s the heart and soul of our defense,” Kearns said.

Keith Momnohin and Villano are the cornerbacks, with Kevin and senior Justin Estevez (5-8, 165) at safety.

The Golden Griffins open their season Sept. 14, christening the new athletic facility in Riverside County Park. It’s going to be a godsend for the Griffins to play on FieldTurf this season full-time.

The talent is certainly there. Kearns just has to find a way to keep the Griffins healthy.

“Any time you deal with a small group, that’s a concern,” Kearns said. “We have to find a way to keep them healthy. We have to be smart with the way we use the players. We have to utilize the others on special teams.”

Kearns likes the makeup of his squad.

“We’ll see,” Kearns said. “The talent is there. We just have to put them in the right positions. Once we do, we can start moving forward.”

If they do move forward, then a berth in the state playoffs once again is not out of the question.

Kearny boys’ soccer: Nothing less than contending for titles

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny will look to improve on last year’s 17-win season that culminated in the Hudson County Tournament championship. Front row, from l., are Michael Diaz, Cort Mantenino and Michael Almeida. Back row, from l., are Michael Barros, Damian Kolodziej, Andrew Quintos, Christopher Smith and Sebastian Ferreira.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny will look to improve on last year’s 17-win season that culminated in the Hudson County Tournament championship. Front row, from l., are Michael Diaz, Cort Mantenino and Michael Almeida. Back row, from l., are Michael Barros, Damian Kolodziej, Andrew Quintos, Christopher Smith and Sebastian Ferreira.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Another high school soccer season is almost upon us and it means one thing.

The Kearny boys’ team simply has to compete for county and state championships.

Anything less than being a contender is simply not accepted in these parts.

The Kardinals were 17-3- 2 last season and won the Hudson County Tournament championship. At one point in the season, the Kards were ranked No. 10 in the entire state before falling to Montclair in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV quarterfinals.

Veteran head coach Bill Galka knows that the expectations are once again high, even though there was a major turnover in the Kardinals’ roster.

“We lost 15 seniors from the program to graduation,” Galka said. “So it’s almost like having a whole new team. We have some players up from the freshman and JV (junior varsity) teams that will help us right away and play important roles. We lose players every year, but we’re fortunate to get guys from the lower levels to step in right away and help us.”

If there is a concern with the Kardinals, it would have to be with their backline.

“We have only one kid who played a lot in the back last year,” Galka said. “It’s basically a new group. They’re all learning now to play four across (the backline, instead of the sweeper/stopper formation), so we’ve been working on that and hoping they become more comfortable as time goes on.”

The lone returning starter among the defenders is senior Michael Dias, who has been a defensive stalwart for the last two seasons.

“I’m hoping he gives us a lot of leadership with his experience,” Galka said.

The other defenders include seniors Michael Almeida and Christopher Smith, junior Andrew Quintos and sophomores Damian Kolodziej and Cort Mantenino.

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny is fortunate to have forward Andres Pesantez back for his senior year. Pesantez had 17 goals last season, but was slowed by an injury.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny is fortunate to have forward Andres Pesantez back for his senior year. Pesantez had 17 goals last season, but was slowed by an injury.

 

“They have some talent back there,” Galka said. “They just need a little time together.” One place where the Kardinals need not worry is in goal, where junior keeper Sebastian Ferreira returns. The All-Hudson County goalkeeper was outstanding as a sophomore, collecting 12 shutouts.

“He’s one of the top goalkeepers around and we’re fortunate to have him for the next two years,” Galka said.

Senior Michael Barros will serve as Ferreira’s backup in goal. The Kardinals appear solid in the midfield as well. Senior Richard Blancos is a steadying force there, but sophomore Marcelo Matta had a sensational freshman year, scoring 11 goals.

Seniors Danny dos Santos and Jordy Arias and junior Alexi Velazquez are also solid players in the midfield.

Up front, the Kardinals are fortunate to have top scorer Andres Pesantez back. Pesantez earned Third Team All-Group IV honors last year after scoring 17 goals, including two in the Kards’ win over Hackensack in the first round of the state playoffs.

Pesantez got off to a blazing start last season, scoring eight goals in the Kardinals’ first three games. He was slowed a bit by a midseason injury, so Galka is hopeful that Pesantez can remain healthy for the entire 2013 campaign.

“We have to keep him on the field,” Galka said. “He’s that important to us.”

The Kardinals also have seniors Kevin Tapia and Arturo Sanchez to play on the forward line with Pesantez.

“I think we have a good mix of kids,” Galka said. “I’m very happy with what I’ve seen so far. We’ve seen some good things. I just think we need to find an identity as a team.”

The Kardinals open the 2013 season against Memorial Sept. 6, as they begin the quest to repeat as Hudson County champs.

“I think it’s something that the kids really look forward to,” Galka said. “I think they want to hang on to that county championship. We’d like to defend the title. We want to win the league and the county championships.”

Who knows? Maybe there’s a state title in the making as well, like there was in 2011.

“It’s something we’re striving for,” Galka said.

Belleville grid squad hopes last year is history

Photo by Jim Hague The Belleville High School football team will be much improved this season, if the offensive line has anything to say about it. From l. are Chris Figueroa, Nick Nardachone, head coach John Dubuque, Jose Gonzalez, Johnny Ramirez and Joshua Marte.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Belleville High School football team will be much improved this season, if the offensive line has anything to say about it. From l. are Chris Figueroa, Nick Nardachone, head coach John Dubuque, Jose Gonzalez, Johnny Ramirez and Joshua Marte.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Belleville High School football team suffered through a tough 1-9 campaign a year ago.

“It’s completely forgotten about,” said the Buccaneers’ third-year head coach John Dubuque. “That 1-9 is done. It’s ancient history. We’re moving in the right direction.”

Dubuque said that the Buccaneers were plagued last year by a variety of issues.

“We lost a lot of our focus and a lot of discipline last year,” Dubuque said. “The No. 1 job of this team was getting that focus back. It’s my third year and I finally have my kids on this team. I’m coaching my kids. It’s easy to field a team, but it takes time and patience to build a program.”

Dubuque said that he’s counting a lot on his current senior class to lead the Bucs past the troubled times and into the future.

“We have an excellent senior class who has been willing to instill the goals that I’ve been teaching,” Dubuque said. “These seniors are leading by example. They had a great offseason in the weight room, with their speed and agility. We constantly had people coming into our weight room, kids putting the time necessary in the weight room.”

There are more kids involved in football in Belleville in recent years as well.

“We have 60 kids in the program and another 24 freshmen coming in,” Dubuque said. “There’s no question we’re moving in the right direction. These kids want to leave their mark, leave a legacy. It’s a brand new start. A lot of the other kids are gone.”

There’s currently a battle for the starting quarterback slot. Senior Justin Simmons (6-2, 185) is being pushed by sophomore Joe Rivera (5-8, 165). “

One is more of a runner (Rivera),” Dubuque said. “Justin is more of a pocket passer. We have stuff in our offense for both of them.”

Senior Carlos Ruales (5-8, 185) returns at tailback, where he gained more than 600 yards last year.

“He’s quick and elusive,” Dubuque said. “He also has power when he needs it. We’ll go as far as Carlos will take us this year.”

The Buccaneers have a host of players at wide receiver, most notably seniors Oscar Rosado (6-0, 180) and Danny Espinal (5-9, 175), both of whom started last season.

Senior Bryan Roman (5-8, 185), juniors Michael Ramirez (6-0, 175) and Dylan Moran (5-7, 155) and freshman Brian Rivera (5-8, 165) are all in the mix to receive playing time in the Bucs’ spread offense. Dubuque likes the makeup of his offensive line, which returns in unison.

“I’m very excited about the offensive line,” Dubuque said. “They’re all back from last year. It makes my job a lot easier. They came in and knew their responsibilities right away.”

Senior Joshua Marte (6-3, 260) and junior Chris Figueroa (5-7, 200) are the tackles, with junior Nick Nardachone (6-0, 220) and sophomore Johnny Ramirez (5-9, 220) at guard and senior Jose Gonzalez (5-9, 250) at center.

Many of the same personnel turn around to play defensively.

Nardachone and Jeremy Feliciano (6-0, 215) are the starting defensive ends, with Marte and Gonzalez at defensive tackle.

Espinal returns at outside linebacker, where he is joined by Ruales, who was a safety last year and has been moved up in order to make more plays defensively.

Ramirez is an inside linebacker, along with junior Manny Lascaro (5-9, 185). The Bucs look solid at linebacker.

Senior Hassan Gibbs (5-7, 155) is at one cornerback, with Rosado at the other corner and Bryan Roman at safety.

The Buccaneers waste no time getting their feet wet in 2013, facing neighboring rival Nutley to kick off the season Friday, Sept. 13. The days of the Thanksgiving Day rivalry are over, so local football fans will have to suffice with the two rivals locking horns to start the season much like they did last year.

The Belleville-Nutley showdown will take place at the Nutley Oval.

“We have to turn the page on last year,” Dubuque said. “We have a new group of kids. We have new discipline. We have a new sense of pride. Hopefully, this team will pick up a few of my values and turn things around. We lost that focus last year. We need to get it back.”

Harrison football squad hopes to roll forward with new coach Gallo

Photo by Jim Hague The Harrison High School football team will look to new head coach Matt Gallo to lead the way this season. From l. are Ariel Martins, Rich Lopez, Axel Carmona, Gallo, John DaCosta and Brandon Perez.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Harrison High School football team will look to new head coach Matt Gallo to lead the way this season. From l. are Ariel Martins, Rich Lopez, Axel Carmona, Gallo, John DaCosta and Brandon Perez.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Matt Gallo, the new head football coach at Harrison High School, doesn’t want to even think about what has happened in the past with the Blue Tide grid squad.

“It’s a new regime, a new system, a new beginning,” said Gallo, a native of Hoboken and the proud football program there. “We don’t even refer to it anymore.”

The “it” Gallo is talking about is the current 18-game losing streak that the Blue Tide has had to endure.

“In the beginning, yes, it was talked about, but not now,” Gallo said. “We’ve gone past that. We don’t even want them to think about it. When you put on the helmet, we want zero negativity.”

So far, Gallo has received that.

“The transition has been great,” Gallo said. “I have great support from the administration. Everyone is interested in seeing the program turn around. It started when I got the job until now. Everyone wants to see us succeed.”

Gallo said that there is one initial internal war he must wage.

“The biggest psychological battle is to make these kids believe in winning,” Gallo said. “The kids are buying in. Their attitude has been great, through the roof. We do have some talented kids here.”

One of those is junior quarterback Jason Sheppard (6-0, 180), who has been given the responsibility of running the Blue Tide’s new Delaware Wing-T offense that Gallo learned while playing for Hall of Fame head coach Ed Stinson at Hoboken.

“Jason is my guy,” Gallo said. “He’s everything I want in a quarterback. He’s a hardworking kid who is detail oriented. He’s dedicated and intelligent. I think he’s going to do a great job.”

The fullback is senior Adam Huseinovic (5-11, 200), who is going to get the workman’s share of the carries.

“Adam has taken to the role very well and has that tough mentality you need there,” Gallo said.

The halfbacks are senior Alfredo Mendoza (5-6, 175) and freshman Cesar Hurtado (5-8, 165), who makes Gallo very excited.

“He has a ton of potential,” Gallo said of Hurtado. “He beat everyone out over the summer and deserves to be where he is.”

The wide receiver is senior Brian Carr (6-2, 200). Junior Brandon Perez (5-9, 190) returns to his starting slot at tight end.

The offensive line is a work in progress and they are still getting down the blocking mechanisms and schemes of the Wing-T.

Senior Ariel Martins (5-11, 190) and junior Axel Carmona (5-10, 200) are the tackles, with senior Rich Lopez (5-11, 200) and promising sophomore John DaCosta (6-3, 220) at guards and senior Anthony Williams (5-10, 185) at center.

If the offensive line can get the offensive formation down and know their roles as blockers, then they can become a good unit.

The Blue Tide will play a 3-4 defensive set. DaCosta and Perez are the defensive ends, with Martins at the nose guard.

The defensive tackles are senior Mark Isaac (6-0, 220) and Carmona.

Huseinovic, Carr and senior Justin Thomas (5-9, 190) are the linebackers, with Sheppard and Hurtado at cornerback and Mendoza and freshman Michael O’Donnell (5-7, 170) at safety.

The Blue Tide begins the Gallo era on Friday, Sept. 13, at Wallington.

“I’m just looking for notable improvement,” Gallo said.

“That’s both mentally and physically. We’re setting the foundation here, something that will be here for years to come. So the first goal is being competitive. Based on what I’ve seen all summer, I think we’ll be at the very least competitive.”

It has to start some place.