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Kardinals prepare for improved baseball campaign


Photo by Jim Hague The Kearny baseball team will count on its starting pitching and catching this season. From l. are pitcher Corey Sawyer, Josue Rodriguez, head coach Frank Bifulco, T.J. Witt and Brian Rowe.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Kearny baseball team will count on its starting pitching and catching this season. From l. are pitcher Corey Sawyer, Josue Rodriguez, head coach Frank Bifulco, T.J. Witt and Brian Rowe.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Kearny High School baseball team suffered through a tough 2013 season, posting a 5-18 record. “I don’t only want to turn the page on last year,” said third-year head coach Frank Bifulco. “I want to write a whole new book. We had some tough losses last year. It was brutal. We played all the big teams tough and lost. It was just a bad year. We don’t even want to talk about it anymore.”

Bifulco believes he has the right team to make 2013 a distant memory.

“I think we have the right group of kids,” Bifulco said. “We have the kind of youth we’ve been looking for and a solid group of seniors to lead us in the right direction. Every day, there’s a great amount of energy and they look to get better every day. If we have a bad day, we just chalk it up and move on.”

Bifulco said that the Kardinals have been improving.

“They’ve been on fire since the first day,” Bifulco said. “If they don’t get it right the first time, they do it again. They were ready for four hours the first day, five hours the next. The energy is incredible.”

Bifulco is counting on senior Brian Rowe to be one of the leaders. Rowe has been the starting second baseman the last two years and will be one of the Kards’ top pitchers this season.

“Brian was our No. 2 pitcher last year and may be able to step up this year,” Bifulco said. “We have three guys who I can hand the ball and we can expect to win. That’s a positive that we haven’t had in a while. Brian is a three-year starter for us. He’s a grinder. He goes out there and fights every day. He gets the ball and says, “I’ll keep the game close.” He pounds the strike zone and keeps the ball down. He has a four-or-five pitch arsenal. He’s not overpowering, but he’s going to get outs.”

Junior right-hander Josue Rodriguez is another pitcher with experience.

“Josue pitched a lot for us last year,” Bifulco said. “He’s been grabbing the bull by the horns this year. He wants to be the ace of the staff. He wants the ball and he’s going to get it. The team knows when he’s on the mound, we’re going to expect wins. He’s going to be the guy we hope to ride.”

Sophomore Corey Sawyer is a promising lefty.

“He’s a transfer from St. Joseph (of Montvale),” Bifulco said. “He throws it well. He threw three shutout innings in his first scrimmage. He has to be a complete player for us. He knows the situation. We see what he has. He can throw the ball hard and mixes up his pitches well. He throws his pitches at different speeds. I’ll say he’s a crafty lefty with some zip. It’s a matter of taking it all to the mound, but he has a bulldog mentality.”

Junior Michael Hyde is a right-hander with promise.

“He should see some starts,” Bifulco said.

Senior Steven Dyl, sophomore Connor McClelland, junior Louis Sandomenico, senior Adonis colon and junior Kyle Gerwood will all get chances to throw for the Kardinals this season. That’s incredible pitching depth.

“Especially with the top three starters, I like the depth,” Bifulco said. “It just has to pan out. I’m very happy with the depth. I don’t know if many teams have the pitching depth and starting pitching that we do.”

The one handling all the pitching will be veteran catcher T.J. Witt.

“Now he knows he’s the main man on the team,” Bifulco said. “When he speaks, people listen. He knows that priority number one is to get the pitching on board. Number two is to lead the team. He’s ready to take over. He’s the one guy we need. I expect him to be our leader in all aspects.”

Dyl is the starter at first base. He’s another three-year starter.

“He’s very solid defensively,” Bifulco said. “We just need his bat. But he’s starting to show it.”

Rowe is the second baseman when he’s not on the mound. When Rowe pitches, junior Adam French plays second.

Sophomore Joseph Baez is the shortstop.

“He’s been going through the growing pains,” Bifulco said. “I tell him every day that he’s in a position that a lot of people want to be in. I’m willing to let his ability take over. He has a lot of talent. He handles the bat pretty well.” Rodriguez is the third baseman when he’s not pitching. When Rodriguez is on the mound, French slides over to third base.

“Rodriguez is a good hitter,” Bifulco said. “We need him to contribute with his bat.”

Hyde is the starter in left field, with sophomore John O’Neill earning the nod in centerfield.

“He can catch anything,” Bifulco said of O’Neill. “He carries himself well. You would never know he was a sophomore. He also puts the ball in play. He’s very fast.”

Sawyer is the starting right fielder when he’s not pitching. If he’s on the mound, then McClelland is in right.

Junior Aaron Gonzalez will see time at designated hitter.

The Kardinals are slated to open April 1 against Hoboken. The next games are April 3 against Memorial of West New York and then April 4 against neighboring rival Harrison, now coached by Bifulco’s former Kearny teammate Jairo Mendez.

The Kardinals have a home-and- home schedule with Harrison this season, adding to some local excitement.

More importantly, the Kardinals’ first three games are at home. That gives the team a good head start.

“Being that we have a young team, it’s good to have the games at home,” Bifulco said. “But we can’t get comfortable. Starting off at home is great, but after those games, the season gets going and everything is for real. Being at home will help us get that first win and we can go from there.”

And easily improve on last year’s disaster.

Locals lead St. Peter’s Prep to solid hockey season

Photo courtesy of the Fearon family From l., Augie Burkhardt, Robbie Mahon, Ryan Pezzolla, J.T. Fearon and Sam Burkhardt are all local residents who have helped the St. Peter’s Prep hockey program become one of the best high school programs in New Jersey. Mike Zdanowicz, not pictured, but another local member of the Marauders.

Photo courtesy of the Fearon family
From l., Augie Burkhardt, Robbie Mahon, Ryan Pezzolla, J.T. Fearon and Sam Burkhardt are all local residents who have helped the St. Peter’s Prep hockey program become one of the best high school programs in New Jersey. Mike Zdanowicz, not pictured, but another local member of the Marauders.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The St. Peter’s Prep hockey team experienced great success in the past season, including a chance to play at Yankee Stadium while the rink was laid down at the world’s most famous baseball park.

Several of the members of that team hail from the area, giving head coach Mike Goodrich reason to be proud of the performances of the local players.

“There are so many towns locally that you wouldn’t think of getting hockey players,” Goodrich said. “The hockey world is so different than any other. It’s nice to be able to give kids who play hockey a program that they could continue to play. Not only are they good players, but they’re good people as well.”

Goodrich said that the local players who are members of the Marauders’ roster have to be experienced and talented.

“To play at our level, they have to be already good players, because there are so many others who want to be part of our program,” Goodrich said. “We have 65 kids in our program (freshman and junior varsity teams as well). So to be on our varsity, you better be a good player, because we play at such a high level.”

Added Goodrich, “Hockey is a different sport than say football or soccer. It’s very hard to develop kids when they get to the ninth grade. It’s tough to advance them if they hadn’t been playing. We introduce them to a new line of training, so they have to get on the ice at an early age.”

The Marauders finished 2014 with an 11-9-3 record, facing some of the toughest teams in New Jersey.

“We remained in the top 10 in the state with one of the toughest schedules around,” Goodrich said.

Leading the way for the locals on the Marauders is senior Ryan Pezzolla from North Arlington.

“Ryan is a great kid,” Goodrich said. “He has great hands and a knack for scoring. He was a very good offensive player for us.”

Sam Burkhardt is another senior who hails from Lyndhurst.

“He had the knack of scoring very big goals for us, especially early in the season,” Goodrich said. “He’s a hard working kid who worked very hard last summer to get better and make an impact for us.”

J.T. Fearon is a junior from Kearny.

“Fearon is a big, physical kid who played a big role for us,” Goodrich said. “We needed him to be a physical presence on the ice. He was also strong on the defensive end.”

Robbie Fearon is another junior from Kearny.

“He’s a beast,” Goodrich said. “He’s a physically tough kid to play against. He comes hard all the time. We use him with different situations on defense and offense. He’s a great kid to have.”

Augie Burkhardt is a sophomore and the younger brother of Augie. He has an extremely bright future.

“There are some NCAA Division I schools that are already showing interest,” Goodrich said. “Schools like Yale and Union are already looking at him. He’s a legitimate player. He’s going to play at the next level. He has a lot of potential.”

Freshman Mike Zdanowicz is another player with a bright future. Zdanowicz is from Lyndhurst, like the Burkhardt brothers.

“Mike is a good, up-andcoming player,” Goodrich said. “I like his potential.”

All of the locals began their hockey development playing street hockey and then getting to play with various ice hockey travel programs.

“We graduate eight seniors,” Goodrich said. “We have a great freshman class and another group of good players coming in. Our program is really starting to build and we’re starting to get some recognition.”

Goodrich applauds the efforts of the local players to become part of the Prep program.

“I think the location of St. Peter’s in Jersey City is convenient to those players,” Goodrich said. “It’s a good academic institution with a quality hockey program. The kids want to challenge themselves and play the best competition in the state. I think we were lucky to get these kids. They are all good kids and quality individuals.”

And the locals give the Prep hockey program a lot of hope and promise for the future.

Maroon Raiders look to be one of best local baseball squads


Photo by Jim Hague The Nutley baseball team hopes to have an excellent season, thanks to a deep pitching staff. From l. are Nick Lianci, head coach Bob Harbison, Kyle Cresci and Michael Meechan.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Nutley baseball team hopes to have an excellent season, thanks to a deep pitching staff. From l. are Nick Lianci, head coach Bob Harbison, Kyle Cresci and Michael Meechan.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Ask veteran Nutley High School head baseball coach Bob Harbison about the character of his Maroon Raiders and the coach doesn’t miss a beat.

“I like the makeup of this team,” Harbison said. “We’re doing pretty well.”

Despite the loss of returning starting shortstop Anthony Rossi to an illness, the Maroon Raiders should be improved on last year’s 15-14 record. There’s no timetable for Rossi’s return to action.

“I’m happy and excited about the team,” Harbison said. “We have a talented pitching rotation. We have some good arms.”

One of the Maroon Raiders’ best pitchers is senior lefthander Nick Lianci. “He’s a three-year varsity player and our starting centerfielder,” Harbison said of Lianci.

“He’s also our lead-off hitter. He’s always been a good player for us, because he gets on base. But he’s also very good as a pitcher. He’s a tough guy to hit. He throws off-speed stuff and is not afraid to throw a 2-0 change-up without a problem. He gives us the best chance to win games and beat the big teams.”

Senior left-hander Michael Meechan is another talented pitcher.

“He pitched a lot for us last year,” Harbison said. “He has had a little trouble with his control in the past, but he’s focused on throwing strikes this year. When his control is on, he’s a very good pitcher. I expect big things from him this year.”

Senior right-hander Kyle Cresci is also a key part to the Maroon Raiders’ rotation.

“He pitched some for us last year, but he was our top hitter,” Harbison said. “He’s a talented player. He runs well.”

Cresci will attend Ramapo College in the fall and play baseball there.

Vinnie Petracco is a junior left-hander. Petracco pitched three scoreless innings in a scrimmage against Kearny last Saturday afternoon.

“He throws very well,” Harbison said. “He throws a lot of strikes and gets a lot of outs.”

Sean Rodriguez is another junior lefty.

“He played a lot last year as a sophomore,” Harbison said. “If he can throw strikes, he could be very good.”

Dillon Rubin is a senior left-hander.

“He’s had a very good preseason,” Harbison said. “He has good stuff.”

Needless to say, that’s a ton of pitching depth.

The person handling all that pitching is veteran backstop Austin Kunz, who has been the starter at catcher for the Maroon Raiders since he was a freshman. Kunz has already declared his intention to attend Alvernia College in the fall. Kunz was also a standout for Harbison on the Nutley basketball team.

“He’s a very good defensive catcher,” Harbison said. “I think declaring for Alvernia will settle him down and make him a better hitter. He can hit. He has great hands.”

Sophomore Anthony Condito, who started at right field last year as a freshman, moves in to play first base, along with senior Nico Mercandante, who played outfield and third base last year.

Junior Pete DeCillia is the second baseman.

“He has a chance to be one of the most effective players for us offensively,” Harbison said.

Junior Angelo Gaeta is the shortstop right now.

“He’s been playing very well for us,” Harbison said. “We put him at short and he’s been able to handle it.”

Junior Isaak Lindenbaum is the starter at third base.

The outfield picture is still a little clouded. Cresci is in the mix in left field, along with Rodriguez and sophomore Andrew Connor, who has a lot of promise.

“He can run, hit, throw,” Harbison said. “He’s forcing himself into the lineup.”

Centerfield duties will go to Lianci when he’s not on the mound and Rodriguez and possibly Connor.

Right field sees a combination of Condito, Rodriguez and Mercandante.

Sophomore Andrew Santos will see a lot of time as the designated hitter.

“He can also play the infield, but we’ll see him a lot as the DH,” Harbison said.

The Maroon Raiders begin their season against Seton Hall Prep on April 1. That’s no April Fool’s joke. It’s a big challenge right away for the Maroon Raiders.

“Let’s get going,” Harbison said. “We’ll see how good we are right away. I think we can be very good. We just need someone to step out and lead us on the mound. We definitely have talent. It’s going to be interesting to see how this team does against the better teams.” The Maroon Raiders hope to be playing meaningful games into late May and possibly June.

Is it the end for Kearny’s Adamek?

Heavyweight contender suffers lopsided loss to Glazkov

Photo courtesy Rich Graessle of Main Events Kearny native Tomasz Adamek (l.) takes a vicious straight jab from Vlacheslav “Czar” Glazkov during their nationally televised heavyweight elimination fight Saturday, a card that was held at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pa., and aired on NBC Sports Network. Glazkov won via a unanimous decision.

Photo courtesy Rich Graessle of Main Events
Kearny native Tomasz Adamek (l.) takes a vicious straight jab from Vlacheslav “Czar” Glazkov during their nationally televised heavyweight elimination fight Saturday, a card that was held at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pa., and aired on NBC Sports Network. Glazkov won via a unanimous decision.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Before he took to the ring for the first time in almost a year, Tomasz Adamek shook off questions about what would happen if he happened to lose to undefeated challenger and former sparring partner Vlacheslav “Czar” Glazkov.

“I never think about losing, because I’m a winner,” Adamek said in a pre-fight conference call last week. “I’m ready for a war. If God keeps me healthy, then I’ll keep going. I’ll keep fighting.”

A few days later, maybe Adamek is thinking about taking back those words.

In a fight televised nationally by the NBC Sports Network, Glazkov dominated Adamek from the start and won the 12-round fight by unanimous decision. Two judges scored the fight 117-111 and the other had it 117-112 in favor of the upand- coming challenger.

Glazkov improved his record to 17-0-1, while Adamek lost for the first time since facing Vitaly Kitschko for the World Heavyweight Boxing championship in 2011. Adamek, who is now 37, saw his professional record drop to 49-3.

There were many boxing experts who believed Glazkov had the upper hand against Adamek because of the damage he caused while acting as a sparring partner for Adamek.

“As everyone knows, sparring is sparring,” Adamek said pre-fight, trying to stay away from controversy. “The fight is a different story. I know I’m going to be the best.”

Adamek won the first round on several cards, but started to see the fight slip away in rounds 2 through 6, when Glazkov used a stiff left jab and a powerful right corner to hurt Adamek on a few occasions.

“We had a nine-week camp,” Adamek trainer Roger Bloodworth said. “We did what we normally do to prepare for a fight. When a fighter reaches Tomasz’ age, he needs rest.”

The Polish native who has called Kearny his home for the last four years had to pull out of the originally scheduled bout between himself and Glazkov last November, because Adamek was sick with the flu.

“I take every fight very seriously,” Adamek said. “I didn’t just stay home because I was sick. I got back into camp for nine weeks. I feel very sharp and very good.”

Adamek was neither on Saturday. Although some late round jabs scored like they did in his previous wins, there wasn’t a constant assault of scoring punches and that cost Adamek dearly.

Photo courtesy Rich Graessle of Main Events Tomasz Adamek

Photo courtesy Rich Graessle of Main Events
Tomasz Adamek


As for being very good, Adamek looked over-matched – and began to really show it in the middle rounds, when he offered very little resistance. At one point, the CompuBox computer service that scores fights for television viewers, said that Adamek had scored with only 17% of his punches while Glazkov had 45% of his punches score. That’s a big differential.

“I’ve been in the business a long time,” Bloodworth said. “You have a fighter here with a lot of experience and knowledge going up against a young fighter. Well, experience will tell the story.”

Unfortunately, it did not. Glazkov won the fight, fair and square. There were no controversies, no complaints. There were only 6,000 or so avid Adamek fans who made the trek to the new Sands Casino and Race Track to see the fight. The fans let out their famous cries and chants of “Adamek, Adamek,” but to no avail. The local hero was a beaten warrior.

Adamek won’t get another shot at the heavyweight championship. That ship has sailed.

So who knows if Adamek still wants to do it, doing it for the love of the game while collecting smaller, non-TV generated revenues?

Meanwhile, the rising star in the heavyweight division is the 27-year-old from the Ukraine.

“I would like to thank Main Events and Kathy Duva for giving me this opportunity and taking me to this road,” Glazkov said.

Kathy Duva of Main Events sponsors both boxers.

“I also want to thank Tomasz Adamek for taking this bout and giving me this opportunity,” Glazkov said. “He was risking more than I did. Tomasz was not a guy who was backing up, he was coming forward. It was a very good bout.”

It could very well mean the end of the road for Adamek. We will have to see the next few weeks, whether he’s up to training full-time once again. It will be a tough decision for Adamek, but one that can be made easier if he sees all the old-time fighters who are struggling with Puncher’s Dementia (or punch drunk syndrome) or even worse.

Duva hinted that Glazkov is the rising star of her stable now – and not the Polish wonder who took the area by storm, the boxer who calls himself “Mountain Boy.”

“This is a passing of the torch. Glazkov did everything he absolutely had to do to win this fight against a very tough and very accomplished opponent. Tonight, he announced his arrival to everyone that he belongs among the top five heavyweights. Adamek is someone who has been a top ten heavyweight for the last 6-to-10 years. I am really at a loss to say who amazed me more.”

Nutley girls’ hoops squad enjoys great season

Photo by Jim Hague Sophomore Blair Watson has emerged as one of the top all-around players in New Jersey. She averaged 20 points per game over the season and ended with 39 points against West Morris in the state sectional title game.

Photo by Jim Hague
Sophomore Blair Watson has emerged as one of the top all-around
players in New Jersey. She averaged 20 points per game over the season and ended with 39 points against West Morris in the state sectional title game.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Larry Mitschow knew the talent of the Nutley High School girls’ basketball team, having coached the Maroon Raiders to a 15-7 record, after having coached the freshman boys’ squad at the school for 14 years.

“I love coaching basketball,” Mitschow said. “I knew that the girls had a chance to play for something at the end of the season, meaning the league and county playoffs. I finally got the opportunity to coach a varsity team. Playing for something worthwhile at the end of the season really makes it much more exciting.”

Mitschow, a Nutley native who graduated from Nutley High, had a sense that the Maroon Raiders would be improved this year.

“I knew we had a couple of kids back,” Mitschow said. “Last year, there was an adjustment period, me getting used to the girls and the girls getting used to me. But coming into this year, the pieces were all in place.”

The Maroon Raiders held their own during the Paterson Kennedy summer league, one of the most competitive girls’ basketball leagues in the state.

“I wanted to challenge the kids and learn from what they did over the summer,” Mitschow said.

The Maroon Raiders were more than competitive this season, posting a brilliant 23-4 record and advancing to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III championship game last week, before falling to West Morris in the sectional final.

Mitschow liked his team’s chances going into the title game.

“We were very loose on the bus,” Mitschow said. “The kids were singing songs and laughing the whole way.”

The Wolfpack fell behind early, trailing by 10 in the second quarter.

“But to our girls’ credit, they handled everything really well,” Mitschow said.

Led by sophomore center Blair Watson, the Maroon Raiders got hot in the third quarter. Watson had a season-high 39 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and collected 10 blocked shots. Watson also had six steals.

The 6-foot-1 Watson is already drawing looks from major colleges.

“She’s the real deal,” Mitschow said. “She has a ton of Division I offers. She averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. Blair really improved and matured as a person. She’s just awesome. She definitely saved her best game for the right time. She put us on her shoulders and carried us.”

The Montgomery twins, Grace and Meghan, were both key players for the Maroon Raiders.

“Grace handles the ball more and she’s more in control with the ball,” Mitschow said. “Meghan is more of a spot-up shooter.”

Between the two, Mitschow received approximately 17 points per game. That’s good complimentary numbers to Watson.

Junior Carly Anderson is an athletic player who can play any position.

“She contributes a lot to our offense,” Mitschow said.

Anderson will contribute a lot more in a few weeks, as the top returning starting pitcher for the Maroon Raiders’ softball team.

Senior forward Julia Seremba has improved tremendously down the stretch, scoring big points and collecting big rebounds.

Cara Michaels is a 5-foot-5 senior who also plays a multitude of roles for the Maroon Raiders.

“Cara knows her role and comes in at practically every position. She’s a quiet leader off the court.”

And that’s it. Mitschow only used six players on a regular basis.

“It really doesn’t affect us,” Mitschow said. “If you think of it, we outscored our opponents in the second half when we should be tired. We’re in great shape with our conditioning. We have high intensity practices. There isn’t much standing around. We don’t have a lot of down time. They all worked very hard.”

The Raiders dropped the state sectional title game last week, ending their season with an impressive 23-4 record. The four losses came to West Morris, Weequahic and Newark Academy, all teams that went on to win their state sectional. We played some solid teams. We took care of business when we had to.”

A lot of people might be shocked with Nutley’s impressive 23-4 record. One who is not surprised at all is the head coach.

“I really expected this team to compete for the county, the league and the states,” Mitschow said. “We were right there.”

Nutley enjoys solid hockey season

Photo courtesy Nutley hockey The senior members of the Nutley High School ice hockey team get together after one last practice together. From l. are Timothy Render, Justin Souza, Brian Parigi, Eric Fisher, Jake Giordano, Michael Conca and Richie LaFiura. Matt Apito and Matt Basile are pictured here, but did not finish the season with the team.

Photo courtesy Nutley hockey
The senior members of the Nutley High School ice hockey team get together after one last practice together. From l. are Timothy Render, Justin Souza, Brian Parigi, Eric Fisher, Jake Giordano, Michael Conca and Richie LaFiura. Matt Apito and Matt Basile are pictured here, but did not finish the season with the team.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

After losing nine seniors to graduation and a handful of other returning letter winners to junior hockey, Nutley head hockey coach Eric Puzio didn’t know how his team would fare in the 2013-14 season.

“I figured we could come back and at least be competitive,” Puzio said. “Obviously, losing the guys we did put a tremendous amount of pressure on the kids coming back. It was a big challenge for us. We had to try to fill in people to find some offense.”

With better than 65% of their scoring from a year ago gone – and the standout goalie Alec Astorga off to play junior hockey at Centenary, Puzio asked his returning players to increase their offensive workload.

“We had some big question marks, especially offensively,” Puzio said. “It was going to be tough replacing all that scoring.”

The Maroon Raiders got fortunate in finding a replacement for Astorga between the pipes.

Sophomore Joe Hoarle was spectacular in goal, collecting almost 500 saves on the season while logging a save percentage of 94%.

“He stepped up and did a great job,” Puzio said of Hoarle, who had a miniscule 0.90 goals against average inside the league. “He had a streak this season of 288 minutes without surrendering a goal. He was a pleasant surprise. We had big hopes for Joe, but he went far and beyond our expectations.”

Hoarle helped Nutley post a 13-9-2 record, finishing second in the North Division once again to Montclair Kimberley Academy.

The Maroon Raiders were blessed by a solid senior contingent in 2013-14, including defenseman Justin Souza.

“He was named captain of the team by his peers and he took to the role, both on and off the ice,” Puzio said of Souza.

Souza tied the school record by amassing six assists in one game against West Orange.

“He did a great job in leading this team this year,” Puzio said. “He really came into his own thuis year. He was a huge asset to the club.”

Another key defenseman is senior Tim Render.

“He’s a four-year letter winner,” Puzio said. “He logged in for a ton of minutes and made very few mistakes out there.”

Junior Angelo Gaeta was the team’s most improved player.

“He was a big surprise,” Puzio said. “I was thrilled to see him play the way he did this year.”

Greg O’Connell and Joe Fontanals are two sophomore defensemen who will only get better with more playing time in the future.

Senior Rich LaFuira was the team’s leading point scorer.

“He would simply take over some games,” Puzio said.

“When he did, he was hard to stop. He has a constant motor that just keeps on going.”

Senior Mike Conca is another center and another team captain.

Senior winger Mike Parigi is the Raiders’ workhorse, the grunt guy you throw into the corner and you know he’s coming away with the puck.

“He did a lot of the things that don’t show up on a stat sheet,” Puzio said. “He was a big target in front of the net.”

Junior Mike Frade is the lone underclassman who was a captain this season.

“He’s next in line to be a 100-point scorer for us,” Puzio said.

Others up front include sophomores Danny Render, Zach Vaughan, Brendan McCormick and freshman Gerard LaFuira (Rich’s younger brother).

“Because of the depth we had, we were able to throw three lines at teams,” Puzio said. “We never had that before.”

Puzio credited the hard work of seniors Eric Fisher and Jake Giordano for keeping the Maroon Raiders in check.

“Eric was on a line that could get up and down the ice,” Puzio said. “Jake was a four-year player for us who was like our little bulldogs, getting some big hits for us.”

Junior Milo Spagnola quickly became a crowd favorite. Freshman Tim Spitalnik was the back-up goalie to Hoarle.

All in all, it was a solid season for Nutley, a team that survived its share of trials and tribulations and still made a playoff run.

“We were picked to finish fifth in our league in the preseason and we finished second (to MKA once again) with 11 wins,” Puzio said. “I’d say it was a pretty rewarding season. I’m proud of their effort.”

Kearny wrestling developing among younger ranks

Photo courtesy Tony Carratura Jr From l., Jacob Baeza, Travis Witt, Jacob Cardenas and Jimmy Mullen all earned berths in this weekend’s New Jersey State Youth Wrestling championships. Witt, Cardenas and Mullen all won region gold recently to advance

Photo courtesy Tony Carratura Jr
From l., Jacob Baeza, Travis Witt, Jacob Cardenas and Jimmy Mullen all earned berths in this weekend’s New Jersey State Youth Wrestling championships. Witt, Cardenas and Mullen all won region gold recently to advance


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Tony Carratura Jr. vividly recalls the days when the Kearny Recreation youth wrestling program was a strong and solid commodity.

After all, the younger Carratura was part of a program that his father, Kearny High School head wrestling coach Tony Sr., was an integral part of initiating.

“I wrestled with the Kearny Rec a long time ago,” said Carratura Jr., who went on to wrestle at Kearny High for his father before he became a guidance counselor at Lincoln School.

“We once had more than 100 kids in the program, but wrestling had been down for a couple of years,” the younger Carratura said. “We wanted to boost it back up again.”

Brian McDonnell, a former Kearny High wrestling and cross country standout and current teacher, became involved with coaching wrestling with the younger kids, before he became an assistant with the older Carratura with the Kearny varsity.

“Brian did a great job in getting the youth program going,” Carratura Jr. said. “We just wanted to keep it going.”

Carratura Jr. said that the Kearny Rec program has a solid group of dedicated coaches, like Joe Chew, Andrew Plaugic, Kevin Vega, Charlie Wallentine, Dallas Sanchez, Nick Machado and Miguel Matos, some of whom are products of the Kearny Rec program themselves.

“It’s a close-knit group of coaches,” he said. “They’ve been great, spending a lot of time with the kids. They’ve been a big help.”

The Kearny Rec program embarked on a new challenge this season, joining a highly competitive league.

“We entered the Tri-County League, going up against great wrestling programs like Roxbury and Jefferson,” Carratura said. “We go out as a team and wrestle as a team (not individuals). This league promotes high school wrestling at a younger again and gets the kids prepared to wrestle in high school. We might have taken our lumps a little, but I could see a change in the kids as well as their parents. We’re building a wrestling culture once again and it seems to be working.”

The program has almost 60 kids of grade school age participating and competing.

Of those kids, 14 received medals recently at state qualifying tournaments and six have moved on to the state tournament this weekend in Trenton.

“The future is definitely very bright,” Carratura said. “The kids are definitely into the sport and so are their parents. It’s been a great year.”

Jacob Cardenas, Jimmy Mullen and Travis Witt all won recent regional tournament gold medals in order to move on to the states.

Cardenas, a 136-pound seventh grader, is a skilled wrestler.

“He’s a finesse wrestler,” Carratura said of Cardenas. “He’s one of the most technical wrestlers around.”

Witt is a 146-pound seventh grader.

“He’s a brawler,” Carratura said of Witt, who comes from a strong family of wrestlers. “He’s just a beast. He’s a very physical wrestler.”

Mullen is one of the most impressive stories. He’s only in third grade and weighs 118 pounds, but he constantly competes against kids much older.

“Jimmy is just a big, strong kid,” Carratura said. “He had some tough matches this season, so he had to learn to be more technical and rely on making moves. He can’t just overpower people now. You can see the difference in him as a wrestler.”

Mullen has dominated on the youth level, winning a state title a year ago in his age bracket. He has a very bright future.

Jacob Baeza finished third at the regional tourney in the 85-pound class to punch his ticket to the state tourney. Baeza is in fifth grade.

“He just got better as the year went on,” Carratura said. “He’s best when he’s on his feet.”

David Duran (the 100-pound class) and Adam Chew (105-pound class) earned berths in the state tourney after competing in a qualifier tournament in Fair Lawn on Sunday.

To have six kids competing for the right to be a state champion is an amazing accomplishment for the Kearny Recreation program.

“I’m so happy,” Carratura, said. “They really exceeded any expectations I had. It’s also great that we’re getting the parents involved. We’ve had long practices and matches that take place an hour away, but the parents are there.”

Carratura said that the program will continue through the spring and summer at Lincoln School.

“We want to continue it all year round,” Carratura said. “We’re working on a summer workout schedule right now. We’re also getting younger kids, like 6-and-7-year-old kids involved.”

Needless to say, Carratura has enjoyed the rebirth of the youth program.

“I deal with kids all day long at Lincoln School,” Carratura said. “It’s great to have them in a different environment.”

And getting the chance to expand that environment throughout the state of New Jersey – and quite possibly, beyond.

Kearny Christian’s Bianoski enjoys breakout senior season

Picture courtesy of David J. Friere Kearny Christian Academy senior John Bianoski (c.) owned the highest scoring average in local boys’ high school basketball, scoring 25 points per game this season. Flanking Bianoski are coaching brothers Ariel Friere (l.), the head coach, and assistant coach David J. Friere.

Picture courtesy of David J. Friere
Kearny Christian Academy senior John Bianoski (c.) owned the highest scoring average in local boys’ high school basketball, scoring 25 points per game this season. Flanking Bianoski are coaching brothers Ariel Friere (l.), the head coach, and assistant coach David J. Friere.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The highest scoring average by any local boys’ high school basketball player this season belongs to John Bianoski, who tossed in more than 25 points per game this season.

Say who?

Plain and simple, Bianoski may be the best kept secret in the area. He’s a senior at tiny Kearny Christian Academy, which is now housed in the former Sacred Heart School in Kearny. There are only 40 high school students in the school, 15 of which are boys.

“If I don’t play basketball, then who will?” said the 6-foot-6 Bianoski.

Bianoski, a resident of Belleville, was a reluctant basketball player who didn’t join the team at KCA as a freshman.

“I did play a little in fifth, sixth and seventh grade,” said Bianoski, who has attended Kearny Christian since kindergarten. “But I just lost interest. I had the former coaches telling me I should join the basketball team, but I didn’t want to.”

Enter Ariel Friere, who became the head coach at KCA after the untimely death of former coach Joe O’Neill.

“John was six feet at the time,” Friere said. “I met John’s father and he’s like 6-7, so I figured the kid would shoot up. John really didn’t take basketball seriously, but I figured that he might change his mind.”

If you ask Bianoski, he doesn’t know what inspired him to play.

“I honestly don’t know why I did it,” Bianoski said. “I knew that a lot of the seniors on the team had graduated, so I guess that made me do it. I knew we had a new coach coming in.”

But Bianoski didn’t make his decision to play until the last minute.

“I didn’t practice or anything,” Bianoski said. “I came to practice a week before the season started. I hadn’t played at all since seventh grade.”

The rust showed. Bianoski was a mild contributor as a sophomore.

“I don’t think I scored anything,” Bianoski said. “I honestly wasn’t that good. I was so nervous because I hadn’t played in three years. I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t going to quit. I started it and I was going to finish it.”

Bianoski improved dramatically as a junior, averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.

“That’s when you could see that he got better,” Friere said. “I wasn’t as serious when I wasn’t that good,” Bianoski said. “But something clicked for me and I took it more seriously.”

So last summer, Bianoski worked many hours with Friere on his own to get ready for his senior year.

“If I wasn’t going to do good this season, then no one would,” Bianoski said. “I was the only senior and we had another junior. I had to step up my game this year. So in the offseason, I practiced a lot. I worked hard on my post moves and my shooting in general.”

Bianoski spent a lot of time shooting at the basketball hoop in his yard, working on his jump shot.

“I sat him down and told him that I needed him for this year,” Friere said. “I made sure that he was going to work hard this season.”

But no one could have predicted the extent of Bianoski’s improvement, going from scoring 10 a game to 25 per contest.

“That was a huge jump,” Bianoski said. “I wasn’t expecting that. The first game of the season was against Parsippany Christian, the best team in our league. I scored 16 in that game. It gave me a lot of confidence.”

Soon after, Bianoski had 31 points against Hackensack Christian and 33 against Abundant Life Christian.

“Back-to-back games, I had 30 points,” Bianoski said. “We were also on a four-game winning streak. It was tremendous.”

“He has a good work ethic under the rim and has a nice soft touch with his shot,” Friere said.

Bianoski cannot believe how far he’s come in just three years.

“I would have never imagined I would have improved this much,” Bianoski said. “To go from where I was in 10th grade to where I am now, I have to give credit to my coaches for that. If someone would have told me when I was in 10th grade that I would become the best player, averaging what I have scored, I would have said, ‘Well, that’s not me.’ I would have never believed it.”

“It’s very remarkable,” Friere said. “There are not many who have done that, going from 10 points a game as a junior to 25 a game this year. He became a great player.”

Bianoski is also a great student. He owns a 4.0 grade point average and earned a score of 1860 on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. He stands to be the valedictorian of Kearny Christian’s Class of 2014.

Bianoski was asked if he was a little disappointed that he and the entire team play under almost complete anonymity. The team uses the old Boys Town gym on Belgrove Drive as its home court.

“We can barely get people to come to the games,” Bianoski said. “We only have 40 kids in the high school, so the people who come to watch us are parents and teachers. I’m always trying to get friends to come. It’s really tough.”

Kearny Christian Academy ended the 2013-14 season with a 5-7 record. Friere said that he tried to schedule independent games against other local schools to no avail.

Bianoski does not plan to play basketball in college. He has already been accepted to Rutgers in New Brunswick, but may attend Essex County Community College to save money.

“My goal is to get through college as debt free as possible,” Bianoski said. “I keep going back and forth about what I want to study. I would like to be an architect, but I’m also interested in meteorology and finance. So I’m not sure what I want to do.”

One thing is for sure: Bianoski is glad he put his mind and effort into basketball.

“It was a lot of fun,” Bianoski said. “I just had to keep working hard and keep going with it.”

And the best kept secret in local basketball, the one with the highest scoring average, isn’t so much of a secret anymore.

Nutley’s Ferinde takes home 8th place medal in AC

Photo by Jim Hague Nutley junior 120-pound wrestler Joe Ferinde.

Photo by Jim Hague
Nutley junior 120-pound wrestler Joe Ferinde.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When he was growing up, Joe Ferinde always looked up to his older brother Michael. “I always said that I wanted to be like him,” the younger Ferinde said. “When he was a senior (at Nutley High School) and I was in eighth grade, I saw him wrestle in the state tournament and I would dream about getting a chance like that.”

Last year, as a sophomore, Joe Ferinde reached that goal of qualifying for the NJSIAA state wrestling championships in Atlantic City.

But this year, Ferinde wanted to make his journey to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall more memorable.

“That was the goal all season,” said the 120-pound Maroon Raider wrestler. “The whole season was geared toward getting a medal in Atlantic City.”

It wasn’t going to be easy. After all, Ferinde lost in the finals of the Region 4 tournament last week, meaning that Ferinde was going to have to battle back in the consolation preliminary round.

“I knew it was going to be a tough time,” Ferinde said. “I knew that the weight class was stacked. I basically went there to try to stay calm and focused throughout. I took each match at a time and just stayed focused on what was ahead of me.”

On Friday night, Ferinde wrestled twice and won both matches to stay alive.

Winning those matches put Ferinde in a better piece of mind.

“I definitely had to get the nerves out of the way,” Ferinde said. “I won the first match and moved on to the next.”

Ferinde defeated Kyle Brown of Old Bridge, 10-3, to advance to Saturday.

“It definitely cleared away any nerves I might have had and put me in a nice mindset to place in the tournament,” Ferinde said.

It also helped that Ferinde had a volunteer assistant coach on hand to lead the way, namely older brother Michael, who currently wrestles at Johnson and Wales College in Providence, R.I., and will compete in the NCAA Division III national championships next weekend in Iowa.

Michael Ferinde, four years older than Joe, competes at 141 pounds at Johnson and Wales.

“He worked with me right up before my matches,” Joe Ferinde said of his brother. “He helped me stay focused and gave me a few pointers to use. He’s definitely a perfect drilling partner. Having him there gave me most of my motivation to do well. Not many other wrestlers get to warm up with their older brother. It was a big thrill.”

Ferinde had to come back and wrestle Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. He won that match.

The next one came at 12:30 p.m. and once again, Ferinde emerged victorious.

“It was pretty tough, because my body was sore,” Ferinde said. “But I worked on staying focused.”

Ferinde remained at Boardwalk Hall for his next match, which came at 5 p.m.

“Once we were there, we stayed there,” said Nutley head coach Frank DiPiano. “We tried to do whatever we could to make him the most comfortable. Having his brother there really helped, because he didn’t have his teammates there. He just had the mindset that he had to stay focused.”

Sure enough, Ferinde won all three of his Saturday matches, guaranteeing the chance to wrestle on the final day of the season and locking down a medal.

Although his season ended with a loss, Ferinde did manage to finish eighth in the state at 120 pounds and for his efforts, Ferinde has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Ferinde finished the season with a stellar 38-4 record and became another in a legacy of Nutley wrestlers who have earned medals at the state tournament.

Bobby Trombetta, who graduated last year, earned three medals in his career. Brandon Keena also won a medal last year. Vinnie Maurillo, Anthony D’Amico and Nick Gaeta are also former Maroon Raider standouts who won medals at the state tournament under the guidance of DiPiano.

“It says something about a little program like Nutley,” DiPiano said. “I’ve been here seven years and we’ve had medal winners five of the seven years and four in a row. The kids understand the vision of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

DiPiano loves Ferinde’s approach.

“He just loves the mat and loves wrestling,” DiPiano said. “He goes to school, does his school work and then wrestles. That’s all he does. He’s come such a long way. He wasn’t even in our regular lineup as a freshman. If you saw him then to now, you’d see a complete transformation. He knows wrestling is a grind. He embraces that idea and loves it.

Added DiPiano, “I really don’t think we’ve seen the best of Joe yet. He’s going to get better. He’s a student of the game and loves being on the mat. The focus he has is tremendous. He understands what has to be done. I think he opened a lot of eyes this weekend.”

Ferinde is proud of his accomplishment, especially the rough road he had to travel.

“It’s one of the best feelings of my life so far,” Ferinde said. “I can definitely use this as motivation for the future.”

And for now, Joe Ferinde has one up on his brother. Michael Ferinde got to the round of 12 his senior year, just missing the opportunity to earn a medal.

“He’s definitely one of the biggest reasons why I placed,” Joe Ferinde said. “From now on, I’m the boss.”

Ferinde laughed while uttering those words. He knows full well that Michael draws top honors in the Ferinde household.

Joe Ferinde has more wrestling to do this season. Later this month, he will head to Virginia Beach to compete in the Junior Nationals.

Now, he goes as a state medal winner.

“It really is a great feeling,” Ferinde said. “I know we haven’t had too many medal winners from Nutley. I just want to have the chance to do better than they did. That pushes me to keep going and do as much as I can.”

The future certainly looks bright, as long as Joe Ferinde has his older brother along.

Lyndhurst turns to Tuero for football, Radigan as AD

Photo courtesy Rich Tuero Lyndhurst new athletic director Jeff Radigan (l.)and new football coach Rich Tuero represent the influx of new blood into the school’s athletic program. Both Lyndhurst High graduates were appointed to their positions last week.

Photo courtesy Rich Tuero
Lyndhurst new athletic director Jeff Radigan (l.)and new football coach Rich Tuero represent the influx of new blood into the school’s athletic program. Both Lyndhurst High graduates were appointed to their positions last week.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Lyndhurst High School made major strides last week toward what is apparently the future of the athletic department.

The school announced that Rich Tuero had been appointed as the new head football coach and Jeff Radigan was hired as the school’s new athletic director.

Both Tuero and Radigan are Lyndhurst High School graduates.

Tuero, 29, was the head coach of the junior varsity team last year and served as an assistant under former head coach Joe Castagnetti.

Radigan, 35, is the former boys’ basketball coach and current assistant baseball coach. He will replace the retiring Frank “Butch” Servideo in September.

For Tuero, it’s a position he always longed for.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Tuero, who becomes the youngest head football coach in the school’s history. “From the day that I met Coach (Jim) Vuono (the long-time grid coach), I knew that this is what I wanted to do some day. I just didn’t think it would happen this soon.”

Tuero played along the offensive and defensive line for Vuono, graduating in 2002. He then moved on to play at Montclair State University, playing for the legendary Rick Giancola.

“Honestly, they have two totally different coaching styles,” Tuero said. “Coach Vuono was more of a motivator and intense. Coach Giancola is much calmer and has a business as usual approach. They both helped me learn how I wanted to be as a coach.”

Upon graduation from Montclair State, Tuero immediately returned to his Lyndhurst roots and became an assistant coach as well as a teacher’s aide. He was hired full-time as a health and physical education teacher in 2012.

Tuero said that working under Castagnetti helped him prepare to take over for the veteran coach, who resigned at the end of last season for family reasons.

“He gave me a lot of responsibility,” Tuero said. “I learned about every aspect of coaching. I learned a lot about the off-the-field responsibility. When Joe told me he was stepping down, I said, ‘Here we go.’ I didn’t think I had a shot to get the job. If it wasn’t for Coach Vuono and my wife (Koriann), I never would have even applied. Coach Vuono encouraged me and my wife was all over me, telling me that I better put in for the job.”

Tuero was given the head coaching position.

“This is like making the NFL for me,” Tuero said. “This is all I ever wanted. I can’t put it into words.”

Tuero said that he already has met with the prospective players last week.

“We had the first meeting and I was amazed with the turnout,” Tuero said. “We had 52 kids at the meeting. I was so pumped. A lot of the kids said that they never played football before. I want to get kids who are athletic. I looked around at the meeting and there was practically my entire JV team. So I’ve worked with the kids already. The kids all know me. They’re in the weight room and we are working on the offseason workout program.” Tuero and wife Koriann are the parents of a 19-month-old daughter Sophia Rose. The couple are Lyndhurst natives.

Radigan will serve as one of Servideo’s assistants in the legendary coach’s final season this spring before taking over as athletic director in the fall. “I have some really good ideas about what I would like to do,” Radigan said. “I’m really excited to be able to work with the kids. I want to continue to build the Lyndhurst tradition.” Radigan, who graduated from Lyndhurst High in 1996, knows that he will have a tough job, replacing a man like Servideo, who has given almost his entire life to Lyndhurst athletics.

“I definitely have some big shoes to fill,” Radigan said. “Butch did some great things as athletic director for years. I hope to bring some ideas, but I definitely will be calling Butch a lot for advice and he knows it. I have other great people in the coaching staff that I can lean on. I’m really surrounded by great coaches and people.”

Radigan is currently a history teacher at the school.

“It will definitely be different, dealing with the kids on a different level,” Radigan said.

Radigan said that he has his late father James to thank for becoming the new AD.

“My father passed away three years ago,” Radigan said. “Before he died, he urged me to go back and get my athletic administration certificate. He thought I could bring the Lyndhurst programs to another level with my knowledge and personality. He was right. This is a great opportunity for me.

Added Radigan, “I’m excited to be able to do this in the community that I love. The people in Lyndhurst are so close knit and try to help each other out. I’m only the fifth athletic director in the school’s history, so it’s a job that I plan to keep for a long time.”

Tuero already has his first game circled on the schedule.

“It’s Waldwick, Friday, Sept. 12 at home at 7 p.m.,” Tuero said. “I’m already pumped. Our goal is to get better every day. We’re going to have a young team. I know that. But I already told the kids that no one thought I had a shot to get this job. No one thinks this team can win losing 22 seniors. Who cares what they say? If we focus on getting better every day, the wins will come.”

At the very least, the Lyndhurst Board of Education has two young and energetic home grown products to lead the athletic program into the years to come.