web analytics

Category: Sports

Lyndhurst’s Alonso named Observer Female Athlete of Year

Soccer, basketball and track standout earns honor

 

Photo by Jim Hague Lyndhurst graduate Camila Alonso (seated center r.) receives the 2012-13 Observer Athlete of the Year award from sports writer Jim Hague (seated center l.). Also seated from l. are soccer and track coach Kim Hykey, Hague, Alonso, Camila’s mother Ida Russo holding her brother Nicolas Alonso and Superintendent of Schools Tracey Marinelli. Back from l. are basketball and track assistant coach Anthony Immediate, head basketball coach Perrin Mosca, Principal Nick Coffaro and athletic director Frank “Butch” Servideo.

Photo by Jim Hague
Lyndhurst graduate Camila Alonso (seated center r.) receives the 2012-13 Observer Athlete of the Year award from sports writer Jim Hague (seated center l.). Also seated from l. are soccer and track coach Kim Hykey, Hague, Alonso, Camila’s mother Ida Russo holding her brother Nicolas Alonso and Superintendent of Schools Tracey Marinelli. Back from l. are basketball and track assistant coach Anthony Immediate, head basketball coach Perrin Mosca, Principal Nick Coffaro and athletic director Frank “Butch” Servideo.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Camila Alonso first arrived at Lyndhurst High School three years ago, transferring to Lyndhurst from Lodi, she almost felt like a fish out of water.

“I really didn’t know anyone,” Alonso said.

But Alonso knew that she wanted to participate in athletics.

“I started to play soccer when I was 10 in Lodi,” Alonso said. “So when we came here to Lyndhurst, it was natural that I played soccer. I played freshman basketball at Lodi, but I was a point guard there, because they didn’t have anyone to bring the ball up the court.”

So Alonso played soccer in the fall and basketball in the winter. Later on, she gave track and field a try.

Three years later, Alonso has developed into one of the best all-around athletes in Lyndhurst High School history.

Last week, Alonso culminated her brilliant high school career by receiving the 2012-13 Observer Female Athlete of the Year, becoming the second Lyndhurst girl to ever receive the award. Cassie Indri received the award in 2009.

“It’s crazy when you think of it,” said Kim Hykey, Alonso’s coach in both soccer and track and field. “I think it’s the type of storybook tale that you don’t think can happen. They make movies about things like this.”

Alonso wasn’t even a member of the varsity basketball team as a sophomore. She was playing on the junior varsity when she scored 37 points in a double overtime game. “I just remember everything I shot went in,” Alonso said of that game.

“From the start, it didn’t look like Camila was going to be a player,” Lyndhurst head girls’ basketball coach Perrin Mosca said. “It didn’t seem like it. But she had that one game and we had to bring her up to the varsity.”

After enjoying success on the varsity level, Alonso said that she worked hard on her basketball skills.

“After my sophomore year, I took the game more seriously and put more time into it,” Alonso said. “I got a lot better. I played on a travel team. I worked a lot on my post moves.”

Once Alonso became an inside player, her game took over. As a senior, Alonso averaged close to 20 points and 13 rebounds per game, including setting a new single-game school scoring record when she scored 46 points in a win over Leonia.

“That was just unbelievable,” Alonso said. “Who would have ever thought I could score 46 points in one game? It was unreal.”

“Once it clicked for her, once she knew what she was capable of doing, it just took off,” Mosca said. “We certainly weren’t looking for her to break a record. That was just a special night. But she worked her tail off to become a better basketball player. She bought into what the coaches were saying and we worked with her.”

Mosca, who has resigned from his coaching position at Lyndhurst to take over the girls’ basketball program at his alma mater Hackensack, said that Alonso’s demeanor was a blessing to his team.

“She never gave up,” Mosca said. “She fought hard and worked hard. She’s just a great kid who never took credit for what she accomplished. She always gave credit to her teammates. She was a great kid to coach and as I look back someday, she’ll be one of the best I’ll ever coach. She definitely leaves a legacy.”

Alonso left Lyndhurst with more than 1,000 points in her career, becoming only the fifth Lyndhurst girls’ player to eclipse the prestigious milestone.

Hykey said that Alonso’s senior year in soccer as a defender was curtailed by a foot injury.

“She tried to play through the injury and it didn’t work,” Hykey said. “I knew what she was capable in basketball, so I had to make sure she was ready to play basketball.”

The track aspect of Alonso’s career may be the most impressive, considering she did not compete in track at all as a junior.

“I think it was Anthony (Immediate) who talked her into coming out,” Hykey said. “Anthony had her in basketball and coached her a little with the javelin when she was a sophomore. We told her that she could become something special in track, but we let her make her own decision.”

“Track and field was very different,” Alonso said. “It was more of an individual sport, but in a team. Coach Immediate told me that he thought I could be pretty good. I thought about it and said, `Why not? Let’s try it.’ It was my senior year and I wanted to try it and see if I could have fun.”

7-3 Alonso_web2

 

Alonso won three medals at the NJIC Liberty Division championships, winning the discus by 30 feet, winning the javelin by 22 feet and placing second in the high jump. At the Bergen County Division C championships, she won the javelin with a throw of 131 feet, 11 inches and came in third in the discus.

“When I hit 131 for the first time, that’s when I knew I was getting pretty good,” Alonso said. “I had medals hanging all over the house and I had no idea what they were for.”

Alonso continued to finish second overall in Bergen County Meet of Champions in the javelin, throwing 133-4.

At the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state sectionals, Alonso won the discus gold medal and finished second in the javelin. A week later, at the overall Group I championships, Alonso was second in the javelin and fourth in the discus – qualifying for the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in two events. She finished by placing 19th in the javelin and 27th in the discus in the entire state. In the end, Alonso set two school records in the javelin and the single game scoring mark in basketball.

“She was just a tenacious kid,” Hykey said. “To compete in two events at the Meet of Champions is quite an accomplishment. It really couldn’t happen to a better kid. She was definitely the hardest worker we had. She was there, in the weight room, when everyone else had gone home, lifting and working. I’d say ‘C’mon Camila, finish up, we want to go home.’ And she was still there.”

“I owe it all to my coaches,” Alonso said. “They molded me into the perfect athlete. They showed me how to carry it onto the field and into life.”

And now, Alonso has offers to compete in track and field in college. She’s weighing offers from both East Carolina and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. She was getting interest from Division III schools for basketball, but now she’s headed to Division I in track and field.

“I wasn’t even thinking of Division I schools,” Alonso said. “I never thought of going to college because of track. I always thought it was basketball or nothing. It’s crazy how this all happened.”

Alonso said that it was an honor to receive The Observer Female Athlete of the Year award.

“Now people know who I am and know my name,” Alonso said. “I had someone come up to me at a dinner and say, `Camila, you made Lyndhurst very proud.’ He didn’t know me, but he said that nice thing. It’s nice to know that I’ll be remembered. I want to now do big things in college. I can do it if I have the right mentality.”

Alonso plans on majoring in criminal justice, once she decides what school she will attend.

Kearny’s Adamek set to return to ring

 

 

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny resident and top heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek takes a shot at a cardboard cutout of himself at last week’s press conference promoting his upcoming fight Aug. 3 against Tony Grano at the Mohegan Sun.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny resident and top heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek takes a shot at a cardboard cutout of himself at last week’s press conference promoting his upcoming fight Aug. 3 against Tony Grano at the Mohegan Sun.

GARFIELD –

It’s been seven months since Tomasz Adamek last climbed into the ring.

Since defeating Steve Cunningham in a highly disputed split decision last Dec. 22, the Kearny resident and heavyweight boxing contender has had to endure a driving while intoxicated arrest in Lake Placid, N.Y., in January.

After the arrest, which Adamek deemed as “nothing,” the 36-year-old native of Poland, who has lived in Kearny for the last three years, said that he needed some time away from fighting. There was somewhat of a rift between Main Events president Kathy Duva and the Adamek team, but Adamek’s absence was mainly caused by his need of rest.

“Last year, I did too much and I regressed,” Adamek said at a press conference last week, promoting his next fight Aug. 3 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., against up-and-coming fighter Joey Grano. “I needed some time for rest. I’m not 20 anymore. I’m older. I was tired. Now I feel good. I feel like a young boy again. I’m ready to come back.”

The Adamek-Grano fight will be televised live on NBC’s Sports Network as part of its popular Friday Night Fights package. Adamek has been featured on the network four times already. The two fighters are anticipated to take the ring around 10:30 p.m. that night.

Adamek said that his arrest had nothing to do with his time away from the ring.

“It was a long time ago,” Adamek said. “Everything is settled. I’m not worried about it. I’ve forgotten about it already. I’m thinking more about training for this fight.”

Adamek, now 48-2 lifetime, is working his way back toward getting another world championship title fight, ever since he lost to Vitali Klitschko in Sept. 2011 via a 12th round technical knockout. He has won four straight bouts since that loss, including the win over Cunningham, which many experts felt he lost.

With that win, Adamek earned the right to fight top challenger and undefeated Kubrat Pulev, but Adamek has declined the chance to battle the undefeated Bulgarian.

Adamek, ranked as the No. 4 heavyweight in the world, and his promoter, Ziggy Rozalski, also of Kearny, of Ziggy Promotions, tried to secure a bout outside of the Main Events banner, but those attempts fell awry.

“We have had a long and beautiful relationship with Ziggy, Roger (Bloodworth, Adamek’s trainer) and Tomasz,” Duva said. “There was a period there where we were estranged. His contract ran out and he wanted to test the waters. But he made the decision to come back to us. We want to be able to work together throughout his career.”

“We had a couple offers, but Kathy gave us the best deal,” Adamek said. “We want to stay with Kathy.”

It’s the 12th card that Main Events is doing with the NBC Sports Network, but it will mark the first time Adamek has had to move to the opponent’s home turf.

The 32-year-old Grano (20-3-1), who lost his last fight to Eric Molina April 27, is a Hartford, Conn., native. He has fought seven times at Mohegan Sun, posting a 6-1 record in those fights. He was training in Florida and unable to attend the press conference.

Adamek isn’t worried that he’s facing Grano in his familiar surroundings.

“It’s going to be an interesting fight,” Adamek said. “I’ve had fights in Germany, England, California, where I wasn’t the favorite of the crowd. I think the Polish crowd will be bigger than Grano’s crowd. I’m a warrior with a big heart. I’m a top heavyweight. Everyone wants to fight me.”

Bloodworth knows that there’s work to be done with his boxer.

“Tomasz has been off for a while,” Bloodworth said. “But he hasn’t been idle. We’ve been working on his technique. We know that Tony Grano comes to fight. We’ve had a pretty good camp so far.”

“Roger is the one who looks at the opponent,” Adamek said. “We’ve been training for about eight-to-10 weeks now about what the opponent does. I’m 36 now and have been fighting a long time. But I’m still learning and I’m never satisfied. Roger is my teacher and he’s never stopped teaching me. I have to be ready for anything. I want to be quick. That’s why I’m training so hard.”

Duva said that she tried to get the Prudential Center, Adamek’s boxing home, to host the event, but Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus is occupying “The Rock” on Aug. 3.

“We couldn’t line up anything in advance at the Prudential Center,” Diva said. “Tomasz has an established, well-known name who brings fans to his fights. We would have loved to have the Prudential Center, but with NBC’s calendar, it just didn’t work.”

Adamek is confident that he could get another shot at the heavyweight championship.

“I’m looking for a title fight next year,” Adamek said. “But I can’t look ahead. I have to win Aug. 3. I needed the rest and I’ve come back now.”

Adamek doesn’t want to consider what happens if he loses.

“If God lets me win this next fight, I’ll go on,” Adamek said. “If not, then I stop. This is my destiny. I’ll get a signal when my time is over. I feel comfortable right now and feel good. If I have a feeling I can’t do it anymore, then it’s my time to quit. But not now.”

Also on the Aug. 3 card will be Eddie Chambers, a boxer who lost to Adamek last year, but is now trying the cruiserweight division. Chambers will fight Thabiso Mchunu on the undercard. Middleweight Curtis Stevens will also fight Saul Roman in another of the seven bouts that evening.

But all eyes will be on the Kearny resident, making somewhat of a comeback.

“I’m strong mentally now,” Adamek said. “It’s good that I came back.”

Adamek believes he’s ready for another challenge in the ring.

“I feel fresh and ready to come back,” Adamek said. “It’s time for me to come back.”

VFW Post 1302 wins Kearny Little League championship

Photo courtesy of Sui Wa Lau Kearny VFW Post 1302 is the 2013 Kearny Little League Champions. Front row, from l. are Brandan Lau, Antonio Mastropole, Adam Michaels, Andrew Mauricio, Matthew Sammarone and Michael Carey. Second row, from l. are Rodriguez Hendriques, Gabe Mustafa, Jack Michaels and Enrique Dajer. Back row, from l. are Coaches Sui Wa Lau and Donna Mahler and Manager Andy Michaels. Not pictured are Liam Flanagan and Aaron Mantilla.

Photo courtesy of Sui Wa Lau
Kearny VFW Post 1302 is the 2013 Kearny Little League Champions. Front row, from l. are Brandan Lau, Antonio Mastropole, Adam Michaels, Andrew Mauricio, Matthew Sammarone and Michael Carey. Second row, from l. are Rodriguez Hendriques, Gabe Mustafa, Jack Michaels and Enrique Dajer. Back row, from l. are Coaches Sui Wa Lau and Donna Mahler and Manager Andy Michaels. Not pictured are Liam Flanagan and Aaron Mantilla.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When the 2013 Little League season began, veteran Kearny VFW Post 1302 manager Andy Michaels believed he had the makings of a contender.

“I knew we had a good team, but how far we could go depended on the effort the kids put forth,” Michaels said.

It wasn’t going to be an easy road, considering that Rick’s Auto Body was the threetime defending Kearny Little League champion.

“We taught our kids all year long that they could never take anything for granted,” Michaels said. “We were prepared for anything.”

VFW Post 1302 had to endure its share of adversity when the Kearny Little League playoffs began a few weeks ago.

They first had to face another perennial Kearny Little League power in Arlington Pizza in a one-game playoff, but won that game, 8-1, to advance to the divisional championship round.

VFW Post 1302 then faced Lee’s Florist in a best-of-three series, but won both of the games by 4-0 and 7-2 scores to advance to the championship series, the World Series of Kearny Little League.

There was a daunting task in the title round, as VFW Post 1302 had to take on the recent powerhouse, Rick’s Auto Body, in the best-of-three title series.

There’s an old saying that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. That’s what VFW Post 1302 had in mind heading into the title round.

“We were ready to put everything on the table,” Michaels said.

In the first game, Rick’s Auto Body won, 6-4. The defending champs were just one win away from making it a “four-peat.”

“The kids were really upbeat and didn’t seem nervous,” Michaels said about his team after falling behind, 1-0, in the series. “They always come out prepared to play and they rely on each other very well. One kid might not get it done, but another steps in and does the job. It’s great to watch.”

VFW Post 1302 bounced back and won Game 2 by a final score of 8-3. It set up a winner-take-all Game 3 between the two titans.

The last game was no contest.

Led by catcher Jack Michaels, the manager’s son, who had five hits and scored five times, VFW Post won, 16-6, to capture the Kearny Little League championship, winning its first league crown since 2008. VFW Post 1302 also won the title in 2005.

In the title game, Rodriguez Henriques hit a three-run homer and drove in four runs. Gabe Mustafa, the team’s first baseman, had two hits and three RBI.

“These kids can hit the ball,” Michaels said. “I’m really not surprised at all the way they hit.”

Henriques, Mustafa and Brandon Lau were the team’s pitchers.

“Pitching played a huge part in it,” Michaels said. “We have to watch the pitch count that the league uses (pitchers can only throw 85 pitches), so it’s so important to have pitching depth. It’s also important for the pitchers to throw strikes. It’s absolutely paramount.”

Jack Michaels, the manager’s son, was a fixture behind the plate and he’s only 11 years old, so he gets to return next season.

“He’s taking after his older brother,” Michaels said. Ryan Michaels was a fine catcher and wrestler at Kearny High School, graduating just two weeks ago.

Mustafa and Henriques shared duties at first base. Henriques also played shortstop, so his versatility was a key.

Liam Flanagan was the team’s second baseman, but he played a big role in Game 2 of the championship series.

“He rarely pitched, but he had to come in that game and managed to get out of jams in two innings, striking out four,” Michaels said. “He did a great job.”

Henriques and Lau shared shortstop duties, while 11-yearold Andrew Mauricio was the third baseman.

In left field, the team had Antonio Mastrpole, who is a 10-year-old, and Michael Carey, who is just nine years old.

Matthew Sammarone, another 10-year-old, was in centerfield and right field was shared by a pair of 9-year-olds in Enrique Dajer and Adam Michaels, another of the manager’s sons.

It was a special thrill for Michaels to be able to coach his two sons while winning a championship.

“It means the world to me,” Michaels said. “They all worked so hard toward this one goal. This is something that they’ll never forget for the rest of their lives. To come back this year and defeat the three-time defending champs is a great job. The effort they gave was tremendous. They deserve it.”

Michaels gave credit to his coaches Sui Wah Lau and Donna Wahler.

“They were tremendous in getting these kids prepared,” Michaels said.

The manager also wanted to thank the parents, who allowed their children to go to practices and games at all different times.

“They came out and supported us and that means a lot,” Michaels said.

VFW Post 1302 loses five players to graduation, but the rest return.

“We’re always in the hunt, always around with our kids,” Michaels said. “We’re doing our best. It’s more than just baseball. It’s about life as well and they’re doing their best.”

Kearny enjoying summer baseball success in new league

Play for East squad in 20th Robeson All-Star Classic

 

Photo by Jim Hague Sophomore-to-be Richard Joa unleashes a fastball during the Kearny summer baseball team’s game against Rutherford last Saturday morning at Franklin School Field.

Photo by Jim Hague
Sophomore-to-be Richard Joa unleashes a fastball during the Kearny summer baseball team’s game against Rutherford last Saturday morning at Franklin School Field.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Kearny has a summer boys’ baseball team that is playing in a new league, the Bergen County Baseball League, a 10- team organization that is not part of the American Legion program.

Kearny had to make a move after the Bergen County American Legion league folded after last season.

“Last year, we only had five teams in that league, so I kept it in the back of my head of possibly moving to a new league,” said Frank Bifulco, who is also the Kearny High School head baseball coach. “This new league has 10 teams and guarantees us 18 games with one guaranteed playoff game. It’s a good league. The play is a little condensed, but that gives our kids a chance to play elsewhere later in the summer. I think it’s good for our kids to play with others and see how they match up.”

However, for the time being, they’re playing at home, at Franklin School Field, with their friends and classmates from Kearny High.

“We’re happy to be in the new league,” Bifulco said. “It’s giving us a chance to compete.”

It’s also giving the team a chance to win, because Kearny currently owns a 9-4 record, good for a tie for first place, with five regular season games left to play.

Kearny has basically an extremely young roster, with nine members of the team just recently completing their freshman year at the school. Six will be juniors in the fall and only three will be seniors.

“It’s a very young team, but that’s good, because they’re getting a chance to compete against older kids,” Bifulco said. “They’re all willing to work. We bring them in for practice two hours before a scheduled game and the kids are great. They’re making it happen.”

The young team is doing well, so the signs look promising for the future.

“It’s real encouraging,” Bifulco said. “We have three objectives in the summer. We want to build a winning attitude, we want to get every kid playing baseball and staying involved and we want to give them as much baseball as possible under our supervision to keep them playing and bring that success back to the high school varsity level. We’re on the right track. We’re enjoying winning in the middle of the summer.”

Last weekend, the Kearny team played a doubleheader, losing a tough 2-0 decision to Rutherford, then collecting a 2-1 win over Little Ferry to improve to 9-4.

“We took a step back recently, then came back to win four games in a row,” Bifulco said. “It’s all evening out.”

Leading the way for the Kearny squad is catcher T.J. Witt, who will be a senior in the fall.

“He is now a leader on this team,” Bifulco said. “He’s doing a great job with his leadership and catching.”

Witt has also been hitting the ball solidly all summer.

“He’s doing all aspects of the game for us,” Bifulco said.

Witt is backed up at catcher by two promising players, Cody Evancheck and Aaron Gonzalez.

“They’ve both been pleasant surprises and they’re both playing well,” Bifulco said. “We get them all chances to play.”

The pitching staff is headed by senior-to-be Bryan Rowe, who had an excellent varsity season in the spring for the Kardinals. Rowe has a 2-1 pitching record this summer.

“He’s also one of our leaders and has been taking on that role,” Bifulco said.

Left-hander Richard Joa, who pitched Saturday’s game against Rutherford, has displayed a ton of talent in his starts. Joa will be a sophomore at Kearny in the fall.

“He has a lot of potential and is growing into his role,” Bifulco said. “He’s turning into a dependable guy for us.”

Josue Rodriguez is the team’s No. 1 pitcher, posting a 3-0 record thus far. When he’s not pitching, Rodriguez plays third base, like he did for the Kardinals in the spring.

“He’s starting to take control of this team,” Bifulco said. “He’s hitting very well right now.”

Bifulco has a plethora of solid pitchers to use on this team, with Kyle Girdwood, Steven Dyl, Connor Mc- Clelland, Michael Hyde and Benny Cowan all taking the ball. Joseph Baez has been the closer, collecting three saves.

“They’re all young guys and we’re trying to build something by getting them all innings,” Bifulco said.

Photo by Jim Hague Catcher T.J. Witt unleashes a single during the Kearny summer baseball team’s game Saturday against Rutherford.

Photo by Jim Hague
Catcher T.J. Witt unleashes a single during the Kearny summer baseball team’s game Saturday against Rutherford.

 

Dyl and Girdwood have been sharing first base duties with Joseph Esteves.

Rowe is the second baseman, although Adam French plays second when Rowe is on the mound.

Baez is the shortstop. He started there in the spring for the Kearny varsity as a freshman. Rodriguez is a fixture at third, although McClelland and Jonathan Illa get time at the hot corner when Rodriguez is pitching.

The left field duties are shared by Hyde and Joa.

Bifulco is very high on centerfielder John O’Neill.

“He’s taken the spot and run with it,” Bifulco said of O’Neill. “He’s taken charge out there. He’s an aggressive player who can run. He has a very bright future.”

David Nash sees time in right field, along with Cowan and Rayjay Fernandez.

All things considered, Bifulco has to be pleased with his summer action, considering the Kardinals struggled during the regular high school varsity campaign.

“I’m very happy,” Bifulco said. “Things are going very well. All of the coaches are working at it. It’s been a collective effort and I’m happy with the results. It’s all part of what we need to do.”

Another part is Bifulco’s annual Kards Baseball Camp, which will have two sessions, July 8-12 and July 15-19, at Franklin Field. The camp is open for both boys and girls, ages 7 through 14. For more information about the camp, call (201) 477-8061.

Schoener leaves Kearny for Saddle River Day

Photo by Jim Hague Last December, Bill Schoener (back row, center) seemed poised and ready to begin a long term assignment as the Kearny boys’ basketball coach. Schoener recently suddenly resigned after one season, leaving Kearny to search once again for a new head coach.

Photo by Jim Hague
Last December, Bill Schoener (back row, center) seemed poised and ready to begin a long term assignment as the Kearny boys’ basketball coach. Schoener recently suddenly resigned after one season, leaving Kearny to search once again for a new head coach.

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When a college basketball coach leaves one school and goes to the next, there’s always this one predominant complaint: What about the kids?

It’s safe to say the same thing has to happen on the high school level as well.

Recently, Bill Schoener handed in his resignation letter to the powers-that-be in the Kearny Board of Education, stepping down as the head boys’ basketball coach after just one season.

The reason? Schoener has taken a position as the new head coach at a Bergen County private school called Saddle River Day, a school that has gone a long way to trying to become a better athletic institution than it was when it was known as Saddle River Country Day, sounding more like a summer camp than a high school.

Schoener gave no indication to Kearny athletic director John Millar that he was pursuing other coaching opportunities. “

Absolutely not,” Millar said. “I had no indication whatsoever. It wasn’t like Saddle River Day called me and said that they were pursuing my basketball coach. It caught me totally offguard.”

And it’s left Millar with the difficult task of trying to find a suitable replacement in the middle of the summer, when most programs are in the midst of summer camps, summer leagues and summer training.

“It’s not easy,” Millar said. “The timing was not good at all. Even if we knew a little earlier, the timing still wouldn’t have been good.”

Schoener said that he wasn’t actively pursuing other opportunities, although it was learned that he did in fact interview for the opening at Harrison.

“I definitely wasn’t actively looking,” Schoener said. “I liked it in Kearny. I thought we were going in the right direction.”

But Schoener said that Saddle River Day called him in for an interview.

“I was one of 40 who were being interviewed,” Schoener said. “When I got there, I fell in love with the place.”

One of the reasons why Schoener took the job was that the school offered him lower tuition for his daughter, Alyssa, who recently graduated grammar school.

“That was the clincher for me,” Schoener said. “She’s already been accepted there. It’s like no place I’ve ever seen. My other daughter is in the sixth grade and hopefully she’ll go there as well. The school has great kids, great facilities.”

Incredibly, that’s what Schoener said in August of 2012, when he decided to take the Kearny job.

“It’s a school close to where I live (Rutherford),” Schoener said last August. “It’s a larger school that has had success in other sports. They play in a better league, a very good basketball league (the HCIAL). The facilities are great. It’s everything you can want. Plus, there are a lot of pieces in place.”

Schoener came to Kearny after two years at Queen of Peace and four years at Becton Regional.

“But I felt it was time to get a new challenge,” Schoener said last August. “Kearny is a bigger program. We have 35 kids in the program. I like the numbers game. I like having more kids to work with.”

Schoener said that he took the job at Saddle River Day last Monday. A day later, he went to meet with Millar.

“I sat down and he knew right away something was up,” Schoener said. “I was so uncomfortable about talking about the situation, but I knew I had to do it. I felt terrible about it. John was great to me. If I needed gym time, he never said no. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and this was one.”

Schoener has still yet to meet with his former players.

“I still haven’t been able to do that,” Schoener said. “It’s not going to be easy. I like those kids. I really do. I wasn’t unhappy at Kearny.”

Schoener was asked if he felt he was letting the current Kearny players down by leaving after one year. Schoener guided the Kardinals to a 5-22 record last season.

“I guess that’s the way you can look at it, that I was there for only a year and then leave,” Schoener said. “But this wasn’t a basketball decision. This was a family decision. At the end of the day, family came first.”

Schoener’s assistant, Jimmy Mahre, has been doing the brunt of the summer work with the Kardinals, coaching them in the Bloomfield summer league and taking them to the Garfield team camp.

“I hope Jimmy gets the job,” Schoener said. “He’s a great candidate. He’ll do everything I did. He was a great assistant. He’ll carry on and then some. I thought we were turning things around and in a place to get things going. There was an upside.”

“We’ve already started with Jimmy two nights a week,” Millar said. “Some things are already in place. It’s not like the kids are out there on their own.”

But who’s to say that Mahre, if he gets the job, won’t leave after a year?

“There are never any guarantees,” Millar said. “It’s just the way it is. We have to move forward to find someone who is a good fit for us, someone who will give us some years. That’s what we’re looking for.”

That’s what Millar thought he had a year ago when he hired Schoener. He was wrong.

“I thought the kids responded well to Bill,” Millar said. “I thought they enjoyed playing for him. I think that was evident both in practices and in games. I think they were looking forward to a new season with some new varsity players. We thought we were approaching an improved season.”

Millar said that he has already begun the process to hire a new basketball coach. This comes on the heels of having to hire a new football coach, which the school did with Nick Edwards.

“I think we’ll have our fair share of interested people,” Millar said. “I think we’ll be okay. Hopefully, by the July Board meeting (July 22), we can make an appointment. At least, we’re going to try.”

Here’s the last quote that comes from Schoener’s interview here last August.

“I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t think we can win games,” Schoener said. “I went to Becton and people said I couldn’t win there. I loved my team in Becton and I am sure I’ll love this team as well. It was time to move on. I’m excited about this challenge. I’m going to like playing the Hudson County schools. It’s great to have a bigger program. Let’s see what happens.”

What happened is that Schoener left before he could experience any changes – and left Millar in the lurch, scrambling once again to find a new boys’ basketball coach after less than a full year.

Nutley resident Halchak enjoys great athletic, academic career

Photo by Jim Hague Nutley resident and St. Peter’s Prep three-sport athlete Matt Halchak was selected to deliver the commencement address for the Prep Class of 2013 last weekend.

Photo by Jim Hague
Nutley resident and St. Peter’s Prep three-sport athlete Matt Halchak was selected to deliver the commencement address for the Prep Class of 2013 last weekend.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Matt Halchak certainly knows his limitations as an athlete.

“I’m not the biggest, the fastest, the strongest or the most talented kid,” said Halchak, a Nutley resident and a recent St. Peter’s Prep graduate. “I knew I had to make up for it in other ways. I was going to do pretty much everything I could to succeed. I guess I just liked being successful and I put everything I have into everything I do.”

Halchak was not only a standout three-sport varsity athlete for the Marauders, starting as a defender in soccer, playing a key role in basketball and serving as one of the team’s captains as a steady centerfielder in baseball. He was able to participate in three Hudson County championship games this season – the lone athlete in the county to lay claim to such a distinction.

But Halchak was also one of the top students in his senior class.

St. Peter’s Prep doesn’t rank its students, but Halchak was selected from a group of 20 of the school’s top seniors to deliver the commencement address last Saturday at the graduation for the Class of 2013.

Halchak’s straight A grades for four years, his 4.29 grade point average and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of 2050 will send him to Georgetown University in the fall.

“My schedule was pretty demanding,” Halchak said. “I knew balancing everything was tough, but I knew one thing. Academics always came first. I take pride in being a true student-athlete. I was kind of realistic with myself and knew I wasn’t the greatest athlete, so I focused on trying to get the most out of high school sports. It just meant I had to work a little harder.”

Halchak’s three coaches certainly appreciate what he meant to the Prep.

“For me, the biggest thing about Matt was that I knew he was going to be successful in anything he does,” Prep head soccer coach Josh Jantas said. “He was a vital cog to our program’s success. Coming into his senior year, he had a chance to do well for us, but he exceeded all expectations we had.”

Halchak helped lead the Marauders to the championship game in the Hudson County Tournament.

“He’s the ideal studentathlete,” Jantas said. “He gave 100% in the classroom and 100% on the field. He’s the ideal that every kid should want to be.”

Todd Decker, the head coach of the Prep basketball team, tried to fathom Halchak’s importance.

“There really are no words for it, what Matt brought to the school, brought to our program,” Decker said. “He’s one of the most incredible young men to ever come through Prep. I don’t know of anyone who has done what he’s done. He maintained such a high character in athletics and academics. He was also the type of teammate that you want to have.”

Decker called Halchak “our unsung hero.”

“He didn’t play much to start and a lot of other kids might have folded up shop and quit,” Decker said. “But Matt kept on fighting and working. He made a believer out of everyone, including me. He really brought a lot to everyone at Prep. You look at him and everything he’s accomplished, someone of his size and stature and he was able to play at such a high level. It’s toughness. You look at him and he’s the definition of tough. He never once backed down.”

Decker marveled at the way Halchak was able to juggle the demands of being a three-sport athlete. In today’s day and age, coaches want their athletes to concentrate on just one sport and play that sport all year round.

“I don’t know how he did it,” Decker said. “To have that kind of commitment through the summer, when coaches are trying to do everything, is remarkable. Every time he would come to us to lift, he was coming straight from soccer and then go off to baseball. It’s amazing. It shows the type of kid he is. I know how hard it is to juggle three sports.”

Decker said that Halchak is definitely a role model.

“We’re already using him as an example,” Decker said. “About what it’s like to create a role and make the most of that role for himself. That’s exactly what Matt did.”

Baseball is definitely Halchak’s best sport.

“I never would have picked one sport over another before this year, but it’s definitely baseball,” Halchak said. “I never thought I’d play a college sport, but I may try to walk on to my team in college now. I didn’t do anything differently. I just had a good year.”

Halchak batted .412 in leading the Marauders to a 26-4 record, the most wins in a single season in school history. While Halchak’s teams might have lost in the county finals in soccer to Kearny and basketball to Hudson Catholic, the Marauders won the county crown in baseball.

“Matt Halchak is aces in my eyes,” Prep head baseball coach Pat Laguerre said. “He’s a coach’s dream. He has one speed – fast. Everything he does is fast. Some others may learn to slow down, but not Matt. I have nothing but great things to say about him. That’s why he was one of our captains. He’s a born leader. He’s as competitive as they come and he just doesn’t stop.”

Laguerre continued to sing his captain’s praises.

“What you have here is something pretty special and doesn’t come along every day,” Laguerre said. “It’s really refreshing to see a kid who is a throwback and doesn’t shy away from competition. He wants to be the best. I literally go after the younger kids and tell them to watch Matt. He should be rubbing off on them, because he does it all the right way.”

Halchak is headed to Georgetown to perhaps have a double major in government and economics. Law school is a goal down the road.

“I had a very blessed senior year,” Halchak said. “I got to play in three county championship games. I played in six over two years. You just can’t believe things like that can happen. It’s pretty cool. I played all three sports all year and I was once at the bottom of the totem pole. It was tough, but it all paid off. It was one hell of a ride.”

Several local grid standouts get one last chance

Play for East squad in 20th Robeson All-Star Classic

Photo by Jim Hague The East squad in the 20th annual Robeson High School Football All-Star Classic was well represented by local talent. Back row from l. are Joe Rivera of Bloomfield, Jaquan Boyd of Bloomfield, Chris Merkle of Nutley, assistant coach Zac Dearwater of Bloomfield, Adam Wooten of Bloomfield, Anthony Mastrimi of Bloomfield, Aaquil Ingram of Belleville and coach Mike Carter of Bloomfield. Front row, from l., are Brian Hicks of Bloomfield, Sal Gabriele of Nutley, Isaiah Dockett of Bloomfield and David Hicks of Bloomfield.

Photo by Jim Hague
The East squad in the 20th annual Robeson High School Football All-Star Classic was well represented by local talent. Back row from l. are Joe Rivera of Bloomfield, Jaquan Boyd of Bloomfield, Chris Merkle of Nutley, assistant coach Zac Dearwater of Bloomfield, Adam Wooten of Bloomfield, Anthony Mastrimi of Bloomfield, Aaquil Ingram of Belleville and coach Mike Carter of Bloomfield. Front row, from l., are Brian Hicks of Bloomfield, Sal Gabriele of Nutley, Isaiah Dockett of Bloomfield and David Hicks of Bloomfield.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

EAST ORANGE –

Before he heads off to Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., Nutley’s Chris Merkle is fortunate enough to get the chance to represent his town and school a few more times as a football player.

When the Nutley regular season ended last November, Merkle, a standout two-way lineman for the Maroon Raiders, was certain that was it.

“I thought my high school career was over,” Merkle said. “I thought I had a pretty good senior season, but that was it. I wasn’t expecting to get picked for anything else, so I was getting ready to go play in college.”

However, Merkle, who will be an offensive tackle in college, was wrong. He was selected to play in two high school All-Star games.

First was the Robeson All- Star High School Football Classic, which was played last Tuesday night, fittingly at Robeson Stadium in East Orange.

The game is named for the legendary Paul Robeson, the New Jersey native who was once named as the greatest defensive football player to ever play high school football in New Jersey.

Merkle was one of 10 local graduating high school seniors selected to play in the game for the East All-Stars.

“It was a great feeling to be out there,” Merkle said. “I hadn’t played in a while, so it was great to get back into the swing of things.”

This weekend, Merkle will head to Kean University to participate in the New Jersey Football Coaches Association’s North-South All-Star Classic. He will get four days of preparation at Kean before the game Monday night at 7 p.m.

Merkle is one of only two New Jersey players selected to play in both games, joining Kamau Dumas of Morristown, who is headed to Monmouth University to play.

“I’m very excited to get the opportunity to play in both games,” Merkle said. “I’m so happy and thankful to get the chance to play. It is kind of tough doing this for two weeks. All the practices take a little toll on the body. But I had a great experience playing in the Robeson game. I got to meet new players as teammates.”

Merkle said that he has been working on keeping in shape, hoping to play right away when he gets to Union College.

“I’ve been getting ready since the end of the football season,” Merkle said. “I played basketball this year and that really helped my foot work. I always loved playing basketball and I’m glad IO was on the team this year.”

Merkle said that participating in both All-Star games will be helpful.

“The priority was getting used to playing at college speed,” Merkle said. “Hopefully I’ll have a nice transition into college and play early.”

There was only one downside for the locals. The East squad lost the game, 13-12, on a late touchdown.

Belleville’s Aaquil Ingram, who was a last minute addition to the East squad, worked his way into becoming one of the most versatile members of the team.

In fact, Bloomfield head coach Mike Carter, one of the assistants for the East team, praised Ingram for his versatility as a receiver and as a blocker.

“I’m glad they gave me the chance,” said Ingram, who is headed to American International College in Springfield, Mass. to play football in the fall. “It’s better to play in the game than not at all. I honestly didn’t think I could be on the field, but my parents said that if I play up to my potential, I can play with anyone.”

Ingram was proud to be the lone Belleville player on the East squad.

“It was an honor to represent Belleville,” Ingram said. “It’s a small town and we don’t get much recognition. It was great to play for Belleville one last time. I hope we proved that Belleville football is on the rise.”

Ingram will also get to play high school football one more time. On June 29, Ingram and Belleville teammate Shaq Richards will play in the National Underclassman Combine Senior All-Star Game at Palisades Park High School, playing for a New Jersey All-Star team that will face New York.

Joe Rivera was one of seven Bloomfield players selected to participate. It was a great 2012 season for the Bengals, capped with a solid appearance in the NJSIAA Group IV playoffs, winning two games.

“It was a good opportunity for me,” said Rivera, who will play football at Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y. in the fall. “Not many get the opportunity to play. It was a great experience. There was nothing bad about it. It was a wonderful feeling to get to play with my Bloomfield teammates one last time. There’s no better way to go out than with the guys I grew up with, playing on the big stage.”

Rivera liked the camaraderie that the East players had, including with the Nutley and Belleville players, guys who were once fierce rivals.

“It was great to play with them,” Rivera said. “The other guys were really cool and it was great to be on the same team. We put aside our differences and became friends. We just couldn’t come away with a win.”

Other Bloomfield players on the East squad included Jaquan Boyd, Isaiah Dockett, Anthony Mastrimi, David and Brian Hicks and Adam Wooten. Zac Dearwater, an assistant at Bloomfield, was one of the assistant coaches for the East, so Bloomfield was more than well represented. It was the largest contingency from one school at the Robeson Classic in recent memory.

Sal Gabriele of Nutley was also selected to play in the game.

“I was really surprised that I was picked, but it was a great feeling to be out there,” Gabriele said. “I was truly honored and lucky to be in the game. I actually dreamed of playing one last game and it happened, playing in front of family and friends.”

Gabriele’s football career ended with the game. He’s headed to Richard Stockton College to play lacrosse.

“It was a happy feeling,” Gabriele said. “I just wish we’d won.”

Gabriele was also happy he shared the game with Merkle.

“We have been great friends for a long time,” Gabriele said. “It was great to play one last game with him.”

Merkle now moves on to his next All-Star challenge. The North squad will go through three practice sessions on Friday and Saturday at Kean.

“I’ve never done three-a-day,” Merkle said. “There’s a first for everything. It’s just all going to keep me in great shape.”

Lyndhurst Post 139 wins tourney in Scranton

Photos by Jim Hague LEFT: Lyndhurst Post 139 catcher Austin Meeney. RIGHT: Lyndhurst Post 139 pitcher/infielder Kevin Rehbein.

Photos by Jim Hague
LEFT: Lyndhurst Post 139 catcher Austin Meeney. RIGHT: Lyndhurst Post 139 pitcher/infielder Kevin Rehbein.

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Just how confident is Lyndhurst American Legion Post 139 manager Mike Voza about the team he has assembled this summer? “I feel like I’m aboard Secretariat,” Voza said, alluding to the great thoroughbred race horse. “I’m just along for the ride. We really have put together a very talented team, a great group of kids.” American Legion baseball may be a dying breed throughout New Jersey, but not at the Lyndhurst Post 139. “We have more than 80 years of tradition in baseball,” said Voza, who took over the reins as manager three summers ago. “We’re not giving up.” The Legion Post recently had a fifth anniversary reunion of the team that won the New Jersey state championship in 2008 and went all the way to the East Region tourney in Connecticut. “The Post 139 people are behind us all the way,” Voza said. “They give us great support.” That’s why – without any hesitation or doubt – Voza took his team last weekend to a wooden bat tournament in Scranton, Pa. It was an eight-team, four-game, three-day tourney on the campus of the University of Scranton, a tournament held in the memory of Fred Battaglia, one of the biggest wooden bat advocates in Pennsylvania. “We went to the tournament to honor Fred, his name and what he did for American Legion baseball,” Voza said. “He was an old-school guy and believed that playing with the wood bats was the way to go. It wasn’t hard to get the kids interested in playing.” So the Post did a little fundraising, bought a few wood bats and sent the kids to Scranton. Little did they know that they would come home with the tournament championship. Lyndhurst Post 139 won all four games in the tourney, defeating a previously undefeated team from Latrobe, Pa., in the first round, 4-3, then defeating host South Scranton, 3-2, then defeated New Milford, Conn., 2-0, with pitcher Kevin Rehbein firing a no-hitter, then defeating Oneonta, N.Y. in the title game, 7-3. “The kids played great all weekend,” Voza said. “Two of our games were at 9 a.m., but they were up and ready. They didn’t make a single error in four games. It was amazing to watch.” Voza said that the highlight of the weekend was the no-hitter from Rehbein, the former Lyndhurst High School standout who now attends Rutgers-Newark. Not everyone is sold on Rehbein being a front line starter, but I believe in Kevin like nobody’s business,” Voza said. Voza likes the makeup of his pitching staff that includes Rehbein, Willie Krajnik, a Lyndhurst resident who just graduated from St. Mary’s of Rutherford, Anthony Pacillo, a recent graduate of St. Peter’s Prep who also resides in Lyndhurst and Bobby Miskura of Rutherford and Drew University. “We have a nice rotation of kids who can pitch, play first and be the designated hitter,” Voza said. “We’ll move them in and out.” The team’s catchers are Danny Bielitz, a St. Mary’s of Rutherford grad now playing at Bergen Community College and Austin Meeney, the starting catcher on the Lyndhurst High team that recently won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state championship. The second baseman is Danny Wagner, a guy who Voza said “plays with more enthusiasm than anyone I’ve ever seen.” The shortstop is Rex Mc- Millian, a former Rutherford High standout headed to NJIT in the fall. He scored six runs in the Scranton tourney. “Every college wanted him, but he’s going to NJIT,” Voza said. The third baseman is Jake Regina, the standout wrestler at Rutherford High who is headed to Maryland to wrestle in the fall. “He has the best swing on the team,” Voza said of Regina. “He’s a beast of a kid who hits the ball hard.” Regina had seven hits in 13 at-bats and five RBI in the Scranton tournament. Another infielder is recent Queen of Peace graduate Mark Petrucelli. The left fielder is Adam Hernandez, another Rutherford graduate headed to NJIT in the fall. In centerfield is Pat Landrigan, who played at Rutherford and will go to Rowan University in the fall to play either football or baseball. Landrigan played in the Bergen County All-Star football game last weekend in Palisades Park. In right field is Jimmy Fitzgerald, a Lyndhurst High grad who was on the Post 139 team last year. Fitzgerald goes to New Jersey City University. Sergio Turelli, a speedster on the Lyndhurst High state championship team, is also on the roster. Turelli will return to Lyndhurst High in the fall. Two other St. Mary’s graduates, Kevin Van Dyke and J.R. Hilcher, are pitchers as well. Hilcher recorded a save in the 3-2 win over South Scranton last Saturday and his grandfather is a member of Post 139. There is one major difference this year with the Post 139 squad. The Bergen County American Legion baseball league folded, so the team had to find another league to join. They are now members of an American Legion league in Essex and Union counties. “Some of the drives aren’t the easiest to do, but we look at it as a new challenge,” Voza said. “We won the league and the district last year, so this is something new. We’ve embraced the new league.” The local Post has already won one game in the league and will resume action with three home dates against Linden, Friday night against Union Catholic and Sunday a doubleheader at 4 p.m. against Edison. All of the Post 139 home games are played at the Lyndhurst Recreation facility. “We’re off to a great start,” said Voza, whose team now owns a 6-0 record after the tournament sweep in Scranton. “It’s going to be a great summer.”

Kearny’s Koziel earns six medals at NJSIAA Meet of Champions

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny High School sophomore Steve Koziel.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny High School sophomore Steve Koziel.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

A year ago, when he was a freshman at Kearny High School, Steve Koziel went to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions and came away with three medals.

Not bad, considering Koziel, who was born with cerebral palsy, has to compete while in a specialized wheelchair, devised for athletic events.

Now, a year later, Koziel has taken a giant leap as a competitor, winning six medals at this year’s Meet of Champions, held recently at Frank Jost Field in South Plainfield.

Koziel won three gold medals in the field events – the javelin, shot put and discus – and three bronze medals in the track events – the 100-meters, 400-meters and 800-meters.

“I knew I had a good shot to get three medals,” Koziel said. “I knew I’d do well in the field events, because I compete against most of the others. But the track events were a nice surprise.”

What made Koziel’s performance even more impressive is that he has had limited chances to compete this spring, maybe a handful at best.

“I competed at the St. Dominic’s meet earlier in the season and a couple of high school meets, but when everyone else is in the county and state meets, I pull back,” Koziel said. “I’m pretty much training and racing on my own. It’s always fun to see the times. It’s all about you and that wall you put up. But it’s much better competing against someone.”

Koziel said that he trains all year long to get ready for the Meet of Champions.

“The Meet of Champions is definitely my main inspiration,” Koziel said. “It’s hard to train for something all year round. I did cross country indoor to get ready. It’s all year long for that one meet.”

So Koziel’s hard work paid off, because he went from three medals to six.

And for his efforts, Koziel has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. Koziel is the final honoree for the 2012-2013 scholastic sports season. The Observer will present both the Male and Female Athletes of the Year in the weeks to come.

“The track portion made me excited,” Koziel said. “The way it’s set up, for wheelchair and ambulatory athletes, based on the ability. I’m considered a high functioning CP (cerebral palsy) athlete. For me to come back with bronze medals is incredible in theory, considering it came against athletes better than me.”

Koziel will now train for the Junior World Games in Puerto Rico August 6. He received an invitation from the coordinators of Team USA for Paralympic Athletes.

“I’ll be at the track (at Kearny High School) practically every day getting ready for that,” Koziel said. “It’s a really big accomplishment for me to be selected for the United States Junior Team. They take only the best of the best.”

Koziel has been getting a lot of local support, especially the Harrison Knights of Columbus and former Harrison Fire Chief Tom Dolaghan, someone who has been a friend to Koziel, “I guess since birth,” Koziel said.

The Knights of Columbus recently held a candlelight bowling event that raised money in order that Koziel could go to Puerto Rico.

“Tom, his family and the Knights of Columbus are like my extended family,” Koziel said. “It just goes to show me the tremendous support I have from the community and especially the whole Dolaghan clan.”

Koziel said that his trip to Puerto Rico has been assisted by several others as well.

“I have also received personal donations from people in the community,” Koziel said. “It’s also come from my family and friends. It’s great to see the kind of support I have received. It really means a lot to me.”

Koziel said that he’s determined more than ever since his incredible performance at the Meet of Champions.

“There are some periods, some days, some weeks where I hit a wall with my training,” Koziel said. “But after the Meet of Champions, I’ve had a good surge. I now have an idea where I’m going this summer. I know I haven’t peaked.”

Photo courtesy Steve Koziel. Kearny sophomore Steve Koziel competes at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions track events. Overall, Koziel collected six medals, doubling the total he captured a year ago.

Photo courtesy Steve Koziel.
Kearny sophomore Steve Koziel competes at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions track events. Overall, Koziel collected six medals, doubling the total he captured a year ago.

 

 

Added Koziel, “The Meet of Champs was great for me, but my main goal was to try to expose other high school students with disabilities and to motivate them to get active, to let them know that there are opportunities out there. You can do anything as long as you set your mind to it.”

Koziel received First Team All-Hudson County Para- Athlete at the Hudson County Track Coaches Association awards dinner last week.

Next month, from July 5 through July 14, Koziel will competing at the National Junior Disability Championships in Minnesota.

Koziel also recently helped friend and fellow Paralympian Ryan Chalmers, who recently finished a 3,500 mile “Push Across America” from Los Angeles, ending in Central Park, to raise awareness about athletes with disabilities. Koziel was able to go the last five miles of the journey alongside Chalmers. If you would like to read more about that event, log on to www.pushacrossamerica.org.

Needless to say, Koziel has enjoyed an incredible athletic career despite his disabilities. It’s proven by the array of medals he has collected over the last two years.

Golden Griffins get chance to shine on big stage at Meet of Champions

Photo by Jim Hague The Queen of Peace contingent got together before competing last week at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in South Plainfield. Front row, from l., are Andrew Gonzales, Keith Momnohin, Kevin Momnohin and Michael Akanbi. Back from l., are head coach Nick Mazzolla, Natalie Negroni, Michele Mastrofillippo, Michaela Mastrofillippo, Melanie Zaros and Lia Rodriguez. .

Photo by Jim Hague
The Queen of Peace contingent got together before competing last week at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in South Plainfield. Front row, from l., are Andrew Gonzales, Keith Momnohin, Kevin Momnohin and Michael Akanbi. Back from l., are head coach Nick Mazzolla, Natalie Negroni, Michele Mastrofillippo, Michaela Mastrofillippo, Melanie Zaros and Lia Rodriguez. .

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It would be hard to argue with the success that the Queen of Peace track and field program has enjoyed since the school hired local veteran Nick Mazzolla as the head coach.

The major proof came last week, when 12 members of the Golden Griffins’ track program headed to South Plainfield to compete at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.

“I’m extremely proud of how far the program has come over the last two years,” Mazzolla said. “The kids worked extremely hard and got a chance to compete with the state’s topnotch competition. I’m very proud of them and I’m sure the school is, too. Their work and dedication has brought a lot of notoriety to school, something the school is definitely in need of. Hopefully, it will lead to others coming into Queen of Peace and joining the track program at the school.”

Leading the way for the girls’ team was sophomore Natalie Negroni, who two weeks ago won both the 100-meter and 400-meter hurdles championships at the NJSIAA Non- Public B North sectionals, then won the 400-meter hurdles and finished fourth at the overall Non-Public B state championship, punching her ticket to the Meet of Champions.

A year ago, Negroni had no idea what she was doing and practiced her race jumping over a single hurdle over and over again. But this season, Negroni was more seasoned and it showed.

“It helped me a lot, knowing what I had to do in different situations. The experience definitely helped me.”

Negroni missed a portion of the season due to an ankle injury she suffered during soccer season.

“I already have plans for next year,” said Negroni, who won the 100-meter hurdles in 16.42 seconds and the 400-meter hurdles in 1:08.27. “I have a plan already for next year to get in better shape.”

Negroni finished 26th overall at the Meet of Champions.

The top boys’ performer was junior Kevin Momnohin, who won the 400-meter hurdles and ran a leg on the QP winning 4×400-meter relay team that won at the Non-Public B North state sectionals. Momnohin also won the 200-meter dash gold medal at the sectionals.

A week later at the Non- Public B overall championships, Momnohin won the 400-meter hurdles and was second at the 200-meter dash.

“It proved that a lot of training I did paid off,” said Momnohin, who is also a fine football player at the school. “It’s something special for me. It really hasn’t hit me that I’m a state champion. It’s really a blessing for me. Words can’t explain the feeling. I am glad that I won and I want to keep the winning tradition going.”

6-12 QP_web1

Photo by Jim Hague
Sophomore Natalie Negroni (left) and junior Kevin Momnohin both won individual NJSIAA Non-Public B state championships.

Kevin Momnohin finished 25th in the 400-meter hurdles and the 200-meter dash at the Meet of Champions.

Kevin’s twin brother, Keith, was fourth in the triple jump and seventh in the long jump in the Non-Public B state meet.

Junior Michael Akanbi won the 110-hurdles at the sectional meet and finished second at the overall state meet.

Shot putter Andrew Gonzales also earned medals at the state sectional and overall state championships.

Lia Rodriguez, who has become one of the best allaround female athletes in the area, was second in the sectionals in the long jump.

The Rozalski sisters, Michelle and Kas, excelled in the pole vault. Michelle won the state sectionals, while Kas finished second in the overall Non-Public B championships. Kas then finished eighth overall at the Meet of Champions. The QP girls’ relay also did a fine job, qualifying for the M of C.

“It was tough on the kids, especially with the travel the last three weeks,” Mazzolla said. “We then went from the rain and cold one weekend to the desert the next. They had to endure all of these things while competing with the best of the best.”

Mazzolla believes that the Golden Griffins achieved a slice of history.

“We were there competing,” Mazzolla said. “We were there for numerous events. It was the most individuals at the Meet of Champs in the school’s history. Just the fact that we were there says a lot. I’m very proud.”

Mazzolla promised that the Golden Griffins will be strong again next season.

“If we can get 10 more boys and 10 more girls to the team, I know we can compete for some kind of team championship,” Mazzolla said.

“Hopefully, we’ll keep moving forward.”