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Nutley girls’ soccer: League champs

Photo courtesy Mike DiPiano The Nutley High School girls’ soccer team celebrates after clinching the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division championship last week, the first-ever in school history.

Photo courtesy Mike DiPiano
The Nutley High School girls’ soccer team celebrates after clinching the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division championship last week, the first-ever in school history.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Nutley High School girls’ soccer coach Mike DiPiano knew that the competition would get much tougher in the second half of the current season.

“I knew that teams would be packing it in on us defensively,” DiPiano said. “We knew that people would try to knock us around. It was all about us staying composed.”

It also meant that the Maroon Raiders had to play tougher defensively.

“I think we’re still playing the same way that we did early in the season,” DiPiano said. “It’s just that our defense has gotten better. We’re playing a little better soccer. We knew that this could happen when you’re playing teams a second time. We still have the dynamic scoring up front, but our defense is much stronger.”

The Maroon Raiders are getting solid play from defensive whiz Brittany Currie along the back line.

“She’s doing a great job of leading and keeping everyone composed,” DiPiano said.

The other defenders are all seniors, so that experience helps. Grace Montgomery, Katherine Calitsos and Alyson Zeiher are all steady defenders, giving the Maroon Raiders a solid line of defense.

Junior Rachel Nichols has been a godsend of late. Nichols stepped into the starting role at goalkeeper when starter Meghan Montgomery dislocated her thumb. Montgomery will be out of action for another two weeks, so Nichols has to lead the way – and she has, collecting two shutouts among her three victories in goal.

“Rachel has done a fantastic job in goal,” DiPiano said. “The girls in front of her are making her job much easier, but she’s been steady.”

The result: A historic moment in Nutley girls’ soccer history. For the first time ever, the Nutley girls’ soccer program has captured a league championship. They clinched the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division championship last week.

“It’s a really big deal,” said DiPiano, who inherited the Nutley program after the Maroon Raiders posted a 4-17 record just three seasons ago. “It’s the first time in the school’s history that the girls’ team won a league championship. It means a lot to the girls.”

The Maroon Raiders were ranked 19th in the state last week, before falling to Livingston in the Essex County Tournament semifinals, falling to 11-1-1 overall.

“I am surprised how fast we turned things around,” DiPiano said. “It’s a testament to the girls. They bought into the change in philosophy and they trusted me. They stepped up the improvement process with their hard work.”

DiPiano still has three forward players on track to be among the state’s leading scorers.

Freshman Zoe Stack has scored 20 goals. Victoria Kealy has added 18 goals and Natalie Melillo has knocked in 12 goals and added an outstanding 18 assists.

They’re on pace to score 25 goals each this season.

“That would be an amazing accomplishment,” DiPiano said.

DiPiano just enjoys the camaraderie on the entire team.

“It’s a great group, a special group,” DiPiano said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime group. They do everything together. They have breakfast together. They went apple and pumpkin picking together. They go to watch the boys’ games together.”

DiPiano knew that he had a close-knit contingent last week, when the entire team went to watch a recreation under-9 girls’ soccer game.

“They were all there together, cheering on the little ones,” DiPiano said. “That shows how special they really are.”

The Maroon Raiders still have four regular season games remaining. Their standing in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III bracket is still at stake.

“We want to get as many home games in Nutley for the state tournament as possible,” said DiPiano. “We want to play in Nutley as long as we can. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

For now, the Maroon Raiders achieved a slice of history. A league championship can now be added to the banner on the wall of the school’s gymnasium.

“The only thing there is a county championship in 1991,” DiPiano said. “So it will be nice to add the league championship to the banner.”

And it’s a title that no one can ever take away. It will remain there through the ages for posterity, the first-ever league champion in girls’ soccer. Quite an achievement indeed.

Make it five straight county titles for Kearny girls’ soccer team

Kards defeat Bayonne, 2-1

Photo courtesy Stephanie Kelly The Kearny girls’ soccer team celebrates winning the Hudson County Tournament championship Sunday afternoon in Jersey City, giving the program fi ve straight tourney titles. Kearny is the only school to win the tourney in its five-year history.

Photo courtesy Stephanie Kelly
The Kearny girls’ soccer team celebrates winning the Hudson County Tournament championship Sunday afternoon in Jersey City, giving the program five straight tourney titles. Kearny is the only school to win the tourney in its five-year history.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When the girls’ high school soccer season began in earnest in August, there were some doubts about the Kearny High School squad.

There were a ton of losses to graduation, not to mention the other losses to illness and injury.

“It was difficult to find the proper mix and chemistry,” Kearny head girls’ soccer coach Vin Almeida said. “We had to have a lot of the young girls mesh together in a hurry.”

“So many people doubted us,” said senior midfielder Nicole Kelly. “So many people got injured. It was tough.”

It might have looked as if the Kardinals’ four-year reign as Hudson County Tournament champions would come to an end.

Guess again.

Thanks to goals from Barbara Paiva and Amber Crispin and solid goaltending from Laura Vilar, especially making clutch saves down the stretch, the Kardinals defeated Bayonne, 2-1, Sunday afternoon at Caven Point Cochrane Field in Jersey City to capture their fifth straight Hudson County tourney title.

The Kards defeated Bayonne just two weeks after playing to a 1-1 tie in Bayonne.

“It’s such a relief and so satisfying,” said Kelly, who had the three-goal hat trick in the tourney semifinal win over Union City last Wednesday. “You would think that after winning three in a row, we’d get used to it. But it keeps getting better and better. To end my career with the county championship is so gratifying. We had so many people step up and contribute.”

Almeida said that he always believed the Kardinals had the makings of a fifth straight title.

“I had a lot of confidence in them,” Almeida said. “We have a lot of girls with great ability. It was just a matter of them believing in themselves and establishing some sort of rhythm together as a team.”

Almeida said that the prior tie with Bayonne got the Kards prepared for Sunday.

“I think we used that first game as motivation,” Almeida said. “But they were really motivated on their own. They were very strong minded.”

The Kardinals scored the two goals in the first half, which enabled them to play smart, yet aggressive soccer in the second half.

“It’s always great to go up early,” Almeida said. “We could establish a nice playing style. But give the girls from Bayonne credit. They always fight to the end and took us to the limit.”

The Kardinals managed to hold on, with Vilar making five saves in the second half to protect the lead.

The coach and his co-captain both agreed that this county title was a special one.

“It’s honestly so crazy to think we’ve won five in a row,” Kelly said. “Definitely, as a senior, being this is the last one for me, it’s very special. It feels so much better.”

“They’re all special,” said Almeida, who has been the head coach for each of the five titles. “This one may be a little more special considering all that went on. I knew that this team had great work ethic and that work ethic definitely paid off.”

Almeida said that the win over Bayonne will help the Kardinals as they prepare for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV playoffs, where they hope to be among the top seeds.

“It definitely helps,” Almeida said. “This takes one goal off the plate. One of the goals we had was to win the county championship again. We’re very fortunate. There aren’t many programs in New Jersey that can say they won their county five straight years. It’s great to have.”

And chances are that the well hasn’t run dry. Most of the key players return. The Kardinals graduate only three seniors.

“The prospects look good,” Almeida said. “But every year, the county gets more difficult and the teams get better. Bayonne really battled us to the end this year. It’s good to see that there’s a rivalry. It’s never easy to win.”

But five in a row?

“It’s something we hoped for,” said Almeida, whose team prepared to face state-ranked Nutley in an independent game this week.

Almeida and Nutley head coach Mike DiPiano are former classmates and soccer and wrestling teammates at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, so they know each other a long time.

“It’s a good challenge for us,” Almeida said.

So will the rest of the schedule for the five-time defending Hudson County champions. There’s a slogan for three in a row, called “three-peat.” What’s there for five? “Thrive for Five” perhaps.

Kearny’s ‘Oarsome Foursome’ tackles the Passaic River

Crew moms band together and race in PRRA event

 

Photo courtesy Paula Cavalier The Kearny Oarsome Foursome, namely from l., Amy Beth Baptista, Cindy Springer, Paula Cavalier and Patti McCurrie, take to the Passaic River Saturday to race in the Fall Regatta. It was the first time the quartet of Kearny crew moms raced together.

Photo courtesy Paula Cavalier
The Kearny Oarsome Foursome, namely from l., Amy Beth Baptista, Cindy Springer, Paula Cavalier and Patti McCurrie, take to the Passaic River Saturday to race in the Fall Regatta. It was the first time the quartet of Kearny crew moms raced together.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Back in 1982, out of athletic curiosity, then-Kearny High School student Paula Cavalier wanted to see what it took to become a member of the school’s prestigious crew team.

At the time, Cavalier was told that she could not be a part of the program because she was a girl and Kearny didn’t offer crew for girls.

“I wanted to see what I could do to start a girls’ team,” Cavalier said.

Fortunately for hundreds of young ladies over the years, a girls’ team was eventually formed and the girls’ crew program at Kearny has won countless championships and even produced a United States Olympian in Jen Dore.

“I was always fascinated by the Passaic River,” said Cavalier, who is a spin instructor at King’s Court, the athletic training facility located right on the banks of the river in Lyndhurst. “I was always intrigued.”

It turns out that Cavalier wasn’t alone.

Amy Beth Baptista is a Kearny High School teacher.

“Ever since I moved to Kearny, I always watched the boats racing, coming down the river,” Baptista said. “I always loved rowing, going to camp, canoeing, row boating.”

The fascination spread.

Patti McCurrie is another Kearny resident with rowing curiosities.

“I always wanted to do it, but I was from Harrison and we didn’t have a team,” McCurrie said.

It was more of the same for Cindy Springer.

“I was always curious about it,” Springer said. “I grew up in Kearny and watched the races on the river. I was always impressed by the kids who did it. I thought it was kind of cool. I knew I couldn’t do it.”

The four Kearny residents also all had something in common. They had children who were all part of the Kearny High crew program. Cavalier’s daughter, Jessica, is a sophomore on the team – the same for McCurrie’s daughter, Erin, and Springer’s daughter Amanda.

Baptista has two children involved, daughter Gabriella, a junior, and Jeremy, a freshman.

So the women always found themselves at Kearny crew events, watching their children and wondering if there was somehow, someway to get on the river themselves.

Enter the Passaic River Rowing Association, which instituted a “Learn to Row” program earlier this year.

The PRRA, headed by Belleville High School coaches Jeff and Gail Lahm, a dedicated husband-and-wife team, has been allowing adults the opportunity to first learn the proper techniques of rowing with extensive lessons and training, then giving them the chance to get on the river and race competitively.

Baptista was the first of the Kearny crew moms to join the program in June.

“I guess I was the pioneer for the Kearny women,” she laughed. “I found out that the PRRA had this program and that adults could do it. That was it. I was convinced I was doing it.”

Baptista had a major change in lifestyle a year ago.

“I used to weigh more than 300 pounds,” Baptista said. “I was morbidly obese. But through diet and exercise, faith and perseverance, I lost 160 pounds. I never imagined I could get in a boat. I thought I probably would have sunk the boat.”

Photo courtesy Paula Cavalier From l., Kearny crew moms Amy Beth Baptista, Cindy Springer, Paula Cavalier and Patti McCurrie get together after racing for the first time as a crew team, namely the Kearny Oarsome Foursome

Photo courtesy Paula Cavalier
From l., Kearny crew moms Amy Beth Baptista, Cindy Springer, Paula Cavalier and Patti McCurrie get together after racing for the first time as a crew team, namely the Kearny Oarsome Foursome

 

Baptista, who is regularly seen running up and down Kearny Ave. with weights in hand, also competed recently in the Kearny 5K road race. She was able to lose that much weight naturally, with no surgery.

“Thank God, I’m doing things now I never would have been able to do,” Baptista said.

Soon after Baptista signed up for the “Learn to Row” program, the other three moms followed suit.

“I did it just to see if I was coordinated,” Cavalier said.

“We had a picnic last year and I was allowed to go in the boat,” Springer said. “But I couldn’t even get the oar in the water. It was so embarrassing. So when I heard about the program, I signed up because I didn’t want my daughter to be embarrassed. I found it amazing what these kids are able to do.”

McCurrie was encouraged after she found out Baptista got involved.

“I knew Amy Beth was doing it, so I just said, `Let’s all do it,’” McCurrie said. “Cindy, Paula and I all joined together (in July).”

The “Learn to Row” program was certainly extensive. It was not just getting together and then getting on the river. The Kearny moms got to learn about the pain of the ERG – the stationary device called an ergometer that measures the amount of work and simulated distance.

“Because we were older, it was definitely challenging,” said McCurrie, who works as a paralegal and a realtor. “Starting off was very tough, but we stuck with it. I actually found it addicting. It’s like when you learned how to drive a car. You wanted to get back in the car as soon as you could. Well, this is not like joining a gym, because there were four of us involved.”

“We trained together as a team,” Baptista said. “We got together three days a week and we really worked hard.”

Baptista was the team’s driving force.

“She’s the strength,” Cavalier said. “She’s the one who pushes us. I’m more of a clown, goofing around. Amy Beth takes it very seriously. She tells me, ‘Paula, focus.’ It makes for a nice blend.”

“Our daughters laugh at us, because we’re so corny,” Springer said. “We drive to the girls’ meets together at 4 a.m., giggling and slapping each other silly. It’s good we get along so well. We have a lot of fun together.”

Cavalier is the eldest of the group, but all four are over 40. Women’s ages should never be published as just common courtesy.

Springer loved the attention to detail that the team received from the PRRA coaches and instructors.

“The people are so great,” Springer said. “Our first coach, Fabian (Cortez, who recently started the competitive program at North Arlington High School), was really amazing with us. Gail Lahm was awesome with us. They really taught us well.”

Last Saturday, the quartet of Kearny crew moms took to the water as a team for the first time in a competitive race as part of the PRRA’s Fall Regatta. They had T-shirts made, proclaiming themselves as the “Kearny Oarsome Foursome.”

“I saw the buoys in the water and I started to get a nervous stomach,” Cavalier said. “I was excited. I was scared. I definitely feel like I’m the weakest link of the group. I didn’t want to mess it up. It was taking me the longest to get it down. I just had to get it out of my head and just do it.”

It didn’t matter that there wasn’t a boat to race against. There wasn’t another novice quartet entered.

“We crossed the finish line, so in my mind, we won,” Baptista said. “The goal was to row and learn the sport, learn to love it. We didn’t care about time or winning medals. We’re unified. We’re Kearny’s Oarsome Foursome.”

Baptista had medals made, just so the group felt like winners.

“It was great fun,” Cavalier said. “It taught me how to challenge myself.”

Cavalier has also taken on a recent challenge, training in cycling with a local organization, the Portuguese Cycling Group.

Chances are that the “Oarsome Foursome” will be challenging each other on the Passaic River – and as dedicated Kearny crew moms – in the future as well. A new crew quartet has been formed, thanks to the PRRA.

For more information about the Passaic River Rowing Association’s “Learn to Row” program, log on to www.prra.org.

Buccaneers remain strong with new coach Gaccione

Photo by Jim Hague Junior Max Correa is having a ball, leading the way for the Belleville boys’ soccer team. Correa, the team’s leading scorer last year, is contributing goals and assists this season as well.

Photo by Jim Hague
Junior Max Correa is having a ball, leading the way for the Belleville boys’ soccer team. Correa, the team’s leading scorer last year, is contributing goals and assists this season as well.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Mike Gaccione started to get the idea last spring that Belleville High School veteran head boys’ soccer coach Len Marino was considering stepping down.

“He started throwing hints around,” said Gaccione, who was Marino’s top assistant and junior varsity coach the last few seasons. “I always said to him, `You have to come back.’ But in the spring, he told me that he wanted me to take over.”

Gaccione was asked what it was like to take over for Marino.

“Lenny was such a great mentor,” Gaccione said. “We coached together for so long that we became a good coaching team. We would bounce ideas off each other. Lenny was always such a great help to me.”

With that, Gaccione’s role instantly changed. However, not much else did.

“We didn’t change much,” Gaccione said. “We wanted to add on to what we did last year. Most of our key players were sophomores last year, so they were a year older, bigger, stronger and better. We won the league (the Super Essex Conference-Colonial Division) last year, so we wanted to do the same this year and do more in the state and county tournaments.”

It was time for the Buccaneers to raise the bar a bit. “It was nice to win the league,” Gaccione said. “That was fine. Now we want more. We have to have higher expectations. Last year, after we won the league, we didn’t take the state and county as seriously as we should have. I feel this year we have the ability to win the state sectional (the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV).”

That’s saying a lot. “I really believe it,” Gaccione said. “If we just play our game, we should have a shot. We have the same amount of ability as the others.”

The Buccaneers lost only three starters from the team that won the SEC title and won 17 games in 2012.

“Even when we lose kids, we always have others waiting in the wings,” Gaccione said.

You can’t argue with the success. The Buccaneers currently own a 9-2 record and are tied for first place in the Colonial Division race.

“I’m very pleased with the way we’re playing,” Gaccione said.

The Buccaneers have been utilizing three goalkeepers. It’s rare for a team to have that much depth in goal and even rarer for a team to use three.

“I told them in the summer that we were going by committee,” Gaccione said. “I’m pretty pleased with the way they’re playing. We’re going to go by committee until someone stands out. It’s good to keep them all active, because if you have poor goalkeeping, you’re going to lose games. They push each other and go hard every day.”

Junior Kevin Coronel and sophomores Elias Tapia and Jason Cadena are sharing the load in net. Cadena may be getting the edge on the other two with his play of late. The Buccaneers have a standout at sweeper in junior Marlon Rodriguez, who was the starter there last year.

“He’s our quarterback back there,” Gaccione said. “He’s our leader. He’s all over the field and keeps everyone in check.”

The stopper is junior Randy Fernandez, who according to Gaccione, “has stepped up big.”

At one defender is junior P.J. Gencarelli, who was both a forward and a midfielder last year.

“We dropped him back to help with the defense,” Gaccione said. “He’s doing well there. He’s just a great athlete who can play anywhere.”

The other defender is junior Nelson Pichardo, who did not play last year.

“He grew up playing with our core group,” Gaccione said. “He took a year off, then his friends talked him into coming back.”

The Belleville midfield is deep and talented.

Leading the way is junior Max Correa, who had 17 goals last year as a sophomore and is on pace to top that total this year.

“He’s our big playmaker,” Gaccione said. “He’s scoring goals and assisting a lot. We play with a lot of ball possession from the midfield.”

Senior Carlos Castro is another key contributor from the midfield.

“He’s able to control the flow of the game,” Gaccione said. “He’s able to make a run up. We play a free game with our midfield.”

The other midfielders are senior Kevin Mariscal and juniors Matthew Gavidia and Francis Herrera. Gaccione has faith in all three players and uses all three.

“Francis is more of an offensive midfielder,” Gaccione said. “He has a possession game and can move to center midfield if we need him. We don’t lose much with any of them.”

The Buccaneers also have depth at forward.

Junior Luis Lopez has been a great addition to the lineup.

“He came in new to the program last year, but when he came, it was late in the season and we didn’t know much about what he could do,” Gaccione said. “Now, we all know him and he’s more settled in with us.”

The other forwards are seniors Diego Campoverde and Jefferson Chaury, who tallied some clutch goals a year ago down the stretch.

Gaccione is encouraged by the way his team has played recently.

“We’re very happy with what we’re doing so far,” Gaccione said. “I’ve told the kids that we want to win the league, do well in the county and do some damage in the state tournament. We have the team to do it.”

Time will definitely tell as the second half of the season kicks in this week.

NA’s Cordeiro enjoys goal scoring explosion

 

Photo by Jim Hague North Arlington senior center midfielder Danny Cordeiro

Photo by Jim Hague
North Arlington senior center midfielder Danny Cordeiro

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

A lot of local soccer coaches, experts, followers and fans were asked about the recent scoring explosion of North Arlington High School senior center midfielder Danny Cordeiro and the answer was fairly unanimous.

It was unprecedented. Never before seen. Certainly one of a kind.

“It is amazing,” North Arlington head coach Jesse Dombowski said. “He’s been controlling the game on both sides. It’s amazing what he’s doing.”

Cordeiro is just letting it all fall into place. He’s certainly not fazed by the recent string of domination.

“I wasn’t really amazed,” Cordeiro said. “I just keep playing and scoring. I want to keep scoring as many goals as possible to help my team. I’m just happy we won the games more than anything else.”

As much as Cordeiro is trying to downplay his incredible achievements, it is hard to ignore. He managed to score a school-record six goals in one win over St. Mary’s of Rutherford. One game later, Cordeiro found the net four more times in a victory over Lyndhurst.

That’s right, 10 goals in just two consecutive games.

For his efforts, Cordeiro has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

On the season now, Cordeiro has scored 23 goals and collected nine assists in just 11 games for the Vikings, who now own a 7-3-1 record.

It’s also fairly astounding that Cordeiro is gathering all these goals from the center midfield slot. Most goal scoring opportunities are reserved for strikers.

“He’s been involved in a lot of give-and-gos,” Dembowski said. “He comes up with the others and then gets the ball back. But he also has the ability to take the ball all the way up. He’s had some great opportunities to score. We knew we needed that game (St. Mary’s) and he was going to find ways to score.”

Cordeiro has a method to his goal-scoring madness.

“I try to always keep the ball at my feet,” Cordeiro said. “I want to be able to control the pace of the game. I also try to get everyone involved as much as possible.”

Cordeiro has already surpassed last year’s goal total. He had 16 goals for the entire season last year.

“I’m happy about that,” Cordeiro said. “I want to have a lot more goals before the end of the season.”

“Every year, he keeps getting better,” Dembowski said. “It’s amazing that he keeps getting marked by two or three guys every game and he keeps putting them in.”

Dembowski was asked what are the main reasons why Cordeiro has been so successful.

“He has talent, but he also has incredible stamina,” Dembowski said. “He has great touch with a great shot. He’s been taking our free kicks and put a few in from out there.

But he’s able to just keep going. He never gets tired. It’s amazing to see.

”Safe to say that Dembowski likes saying ‘amazing’ when it comes to Cordeiro.

Cordeiro also believes that there is another key to his prowess.

“I really like playing at home and I like playing on the new turf,” said Cordeiro, crediting the new FieldTurf facility at Riverside County Park. “The new turf field really helps me. The game is faster and that helps me. It’s much easier than on grass.”

Cordeiro wants to continue his goal scoring barrage.

“It’s important that we all keep playing well,” Cordeiro said. “We want to get a good seed in the state tournament, so we have to get into a rhythm and win a few more games.”

Cordeiro is motivated to get a high seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs, so the Vikings can get a home game. Last year, the Vikings earned a home game, but couldn’t play at home due to the damage to Riverside County Park’s grass field caused by Hurricane Sandy, so instead, they had to play on the road.

“We definitely want to get on the turf this year,” Cordeiro said. “Especially after what happened last year.”

While no college has officially contacted Cordeiro, he definitely wants to play on the next level.

“We’re talking to colleges now,” Dembowski said. “We spoke with Drexel and Rutgers. We’re putting out some applications now. He absolutely can play on the college level. His knowledge of the game and his skill level, his athleticism are all reasons why he can. He’s the total package.”

“I’m looking forward to hearing from schools,” Cordeiro said.

Hopefully, a week where he scored 10 goals can help.

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” said Cordeiro, who might want to pursue a degree in engineering in college. “We have to see.”

For now, Cordeiro will just continue to have a senior season most soccer players simply dream about.

Kearny girls’ tennis: Doubles trouble

Both Kardinal doubles teams win Hudson County championships

Photo by Jim Hague Both the Kearny High School girls’ tennis first and second doubles teams won Hudson County Tournament championships recently. Front row, from l., are first doubles champs Gabriella Robles and Jessica Martinez. Back row, from l., are second doubles champion Mallory McBride, head coach Amy Lasker and second doubles champ Monica Shenoda.

Photo by Jim Hague
Both the Kearny High School girls’ tennis first and second doubles teams won Hudson County Tournament championships recently. Front row, from l., are first doubles champs Gabriella Robles and Jessica Martinez. Back row, from l., are second doubles champion Mallory McBride, head coach Amy Lasker and second doubles champ Monica Shenoda.

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Perhaps the toughest aspect of the game of tennis is playing doubles. With a singles player, you just grab your racket, take to the court and go.

In doubles, there are a lot of factors to consider. There’s teamwork, camaraderie and togetherness. There’s timing and chemistry. There’s communication at the highest level.

“It takes patience,” said Kearny High School head girls’ tennis coach Amy Lasker. “You need someone who is a good listener, someone who is trustworthy. It takes a lot of teamwork and trust in each other. It’s one of the most difficult positions to be in tennis.”

There’s also the strategy behind pairing one player with another. For example, on the Kearny team this year, sophomore Mallory McBride and junior Jessica Martinez were first-year members with the varsity. Both girls had to find their own bearings before worrying about the proper pairing for doubles.

“I think the key is being supportive of each other,” McBride said. “We also worked hard.”

“Honestly, there was a little bit of doubt whether we could do it,” Martinez said. “We didn’t know each other well, so we didn’t know if it would work out.”

But Lasker saw something in her doubles teams.

Lasker paired senior returnee Gabriella Robles with Martinez for the first doubles team and then placed senior Monica Shenoda with McBride for second doubles.

The strategy worked out brilliantly, as both Kearny doubles teams won their respective flight in the recent Hudson County Tournament championships. It was the first time ever that Kearny won both doubles county titles.

“They all had great teamwork,” Lasker said. “I think it helped that there was a senior with the younger girls to help with their confidence. Gabriella has a champion’s attitude. She doesn’t like to lose and she’s always working. Jessica has the same attitude, so it’s good that they’re together. They work well together.

Added Lasker, “Monica and Mallory are both a little softspoken and less emotional, so it’s good that they’re together. They’re both a little more strategy oriented.”

It also helps that the Kardinals have had incredible success this fall. They are currently undefeated in dual matches, winning all nine of their contests.

“They all have a little bit of confidence now, playing together,” Lasker said.

The Kardinals just defeated Belleville, 4-1, in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state playoffs and will now face Ridgewood in the second round. By virtue of that undefeated 9-0 team mark, the Kardinals were the No. 6 seed in the bracket.

“It’s the highest seed Kearny ever received,” Lasker said.

First singles player Valeria Siquenza qualified for the NJSIAA state tournament in first singles.

So it’s been a great year all around, capped by the two doubles teams winning county crowns.

“It feels really good,” said Shenoda, who attends High Tech in North Bergen and has to shuttle back and forth in order to play tennis in her home school district. “Going into the season, I think some of us were a little hesitant, but now that we’ve won, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Shenoda was asked what it was like to worry about getting from North Bergen to Kearny in time to practice and play in matches.

“Sometimes, it gets pretty hard,” Shenoda said. “I have to leave school early in order to get to Kearny in time for a match. But I love this sport and I love this team. I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else other than the girls from Kearny.”

Martinez knows what the most important aspect is of being a successful doubles partner.

“Communication is the key,” Martinez said. “You really have to be able to get along. It’s all set in now that we won, set in, but in a good way.”

Shenoda believes that the county title is the culmination of a lot of effort.

“This is something I’ve wanted for a long time,” Shenoda said. “It’s our biggest goal and it’s still a little hard to believe that we did it.”

“It took a lot of hard work to get here,” Robles said. “We all became friends on and off the court. I think that helps. We were all very positive and I’m very proud of that.”

The Kearny girls had reason to be proud. They achieved a slice of history, both earning county championships at the same time.

Lasker said that there’s another reason for the girls to be proud.

“A lot of them never played tennis before high school,” Lasker said. “I think it shows that hard work and determination can pay off. They’re all finally seen by everyone as being successful.”

Not just successful – but successful Hudson County champions.

Lyndhurst boys’ soccer: Finding their way through growing pains

Photos by Jim Hague The Lyndhurst boys’ soccer team is showing signs of turning the corner, thanks to the return of senior Anthony Giaquinto (l.), who missed most of last season with an injury, and the solid contributions of senior midfielder Michael Polito.

Photos by Jim Hague
The Lyndhurst boys’ soccer team is showing signs of turning the corner, thanks to the return of senior Anthony Giaquinto (l.), who missed most of last season with an injury, and the solid contributions of senior midfielder Michael Polito.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Lyndhurst High School boys’ soccer coach Rob Kost is trying to find some continuity with his team. It’s not easy.

“We’ve had our share of injuries and red cards,” Kost said. “It’s tough to compete without a full team. We’re maneuvering a lot. I’m impressed with the effort.”

Recently, Kost added a freshman to the lineup and Doug DaSilva has provided a bit of a boost.

“It seemed as if he lit a fire under everyone,” Kost said of DaSilva. “I think that’s the spark we needed to get going.”

DaSilva scored a goal and added an assist in his varsity debut.

“It’s just what we needed,” said Kost, whose team now has a 4-5 record this season. “He was all over the field. Being shorthanded, we didn’t have much up top, but we’ve definitely evolved since we put him in.”

The Golden Bears’ goalkeeper is senior Matt Lemke, who Kost called “the emotional leader of the team.”

Lemke missed some time at the beginning of the season due to a sprained ankle, but he’s returned to maintain stability in goal.

Kost has been juggling players at the sweeper position, using players like versatile senior Giuseppe Pollicino and sophomore Andrew Cosman at the spot.

“Giuseppe has been the backbone and solidifies the back, so we move him around,” Kost said.

The stopper is senior Erik Marulanda, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but has returned this season entirely healthy.

“Getting him back was a big help to us,” Kost said.

The other defenders are seniors Danny Zerboni and Devin O’Donovan and promising sophomore Montana Thungasson.

Senior Anthony Cardaci, who started last year as the Golden Bears’ goalkeeper, then moved to midfield, has returned to his midfield slot. Cardaci gives Kost the option of playing him in either spot. Cardaci has scored two goals this season.

Another key midfielder is senior Anthony Giaquinto, who only played two games last year due to an injury.

“We’re so glad to have him back,” Kost said of Giaquinto. “He’s doing great. It’s been a pleasure to have him. He’s one of our most skillful players. He always comes determined to play.”

Senior Michael Polito, who also is a fine basketball player in the winter months, is another key contributor from his midfield slot. Sophomore Giovanni Arcelentas is making major strides as a member of the Lyndhurst midfield.

Seniors Matt Lima and Matt Stevens and junior Edgar Bravo are forwards in the Golden Bears’ lineup, joined now by the addition of the energetic DaSilva.

Although the Golden Bears suffered a tough one-sided loss to North Arlington and high-scoring Danny Cordeiro last week, Kost still feels that his team has perhaps turned the corner.

“I think we’re getting better,” Kost said. “Unfortunately, we got off to such a slow start, but now that we have some emotion and passion, we’re a totally different team. We played a strong game against Harrison (a 3-0 loss), so that helped us. For now, it’s all about building character. I’m really looking forward to seeing what we have in us. I’m hoping we can roll off a couple of wins.”

Kost knows what the Golden Bears have to do.

“We have to play our game,” Kost said. “We have to possess the ball better and mount a counter attack. We’re getting better.”

Luckily for the Golden Bears, the season is only half over. There is time for recovery – and thanks to the spirit of a freshman, Lyndhurst has apparently found that opportunity to be an improved team in the middle of the season.

QP’s Momnohin has incredible performance in win over Becton

 

Photo by Jim Hague Queen of Peace senior running back/linebacker Kevin Momnohin.

Photo by Jim Hague
Queen of Peace senior running back/linebacker Kevin Momnohin.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Queen of Peace head football coach Robert Kearns has been around the game of football for more than three decades, including two tours of duty as the head coach of the Golden Griffins.

So it’s safe to say that Kearns has seen his fair share of games and players over the years.

And although Kearns has only been back at QP for a few months, he didn’t have to be there long to reap the praises of senior do-everything Kevin Momnohin.

“He’s the most sensational player I’ve seen in my 32 years of coaching,” Kearns said. “He just goes right to the top. He’s a coach’s dream. I’ve seen Knowshon Moreno (of the Denver Broncos) and Donald Brown (of the Indianapolis Colts) and he’s right there with them. You can’t teach what he has. He just has another gear. He’s able to cut and turn and once he gets his shoulders squared and going up field, watch out.”

In the Golden Griffins’ recent 49-37 victory over Becton Regional, there were a lot of people – especially the members of the Becton grid squad – who had a chance to watch out for Momnohin, who enjoyed one of the best all-around games in Bergen County high school football history.

Try these numbers on for size.

Momnohin carried the ball 24 times and collected an astounding 322 yards and scored four touchdowns. He also caught eight of quarterback Anthony Villano’s passes for an additional 152 yards and two more touchdowns. Monmohin also scored twice on point after touchdown conversions, giving him 42 of the Golden Griffins’ 49 points. Between his rushing and receiving achievements, Momnohin combined to gain an unfathomable 474 yards of total offense on his own.

For good measure, Momnohin collected eight tackles on defense and sealed the victory with an interception.

Is there any doubt that Momnohin would be selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week?

Momnohin earns the distinction of being selected as Athlete of the Week for the third straight year, one of only a handful of athletes to be honored three times.

For good measure, Momnohin had 205 yards rushing, 102 yards receiving and four touchdowns in the Golden Griffins’ 37-30 win over neighboring rival St. Mary of Rutherford on Saturday, pushing the Golden Griffins’ record to 3-1. In four games this season, Momnohin has now scored 15 touchdowns.

After the Becton explosion, Momnohin said he was surprised to learn of the incredible totals he reached.

“To be honest, I didn’t know until the game was over,” Momnohin said. “I then said, ‘Wow, it was a big game for me.’”

A lot of people joined Momnohin in their astonishment.

“Well, it was definitely a career high,” Momnohin said, still laughing.

It was actually a Queen of Peace single game school rushing record.

“I said that during the game that it had to be a school record,” Kearns said. “I was actually getting tired watching him run. He just kept going and going. It was like he ran 17 miles in the game. It was almost like running a marathon. I told him that I understood if he was a little tired, but he stayed in there. ”

A year ago, Momnohin might have had a tough time staying around late in a game to set a school record. He battled a string of injuries and spent a good portion of last season on the sidelines nursing those injuries.

“It was definitely a goal this season,” Momnohin said. “I had to stay healthy. I spent a lot of time in the weight room to get stronger and to work on conditioning. I had to stay strong and I had to stay healthy.”

Momnohin said that he likes the idea he’s no longer just a running back, that he’s catching passes as well.

“I was a receiver before I became a running back,” Momnohin said, “I had to be convinced to accept the fact that I was a running back. But it definitely opens up things when teams try to key on me and it definitely does make me more of a double threat.”

What also makes Momnohin more dangerous are the players around him. His twin brother, Keith, is a fine back and receiver in his own right. Quarterback Villano has amassed more than 700 yards passing and eight touchdowns in the first four games. Fullback Tajier Jefferson has eclipsed the 100-yard plateau in each of the last two games.

“The biggest difference now is that we can spread the ball around,” Kearns said. “But Kevin is the one who makes everyone look good.”

“My brother, Tajier and Anthony can give me a break,” Momnohin said. “It’s opened things up for those guys to also make big plays.”

Incredibly, there was a point last summer where it looked as if the Momnohin brothers were not going to return to QP for their final year of high school. There was a change in football coaches, with Steve Romano leaving and Kearns returning. The Momnohins were almost headed to Orange High School.

“But I started at Queen of Peace and wanted to stay at Queen of Peace,” Momnohin said. “I wanted to finish what I started.”

Kearns just adores Momnohin – and deservedly so.

“I can’t stop talking about him,” Kearns said. “He’s just amazing. The biggest thing that stands out about him is his personality. He’s smiling all the time. When I look at him, he’s smiling and all he says is, ‘just give me the ball.’ He’s the kind of kid that a father would want for a son.”

“He said that about me?” Momnohin asked. “I’m speechless about that. For him to give me such a high compliment like that is amazing and means a lot.”

Although he’s collected more than 1,000 yards in total offense and scored 15 touchdowns in four games, Momnohin is still without any college offers. He also has the grades to qualify in college right away.

“I’m as amazed as anyone can be,” Momnohin said. “It’s kind of stressful that I haven’t been offered yet. But without a doubt, if I keep putting up numbers like I have been, I would imagine the scouts and recruiters will come. I’m going to go all out. It’s my last year and I’m out to impress the college coaches.”

Momnohin said that he still can’t believe what he did in the Becton game.

“I’ve watched the films and as I play it, it’s still shocking to me,” Momnohin said.

And as for being a Golden Griffin?

“I’m definitely glad I made the decision to stay,” said Momnohin, who plays basketball in the winter and runs track in the spring. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Kearny girls’ cross country team excels at Passaic County Coaches meet

Photo by Jim Hague The Kearny girls’ cross country team had a fine showing at the Passaic County Coaches Invitational meet at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park Saturday. From l. are Anna Czykier, Julia Coppola, Mariah Davila, Aislinn Sroczynski, Erika Alzamora, Noemi Campos, Melissa Quiros and Maria Lozano.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Kearny girls’ cross country team had a fine showing at the Passaic County Coaches Invitational meet at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park Saturday. From l. are Anna Czykier, Julia Coppola, Mariah Davila, Aislinn Sroczynski, Erika Alzamora, Noemi Campos, Melissa Quiros and Maria Lozano.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Before the current high school cross country season began, veteran Kearny High School coach Jim Cifelli knew that he had the makings of something special.

“We are certainly the favorites to win the (Hudson) county championship,” Cifelli said. “Sure, you can’t predict those things, but we certainly have the depth and the talent. I don’t think it’s that bold of statement. It’s just a statement of fact. We’re bringing everyone back and added three girls. Last year, we had no depth and that hurt us. This year, we have eight girls and that does help the team’s chances.”

Cifelli also acknowledged that the depth has aided with the competition among the runners.

“The most important kid on the varsity is the last one,” Cifelli said. “Because then, everyone works harder. Healthy competition within the team is always good. It’s good because all the girls get along very well.”

The camaraderie was definitely evident last Saturday in the Kardinals’ first strong competitive race of the season. The Kardinals finished third as a team at the Passaic County Coaches Invitational Varsity Girls Group 4 race at Garret Mountain, a solid effort that will only help to boost confidence as the season progresses.

Photo by Jim Hague From l., Aislinn Srocczynski (second) and Erika Alzamora (fi fth) led the way for Kearny at the Passaic County Coaches Invitational meet Saturday.

Photo by Jim Hague
From l., Aislinn Srocczynski (second) and Erika Alzamora (fi fth) led the way for Kearny at the Passaic County Coaches Invitational meet Saturday.

 

Leading the way Saturday was senior Aislinn Sroczynski, who finished second overall in the race, crossing the line in 20:35.10, trailing only winner Gina Riccardi of Livingston, who came home in 20:16.66.

“Aislinn is the one who makes this team go,” Cifelli said. “She’s all heart and all attitude. Her mother (Heather) ran for me and her father (Steve) ran for me, so Aislinn has that competitive nature and has added that competitive spirit to workouts. She was a novice a year ago, never having run before. But she battles tooth and nail, every step of the way.”

The Kardinals’ other ace performer is fellow senior Erika Alzamora, who finished fifth in the race Saturday in 21:03.89.

“She’s been our best all along,” Cifelli said of Alzamora, who won the individual Hudson County championship last year. “I expect her to be much better this year. She was sick last week, so that set her back a little. I expect her to be among the top three in the state sectional. She’s still very young as a senior. She’s only 16 years old. But she has so much experience. And you can see that in her workouts.”

The Kardinals’ third runner is senior Mariah Davila, who finished 18th overall in 22:24.21.

“Her attitude has improved a lot,” Cifelli said. “She would back out of workouts with little injuries here and there, but she doesn’t do that anymore. She was the freshman county champ three years ago, but she now realizes her place on the team and keeps everyone in sight.” Sophomore Anna Czykier was 30th overall at Garret Mountain in 23:20.13. “She ran indoor and outdoor for us last year, but never did the distances with everyone else,” Cifelli said. “I think we’ll see the best of her later in the season. She can be something special.”

Senior Noemi Campos was 29th overall on Saturday, finishing in 23:18.59, a solid performance. Seniors Wendy Carranza and Melissa Quiros, junior Julia Coppola and sophomore Maria Lozano round out the Kardinals’ roster.

Needless to say, Cifelli likes the makeup and the character of his team. Saturday’s solid performance is just a sign of better things to come.

“I think because we have good depth and because they work so well together, I think we have a chance to do some good things,” Cifelli said. “We were fourth in the sectional last year. Our goal is to finish at least third, a representative third. I think Aislinn and Erika should get to the groups (overall Group IV championships at Holmdel Park) and hopefully we can get them to the Meet of Champions.”

First things first. The Kardinals have to take care of local business and after Saturday, they’re certainly on their way.

Nutley girls’ soccer: Going to goal with authority

by Jim Hague Senior Natalie Melillo (l.) and junior Victoria Kealy (r.) have combined to score 20 goals and collect 11 assists in just six games for the undefeated Nutley girls’ soccer team, enjoying a 5-0-1 start thus far.

by Jim Hague
Senior Natalie Melillo (l.) and junior Victoria Kealy (r.) have combined to score 20 goals and collect 11 assists in just six games for the undefeated Nutley girls’ soccer team, enjoying a 5-0-1 start thus far.

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Most high school soccer teams like to take the defensive approach: protecting their own goal at all costs and hoping for the chance to get a score here and there.

That’s certainly not the thought process with the Nutley High School girls’ soccer team and second-year head coach Mike DiPiano.

“We were a 4-4-2 attack, but now we’re going with a 4-3-3 lineup, because we have so many dynamic scorers,” said DiPiano, who changed the entire outlook of the program last year, helping the Maroon Raiders win 14 games. “We decided to go after goals and let the other teams come after us. It’s a more exciting style of play.”

It’s also enabled DiPiano to upgrade the Maroon Raiders’ schedule this season, facing bigger schools with huge soccer reputations like Bridgewater- Raritan, Cranford, Glen Ridge and even Kearny this season. The Maroon Raiders played Bridgewater-Raritan, the state’s No. 11-ranked team, to a 1-1 draw last Thursday.

“The girls are really stepping it up and playing at a high level,” DiPiano said.

You can’t argue with the results. The Maroon Raiders own an unbeaten 5-0-1 record and are scoring goals in bunches.

“We’re shooting to take it to a whole new level this year,” DiPiano said. “Especially when it comes time for the (Essex) county tournament. We’ve set our sights on playing exciting, winning soccer and we’re hoping to have that.”

When DiPiano took the head coaching position last year, the Maroon Raiders were in a rut, having won just four games in 2011 and three in 2010. But DiPiano, taking a page from the old school method he learned being around the soccer program at St. Benedict’s Prep, turned the tide last season and has continued that ascent this season.

“I came in with a three-year plan and things just skyrocketed last year,” DiPiano said. “People thought we overachieved, but it was just taking advantage of the team we had.”

The Maroon Raiders certainly have enough fire power up front, thus causing the change in the offensive alignment.

“It’s unbelievable, but I think we have three girls who have a chance to all score 30 goals this season,” DiPiano said.

Senior Natalie Melillo, who had 29 goals last year, tops in Essex County, has returned and has picked up from where she left off last season. In just six games, Melillo has eight goals and eight assists. Melillo has already given a verbal commitment to attend Troy University in Alabama next fall.

“She’s a dynamic scorer,” DiPiano said. “She has a chance to break our school scoring record this year.”

Junior Victoria Kealy is another of those top-flight scorers. Kealy moved from center midfield, where she played last year, to forward without a glitch, scoring a team-high 12 goals thus far.

“She’s an excellent player and she’s already getting looks from colleges like American and Monmouth,” DiPiano said.

The third goal getter is freshman Zoe Steck, who has 11 goals and nine assists in her first six high school varsity matches.

“She has a chance to break all the school records by the time she’s done,” DiPiano said. “She’s been unbelievable.”

Steck is already playing with the New Jersey state and regional U-14 teams.

“The goals they have been scoring have been incredible,” DiPiano said. “They’re so fast. They take two passes and they’re gone.”

With an offensive attack such as that, it makes it easier for the rest of the Maroon Raiders.

DiPiano has been utilizing two girls in goal, namely seniors Meghan Montgomery and basketball standout Blair Watson. The two have been splitting time evenly thus far.

Senior captain Brittany Currie has returned to her spot at sweeper. Currie, who is also a fine softball and basketball player, is a staple on the defense.

“She’s a smart player who is very aggressive,” DiPiano said. “She’s our leader in the back.”

Senior Allyson Zeiher returns to the stopper position she held a year ago.

The other defenders are seniors Grace Montgomery, Meghan’s twin sister, and Katherine Balitsos. It means that three Montgomery family members play soccer at Nutley, as younger brother Will is on the boys’ team.

“They’re a very athletic family,” DiPiano said.

Grace Montgomery is another three-sport athlete, participating in basketball and track and field.

The center midfielder is senior Sherein Abdelhady, who has collected two goals and three assists so far.

“Everything we do goes through Sherein,” DiPiano said. “She’s the motor and the heart of the team. She’s the unsung hero. She does a great job distributing the ball.”

Seniors Samantha Haddock and Kelly Huegel are the other midfielders.

“All three midfielders played the same position last year,” DiPiano said. “We are very experienced.”

Not to mention talented.

“I think we have a shot to do good things this year,” DiPiano said. “I really do. I think if you have a shot with a team like this, you take that shot and go for it. I’d like to take a run at the state (NJSIAA North Section 2, Group III) and use the county as a stepping stone for the states. But we’re going to score goals and we’re letting the opponents to decide how they can handle that. It’s a very difficult task to try to defend us.”

As evidenced by the gaudy goal totals the Maroon Raiders have already compiled this season.