By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Rich Corsetto had been away from coaching basketball for three years and it had been even longer since he coached on the high school level.
In a basketball sojourn that has spanned four decades, Corsetto has obviously seen a lot and experienced a lot more.
But there’s nothing that could have prepared basketball lifer Corsetto for the thrill ride he’s been on since taking over the boys’ head coaching position at North Arlington High School.
The Vikings are the toast of the town these days, owning a remarkable and almost unbelievable 11-0 record.
That’s right, North Arlington is undefeated and winners of 11 straight, both home and away, in the rough-and-tumble world of NJIC and Group I basketball.
“If you would have told me, or anyone would have told me, that we would start out 11-0, I would have said you were crazy,” Corsetto said. “I expected this team to be successful and having a winning record. But to be 11-0? There’s no way.”
Corsetto credits his hard-working group of kids, who haven’t exactly enjoyed winning over the last few years.
“I took the job in July and it only took me a couple of days to realize that these kids had it in their hearts,” Corsetto said. “They were diving after loose balls and crashing into walls during workouts. They had a lot of pride in themselves.”
Corsetto said that putting the team in the Bloomfield fall league was also beneficial.
“They went 6-2 in that league and that helped them get together and jell a little as a team,” said Corsetto, who was the long-time head coach at Hudson County Community College, then Passaic County Community. “That league helped them bind together and when the season started, they just picked it up right from there. They went into the season feeling good about themselves.”
Corsetto said that he can’t put a finger on one reason why the Vikings have been so successful thus far.
“I don’t know exactly what happened, but they were excited about this season right away,” Corsetto said. “We were only able to get three scrimmages before the season, but once the season started, they were ready.”
Corsetto said that early season wins against Group IV programs such as Belleville and Kearny helped to boost team confidence.
“I don’t care what their records are,” Corsetto said of Belleville and Kearny. “They’re still Group IV schools. Group I schools aren’t supposed to beat Group IV schools. But we’ve also beat everyone in our group as well. People are surprised and stunned at what we’re doing. It’s a credit to the kids. These kids are just not going let anyone beat them. They feel right now that no one can beat them.”
In the early going, the Vikings were playing at an up tempo, fast break oriented pace that worked to their advantage. So opponents are now trying to milk the clock and take the Vikings out of their familiar element.
Becton Regional tried that approach Friday night, but the Vikings still prevailed, winning 44-34.
“They held the ball for like two full minutes,” Corsetto said. “But that didn’t faze our kids. I was a little concerned with the pace, but it didn’t matter. They’re just a very confident group right now. Nothing is bothering them.”
Senior Thai Scott, who missed almost all of last season due to injury, has been the Vikings’ floor general at point guard.
“Right now, Thai is doing a great job,” Corsetto said. “All he has to do is run the team and score a little. He’s doing that and more.”
Senior Nick Martin is the team’s power forward. The diverse Martin, who is also a football and baseball standout, is averaging double figures in points and rebounds.
“He’s the backbone of the team,” Corsetto said of Martin. “He is a fabulous kid, a smart player who is very easy to coach. He would go through the wall for you. I’ve been coaching for more than 40 years and he’s the nicest kid I’ve ever coached.”
Sophomore Kevin Cerqueira has moved up to the varsity level with ease.
“He’s been our best defensive player and plays hard every game,” Corsetto said. “He has fit in well.”
Sophomore Edgar Carrenza has also been a pleasant addition.
“He’s our best free throw shooter,” Corsetto said. “He also handles the ball well and helps to break the press. He’s been a pleasant surprise.” Junior Jose Checo has been the Vikings’ inside presence.
“He has improved a lot and has really worked on being a better rebounder for us,” Corsetto said. “He’s scoring some more lately and most importantly, he’s been blocking some shots. He’s getting more aggressive every game.”
Senior Mike Brazzel is the team’s most important player off the bench.
“I think he’s the best sixth man in Bergen County,” Corsetto said. “He gives us nothing but energy. We were struggling a little against Becton and I put Brazzel into the game and the team’s energy went through the roof. He always brings that great energy.”
The Vikings have also been bolstered by the play of reserve sophomores Steven Velez and Jose Morales, as well as junior Jonathan Hurley.
The Vikings continue their remarkable run with games this week against Hawthorne and a huge NJIC tilt against St. Mary’s of Rutherford, a game that could very well decide a league championship by the end of February.
Incredibly, the Vikings have only three seniors on the roster, so this is a transformation of a young team.
“We’re still a very young team, but the kids are picking things up well,” Corsetto said. “I see nothing but good things ahead in the future.”
Corsetto also credits the diligence of dedicated assistant coach Dominic Bellifemine, who has also added energy to the program.
“He’s done a great job with the kids, getting them ready,” Corsetto said.
But to a record of 11-0? Is that record for real? Or is it a figment of someone’s creative imagination? Even Corsetto can’t believe it.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Corsetto said. “I’ve never stepped into something like this before. It’s a credit to the kids. They’ve worked so hard for this. They deserve it. Sure, it’s surprising to me. It’s surprising to everyone. But the kids believe in themselves. Now hopefully, we can keep this going.”
It certainly has been the talk of the local high school basketball season. Maybe everyone should believe in North Arlington now, because after 11 straight wins, the Vikings are for real. And the players certainly believe that for sure.