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Category: Sports

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.

Makeshift Martin: NA standout has game to remember


Photo by Jim Hague North Arlington senior running back Nick Martin.

Photo by Jim Hague
North Arlington senior running back Nick Martin.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The high school football preseason wasn’t exactly going as planned for the Vikings of North Arlington High School. Just two weeks before the season opener, the Vikings’ premier player, senior Nick Martin, suffered a seriously sprained ankle that put his availability for the first game in serious jeopardy.

“I was very concerned,” North Arlington head coach Anthony Marck said. “It was a bad ankle sprain. When he went down, you could see he was in agony and Nick is never one to complain. It was our main concern. The swelling was pretty bad for a while. We didn’t have him do anything before the first game.”

Martin didn’t know what to think.

“I was really worried,” Martin said. “It was getting down close to the opening week and I couldn’t do anything with it. I didn’t want to have lingering issues with it. But it was tough.”

Martin went daily to receive treatment from local chiropractor Jim Sanfilippo, who was a standout athlete during his high school days at Kearny High.

“He got me through it,” Martin said of Sanfilippo. “He coached me through therapy to strengthen my ankle.”

Martin returned to action in time for the season opener against Elmwood Park, playing a new position. In order to get more opportunities for Martin to touch the ball, Marck decided to move Martin from tight end, where he played last year, to fullback.

“We needed to revamp our offense to become more of a downfield offense, so we put Nicky in the backfield,” Marck said. “He was going to be the lead blocker for our tailbacks while getting a few carries himself.”

However, after the loss to Elmwood Park, the Vikings found themselves in a bit of a quandary. The Vikings’ two top tailbacks, Mike Brazzel and Adrian Foote, both suffered injuries, leaving them unavailable to face Wallington in the second game.

“So we moved Nick to tailback,” Marck said. “We knew he could carry the load.”

How sure was Marck about the shift?

“I asked Nick if there was ever a point in the game where he didn’t want the ball, that he should let me know,” Marck said. “I said, `You know how much I trust you.’ He just said, `Put me at tail. I can do it.’ I told him that maybe he should also wear the headphones and call the plays.”

Martin didn’t know how well he would do as the featured back.

“I understood the responsibility, but not having experience at the position, I worried a bit,” Martin said.

The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Martin saw his fears disappear after his first carry of the game.

“The line did a great job and I went through the hole untouched to the end zone,” Martin said.

As it turned out, the makeshift tailback had the best rushing game in the history of the school. Martin carried the ball 26 times for an astounding 296 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Vikings to a 62-39 victory. Martin’s 296- yard performance set a new single game rushing record.

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

Martin also received the honor in November 2012.

Martin had no idea that he was just four yards shy of collecting 300 yards.

“I knew I was getting up there,” Martin said. “But I never thought 300 yards would be a number I could approach. When I realized I had five touchdowns, I knew it was an incredible night, because I never even had more than one touchdown in a game before. It was a completely different feeling, running with the ball. I really like being in the backfield. It’s easier for me to get the ball.”

Added Martin, “With the ball in my hands, I can do so much more. But to have a game like this? I couldn’t believe it.”

Marck said that Martin impressed a lot of people with his breakaway ability.

“People said to me that they didn’t know how fast Nick was,” Marck said. “But I see that burst every day. It’s just with the ankle and him being so big that people don’t think he can run. I didn’t believe he had as many yards as he had. I knew he was over 200, but I went back and watched the tape and it was legitimate. I wish I knew he was that close to 300, because I would have given him the chance to get the other four yards. It would have been nice.”

Martin was also honored as the Athlete of the Week by the Bergen Record, the first North Arlington football player to be recognized since Danny Sandowick, a current North Arlington police officer, was honored in 1982.

“It’s just fabulous,” Marck said. “Nick really sets the tone for everyone else. When other kids have a bump or a bruise, they might ask out for a play or so. But Nick played with that ankle and a bad hand and I think that, in itself, shows leadership. It’s a pleasure to have him.”

While Martin’s explosion might have drawn attention from college recruiters, Martin is actually considering not playing in college.

“I’m not too sure I want to play in college,” Martin said. “I’m leaning toward not playing. I think it might get in the way of my studies. I need sufficient time to keep my grades up and my academics always come first.”

Martin is an excellent student, with a 4.2 grade point average and a Scholastic Aptitude Test score of 1710. He is being sought after by the Ivy and Patriot League schools.

Martin didn’t just receive the Athlete of the Week honors.

“My coach said that he never gives out a game ball, but after the game, he said he had to,” Martin said. “Going into the game, I had no idea that would be the outcome.”

But now, Martin’s impromptu performance as a tailback has permanently placed him in the school record books forever – or until someone goes for 300 yards in one game.

Young Maroon Raider squad learning on the fly

Photo by Jim Hague The Nutley boys’ soccer team will try to defend the SEC divisional title they won a year ago. Front row, from l., are Yoshio Ishikawa, Tommy Melillo, Anthony DeBlasio and Jack Contini. Back row, from left, are Nick Feraco, Domenic Palumbo, Santino Gabriele, Joseph Nichols, Will Montgomery and head coach Marcellino Marra.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Nutley boys’ soccer team will try to defend the SEC divisional title they won a year ago. Front row, from l., are Yoshio Ishikawa, Tommy Melillo, Anthony DeBlasio and Jack Contini. Back row, from left, are Nick Feraco, Domenic Palumbo, Santino Gabriele, Joseph Nichols, Will Montgomery and head coach Marcellino Marra.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Nutley High School boys’ soccer team is off to a 1-2-2 start after five games. In the eyes of some coaches, the record might be alarming.

But that’s not the case with Nutley veteran head coach Marcellino Marra. The affable Marra, who is in his seventh season in charge of the Maroon Raiders, isn’t overly concerned with the losses. In fact, Marra believes that the Maroon Raiders have played pretty well.

“We lost to Belleville in a close game (3-2 final) and lost to a good Newark Academy team in double overtime,” Marra said. “We tied Caldwell and Science Park (both by 1-1 scores) and we beat East Orange. The matches in the SEC (Super Essex Conference) are very tough, because everyone is so equal. We had our chances. We just didn’t get the breaks.”

Marra knows that this might be considered a rebuilding year, but he doesn’t like using that word.

“We lost 16 seniors from last year,” Marra said. “That’s a lot to lose in one year. We don’t believe in rebuilding. We believe in reloading. That’s what we’re doing this year. We’re getting our players ready to play whoever we have on the schedule.”

The Maroon Raiders have only three starters back from the 12-4-5 team that won the Super Essex Conference Liberty Division championship last year.

The Raiders lost to Morristown in the second round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs last year.

“We discussed that,” Marra said. “That loss left a bad taste in our mouths, especially the returning players. But we’re working hard to have a good team and have even better teammates. Every single game, these kids are working together so hard. I told them that it’s not where you start, it’s where you end. I see these kids playing with pride.”

Marra realizes that he’s fielding an extremely young team.

“We’re young and inexperienced,” Marra said. “Even the seniors we have don’t have much varsity experience. But they’re stepping up and doing a good job. It was a little bit of a concern coming into the season. I know their ability and they’re keeping us in games so far.”

One of those seniors with limited varsity experience is goalkeeper Joseph Nichols, who was the net minder on the junior varsity squad last year. But Nichols has been a major force thus far.

“I’m really proud with what he’s been doing in goal,” Marra said. “He’s becoming a leader on the field. He’s more vocal and that’s what we needed back there.”

The sweeper is junior Yoshio Ishikawa.

“He’s just a fantastic player,” Marra said. “He’s been on the varsity since he’s been a freshman, but this year, he’s getting his chance to play and he’s been amazing to watch. He’s developed into a fine player and I’m so proud of him.”

The stopper is sophomore Will Montgomery.

“Billy didn’t start at the beginning of this season, but he’s moved his way up and has done a nice job,” Marra said. “He’s learning every single day.”

The other defenders are senior Santino Gabriele and junior Tommy Melillo.

Leading the midfield is senior Nick Feraco, who is basically like a fifth defender on the field.

“He’s one of the most talented defenders in the league,” Marra said. “He can play anywhere. He brings the midfielders together with the defenders, but he can score as well.”

Feraco already has two goals this season.

Photo by Jim Hague Senior center midfielder Nate Peraino is the main cog to the Nutley boys’ soccer team’s offensive attack.

Photo by Jim Hague
Senior center midfielder Nate Peraino is the main cog to the Nutley boys’ soccer team’s offensive attack.


The Maroon Raiders’ main offensive threat is senior center midfielder Nate Peraino.

“He is a very talented midfielder who plays with incredible pace,” Marra said. “He never quits. He’s constantly going.”

Peraino also has two goals thus far.

Another talented midfielder is senior Damani Walker, who has been doing a great job setting other Maroon Raider players to get in good scoring position.

Junior Haddy Abdelhady is another key contributor in the midfield.

The forwards are senior Jose Calderon, who has scored two goals this season, and senior Tommy Pollitt, who is a newcomer to the program this season. The Maroon Raiders have a team that will only get better as the season moves on, but there’s no time to waste in the highly competitive SEC.

“I think the SEC has such a level playing field, so anything can happen,” Marra said. “The schedule definitely gets a little easier for us now. But the opposition is always good.”

It’s up to the Maroon Raiders now to play up to the level of the rest of the always competitive Super Essex Conference, a challenge that Marra feels his team can achieve.

QP girls’ soccer: Counting on veterans

Photo by Jim Hague The Queen of Peace girls’ soccer team will count on solid play from the Golden Griffi ns’ backline, namely from l. Jane Amadeo, Nikki Sammartino, Lia Rodriguez, Michaila Mastrofi lippo and Christine Castillo

Photo by Jim Hague
The Queen of Peace girls’ soccer team will count on solid play from the Golden Griffi ns’ backline, namely from l. Jane Amadeo, Nikki Sammartino, Lia Rodriguez, Michaila Mastrofilippo and Christine Castillo



By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer


Mike Flynn has been the girls’ soccer coach at Queen of Peace for enough time to realize what he needs from his team this season.

“We have eight seniors,” said Flynn, who has been involved with QP athletics for over a decade. “They know what to expect.”

But the Golden Griffins have lost one (to Harrison) and tied one (to Dwight-Englewood) in the early going.

“No doubt about it,” Flynn said. “We weren’t happy with the outcomes. These were two teams that we beat last year.”

Right now, even with the experience, the Golden Griffins are still trying to find themselves.

That’s because senior Marissa Dundas, who scored 37 goals last year, good for fifth in the entire state, has yet to play after undergoing off-season shoulder surgery.

“She dislocated her shoulder and had surgery back in June,” Flynn said. “We’re hoping that she comes back next Saturday. I anticipated that we were going to have to play without her. I told the girls before the season that Marissa might not be back for the entire season and we had to deal with it.”

Leading the returnees is senior goalkeeper Lia Rodriguez, who never played organized soccer before high school, but has now turned herself into a top-flight net minder, among the very best in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference.

“She’s legitimate and she now wants to play soccer in college,” Flynn said. “I’m comfortable with her back there and her teammates are comfortable playing the ball back to her. She’s just a good kid. Give me 11 kids like Lia and we’d be a champion. She’s going to be a nice fit for some college team. She never misses a practice.”

The team’s sweeper is junior Michaila Mastrofilippo, who has been part of the Golden Griffins’ varsity for three years.

“She’s been at the position since she was a freshman and every year she gets better,” Flynn said.

Michaila’s twin sister, Michele, is a standout forward who scored 17 goals last season.

“I’ve known them since they were four years old,” Flynn said. “They were once my ball girls on the sidelines.”

The stopper is freshman Jane Amadeo, who has had a storied career in the Kearny Recreation program.

“We welcomed Jane with open arms,” Flynn said. “She’s been the standout of the team so far. She’s certainly not playing like a freshman.”

Senior three-sport standout Nikki Sammartino has returned to the soccer team. Sammartino, also a fine softball and basketball player, is a defender, along with sophomore Christine Castillo.

Flynn likes Castillo.

“She’s extremely coachable and a lot of fun,” Flynn said. Center midfielder Maria Ruiz also returns for her senior year. “She’s the most underestimated player on the team,” Flynn said. “She distributes the ball well. She had a ton of assists to Dundas last year. But we need Maria to start taking some shots and scoring more.”

Senior Dana Cotter is another midfielder. Cotter broke her ankle and missed last season.

“She’s my enforcer,” Flynn said. “She’s a tough kid.”

Sophomore Giulia Gargano is another midfielder.

“She’s an up-and-comer,” Flynn said. “She’s one of the stars of the future.”

Another rising star is freshman midfielder Ashley Ruivo.

“She’ll eventually replace Marissa, but I can play her anywhere right now,” Flynn said.

Freshman Kelly Lennon gives Flynn more hope and optimism for the future. Lennon also plays in the Golden Griffins’ midfield.

Michele Mastrofilippo returns to her forward slot and the team has been mixing and matching with the other forward position, waiting for Dundas to return.

“We have to play it out,” Flynn said. The Golden Griffins do have high hopes and aspirations for the season, but a lot of it depends on how well Dundas returns after sitting out for so long. “We’re going to get better, because the younger kids have to get a chance to play more,” Flynn said.

And that’s what is happening now, waiting for the star striker to get healthy enough to play. If Dundas returns this weekend as expected, then expect the wins to return for the Golden Griffins.