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Kearny’s Koziel captures 6 medals at NJSIAA Meet of Champions


KHS junior shows his prowess competing in wheelchair division

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Born with cerebral palsy 17 years ago, Steve Koziel has never once believed he has a handicap. More than anything, it’s an inconvenience for him to walk with the assistants of two crutches or it’s a matter of circumstance that Koziel has to compete in an athletic wheelchair.

Because let’s face facts. How many teenaged kids from Kearny can travel the globe and head to places like Puerto Rico and London just to compete in athletic competitions? That’s what Koziel does every summer.

Last summer, he spent 10 days in Puerto Rico competing in the Junior World Games, winning two silver medals (800-meter run and discus) and one bronze (javelin).

“There were like 14 countries there,” Koziel said. “It was a good idea of the kind of competition I had to face. The competition was stiff.”

After Puerto Rico, Koziel went to the United States Emerging Elite Paralympic Camp in Geneva, Ohio, training with some of the best paralympic athletes in the country.

“We worked on training, sports psychology,” Koziel said. “It was definitely a big help.”

When Koziel returned home, he immediately began training with the Kearny High School cross country team, then later the indoor track team, all to get ready for one night – the NJSIAA Meet of Champions at Frank Jost Field in South Plainfield.

“I prepare 12 months of the year for the outdoor season,” Koziel said. “I work on getting mileage in, getting endurance during cross country. During indoor, it’s about speed and agility. I then have to put it all together for the outdoor. All the coaches work with me to get me ready. They work all year to get it all together for one meet.”

Last Wednesday, Koziel headed to South Plainfield for that one meet. He competed in six events, won three, placed second in two and earned a bronze medal in the last event. One meet, six events, six medals. Not a bad day for Koziel. “I felt good,” Koziel said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny’s Steve Koziel pushes himself in his specialized wheelchair as he prepares for an upcoming track and field meet in California in two weeks.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny’s Steve Koziel pushes himself in his specialized wheelchair as he prepares
for an upcoming track and field meet in California in two weeks.


Koziel, now a junior at Kearny, won the discus with a throw of 45 feet, won the javelin with a throw of 34 feet and took home the gold medal in the shot put with a throw of 13 feet. He was second in the 100-meter dash in 20.7 seconds (a personal record), a second place finish in the 400-meter run in 75 seconds (“That was a good race for me,” Koziel said.) and finished third in the 800-meter run in 2:37.

“It’s a good feeling,” Koziel said. “It validates what I’m doing. I set some new PRs (personal record) and won some medals. Freshman year, I only medaled in three events, the field events. Last year, I got four medals, so I am definitely moving along nicely.”

Koziel was asked what it meant for him to be on the same track with some of the state’s premier track and field’s best performers.

“It’s really nice,” Koziel said. “It shows how far we’ve come and how much we’ve broken down the common perception of disability. A lot of it is now what you can do and what you can’t do. We’ve all come together with one common purpose, just to compete like the able-bodied kids This is what we do. We all train all year long for this one meet, train three seasons for one meet.”

Koziel will now head to the United States Paralympic Track and Field Nationals in California June 17.

A week later, Koziel heads to Indianapolis to compete in the Fast Cow Invitational, with the nation’s top paralympic athletes competing.

If Koziel is fortunate enough to get selected, he will then head to London with U.S. National Team Aug. 1-9, where Koziel hopes to compete in the discus and javelin, as well as the 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meter runs at this year’s Junior World Games.

“I’ll be there with the best athletes in the world,” Koziel said. “There are going to be double the countries competing this year. It will give me a good idea of where I stand worldwide.”

Koziel’s ultimate goal is the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, two weeks after the regular Olympic Games take place.

“I would say that it’s a great life,” Koziel said. “How many kids can say that they’re working toward that goal?”

Koziel is hoping to head to the University of Illinois, which fields a wheelchair track and field team. Jersey City’s Raymond Martin, another top flight paralympian who is a good friend of Koziel, competes at Illinois.

“I would love to study sports psychology and sports medicine there,” Koziel said.

So when Koziel is asked about his handicap, he boldly says, “What disability?”

“Honestly, it doesn’t define me,” Koziel said.

Koziel doesn’t like thinking he’s an inspiration to other disabled athletes.

“I don’t like using the term ‘inspiration,’” Koziel said. “I just see myself as a mentor or a trailblazer. I might be breaking the barrier between disability and ability, but I’m not an inspiration. I’d rather be someone’s role model or mentor. There’s a social disconnect with being an inspiration. That’s why I like role model better.”

Koziel knows that other kids look to him and want him to succeed.

“If I can help kids dream of traveling the world, then that’s fine,” Koziel said. “I guess I’m doing good for anybody my age.”

Season to remember for Kardinals boys’ volleyball team

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Kearny High School boys’ volleyball team just recently completed a phenomenal season, a year to remember, the best ever in the school’s history.

The Kardinals finished the year with a 20-5 record, the first 20- win season ever. They advanced to the Hudson County Tournament finals for the first time and went to the NJSIAA state sectional finals for the first time.

Unfortunately, the Kards ran into a buzz saw in state finalist St. Peter’s Prep, who knocked the Kardinals off in both championship matches. Amazingly, four of the five losses the Kardinals incurred this year were to the Marauders.

Head coach Bill Mullins finished his fourth season in charge of the Kardinals.

“I thought we had the chance to have a good year,” Mullins said. “But only three (team members) played on the varsity last year. Volleyball is the type of sport in Kearny where you don’t play until you get to high school.”

Like Bryan Rodriguez, who joined the team this season.

“He just came out for the team before we started practices and he ended up being our starting middle hitter,” Mullins said of the junior Rodriguez. “He became a terrific hitter in the middle.”

Mullins said that none of his players are members of a volleyball club which plays all year long.

Senior Joel Vivas was a starter along the front line last year and returned this year a better player.

“He’s a terrific player,” said Mullins of Vivas, who was also a fine basketball player at Kearny last winter. “He’s a big power hitter from the outside and a good all-around player.”

Mullins said that Vivas led the Kardinals in kills this season.

Senior Matheus De- Castro was a volleyball player as a sophomore at Kearny, but did not play at all last year.

“He had an injury last year and didn’t come out,” Mullins said. “But he became a good outside hitter for us this year.”

Senior Doug Chemin was another returning starter from last year.

“He’s a terrific middle hitter and an outstanding blocker,” Mullins said. “It was hard to stop him.”

Brian Fonseca, another senior, was a member of the junior varsity last year, but became the team’s setter for the final 10 matches of 2013.

“Our setter got hurt and he did a nice job stepping in,” Mullins said. “This year, he became the leader of the team, a very vocal guy.”

Junior Gustavo Chemin, Doug’s younger brother, was another outside hitter.

“He’s the best jumper on the team,” Mullins said. “He can really get up.”

The younger Chemin was also on the junior varsity last season.

Senior Kevin Serrano was the team’s starting outside hitter last year, but he was moved to the defensive specialist libero this season.

“I thought he could handle the job and he did a nice job,” Mullins said.

Senior Matheus Oliveira is another former junior varsity player who became a regular on the Kardinals’ back row this season.

Mullins said that he received a lot of assistance from veteran volleyball legend Don Guide, who was formerly the head coach at St. Peter’s Prep and Paramus Catholic.

“I used to always ask him for advice when we would go to clinics together,” Mullins said. “So he joined us this year. He brought in a lot of experience, especially in high level games. He was a valuable addition to our staff.”

Mullins said he also received assistance from his wife, Jacqueline.

“They both did a terrific job,” Mullins said.

Mullins thinks that the Kardinals played as well as they possibly could.

“I think we went as far as we could go,” Mullins said. “We gave Prep all they could handle, but we couldn’t get past them. In the county tournament, we were close. In the state tournament, we were close. We have to be able to win the close games.”

But Mullins had a gigantic sense of pride about his team. They went further than any other Kearny volleyball team and won more matches.

“I’m very proud of them,” Mullins said. “We worked hard to be consistently good and that’s what we became. The kids hung in there and battled all the way. I give them credit for the way they battled.”

Added Mullins, “They became a better team as the season moved on. They were mentally prepared to play in big games. I think that was really important. It’s not an easy task to ask them to get better. They have to want to get better. They did an excellent job in that aspect and I’m very proud of them.”

And it gives the Kearny volleyball program a ton of hope for the future.

Nutley’s Montgomery wins state javelin gold medal at NJSIAA Meet of Champs

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

After winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III championship in the javelin two weeks ago, followed up by a third place finish at the overall Group III championship a week later, Nutley senior Grace Montgomery went to last week’s NJSIAA Meet of Champions with no glories of grandeur.

“I wanted to get a medal, but I didn’t think it would happen,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery was seeded 12th in the deeply talented pack and only the top eight bring home medals.

“I was hoping to get into the finals, but I didn’t think I’d make it,” Montgomery said. “I was pretty nervous.” Montgomery’s nerves started to get the best of her, when she was selected to go first.

“It was a mix of pressure and nerves,” Montgomery said.

Her first throw at the Meet of Champions at Frank Jost Field in South Plainfield was good for 125 feet, just below Montgomery’s personal best, but certainly not enough to contend for a metal.

The next four of Montgomery’s attempts were less than awe inspiring. She threw 120 feet, then fouled, then reached 120 feet two more times.

“I figured out I was in ninth place there,” Montgomery said. “I figured I wasn’t even going to get a medal.”

Montgomery didn’t even hold the school record anymore. That distinction belonged to teammate Leah Negra, who threw 129 feet to top Montgomery’s personal best throw of 128 at the North 2, Group III state sectionals.

Now, even more disaster struck.

“The javelin that I had become accustomed to, the one I had been using all year, had snapped in half during practice,” Montgomery said. “I was kind of upset.”

Nutley veteran head coach Bob O’Dell knew that Montgomery had the talent to become an elite javelin thrower.

“She has been working with assistant coach Chris Bradley (who went to the M of C during his senior year at Nutley in 2008, before going on to compete at a high level at Rutgers),” O’Dell said. “We’ve had a tradition of good javelin throwers here. It was just a question of whether Grace had one in her to put her over the top.”

On her final high school throw, Montgomery gave it all she had and unfurled a throw of a lifetime.

“When she let it go, we both looked at each other and said, `Where did that come from?’” O’Dell said.

“I let it go and I was at first disappointed,” Montgomery said. “I thought it was at the 120 (foot) line. But then I ran out and I noticed it was much further, like the 140 (foot) line. I was so shocked. I couldn’t believe it.”

Montgomery’s final throw traveled 136 feet, which catapulted her to the lead. Montgomery had the best throw in the entire state.

But her day wasn’t over. Five other girls still had attempts remaining.

“I was a little worried,” Montgomery said. “I thought there were girls who could throw it further. It was a little nerve wracking. I was watching them so closely. I didn’t want them to have a good throw. I still couldn’t believe it. I was in ninth place before that throw and now I’m in first.”

Montgomery really didn’t have much time to prepare for the Meet of Champs. You see, she’s been battling shoulder tendinitis and has been competing all bandaged up on the right shoulder – with no practice during the week.

“I’ve been going to a chiropractor three times a week just to get ready to compete,” Montgomery said. “I haven’t been taking any throws except in meets for weeks.”

But here she was, standing on the thresholds of pulling off the miracle.

“Shocked isn’t the right word,” Montgomery said. “I think happy and surprised is a better word. But I wasn’t shocked. I knew the talent was there. I knew she had it in her. She had the ability. She’s a very good athlete.”

Montgomery’s final throw stood up. She was indeed the Meet of Champions gold medal winner in the javelin. She became the first Nutley track and field athlete to earn a gold medal at the Meet of Champions since Carol Conlon won the two-mile run in 1975.

“I just didn’t believe it,” Montgomery said. “I never would have believed it.”

For her efforts, Montgomery has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week, the final honoree for the 2013-14 scholastic sports year. The Observer will present the Male and Female Athletes of the Year in the weeks to come.

Montgomery is just a superb athlete. She’s an All-SEC defender for the Nutley girls’ soccer team and was one of the leading scorers for the Nutley girls’ basketball team. She competes on teams with her twin sister Meghan.

In fact, after she won the gold medal at the M of C, Montgomery went home to Nutley and received the school’s Most Outstanding Female Athlete. Sabino Gabriele earned the boys’ nod.

Montgomery will continue her track career at Rowan University in the fall. Her sister will join her at Rowan and also compete in track and field there.

Montgomery also ran in the 800-meter run and the 400-meter hurdles this season, but throwing the javelin is her bread and butter.

“It’s been a great year,” Montgomery said. “I’m still kind of in a state of shock. It’s the best feeling in the world. I have been working solid all season. I’m glad it paid off.”

“You couldn’t write a better script,” O’Dell said. “It’s like batting in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the World Series and hitting a game-winning home run. It’s that kind of thing. She always had a little flair for the dramatic.” O’Dell knows that Montgomery has now permanently raised the bar for his track and field program.

“It’s a tough standard for others to follow,” O’Dell said. “But it’s a good record.”

Oh, by the way, Montgomery regained her old school record with her state-winning throw. She’ll take that mark to the high school nationals next week in Greensboro, North Carolina.


6-4 Lyndhurst softball state champs

Lyndhurst’s softball team captures first-ever state sectional title



By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

The Lyndhurst High School softball program had to replace an All-Bergen County pitcher, a standout slugging catcher and even the head coach from a year ago.

But that didn’t deter this year’s group from creating a slice of history.

Senior first baseman Alyssa Pipon delivered a run-scoring single in the bottom of the sixth inning, snapping a 2-2 tie, and lifting Lyndhurst to a 3-2 victory over Madison to capture the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II state championship last Friday afternoon.

The win enabled the Golden Bears (22-7) to secure the school’s first-ever state sectional softball championship.

“That was the theme all week,” said Lyndhurst’s firstyear head softball coach Emily Ringen. “We had a chance to create history.”

First things first. The Golden Bears had to take care of the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Liberty Division championship by beating Leonia. It was a game that was postponed due to rain three previous times.

But the Golden Bears defeated Leonia, 5-0, to nail down the NJIC-Liberty title, then put their focus on the state tournament.

In the sectional semifinals, the Golden Bears had to take on Hanover Park, the team that knocked off the Golden Bears in last year’s North 2, Group II final game, denying the Golden Bears the chance to claim their first state sectional crown.

“We had the mindset of redemption,” said Ringen, who replaced former coach Elaine Catanese this spring.

The Golden Bears got their revenge by beating Hanover Park, earning a home game for the state title game against Madison.

“It was a great atmosphere,” said Ringen, who previously played for and served as an assistant coach at perennial state power Pequannock. “The whole community came out. What a feeling that was. We were home. We had to get the job done.”

“In the beginning of the season, we knew we lost a pitcher and a catcher,” said senior Dina Ingenito. “But we all had confidence in each other and knew we could go up from last year. We got to the final and it was do or die.”

The Golden Bears did lose All-County pitcher Casey Zdanek and catcher Julieann Schneidenbach from last year’s team to graduation.

But Jenn Tellefsen moved into the pitching circle and became an instant dominant force, while sophomore Monica Laverty became the catcher and didn’t miss a beat.

In the fourth inning Friday, the Golden Bears were trailing, 2-0, when their pitcher and catcher got involved.

“Jenny hit a homer, then Monica also hit one,” Ringen said. “They turned the game around big time. The girls were honestly getting a little down on themselves, being down two runs.”

The two solo homers from the Lyndhurst battery tied the score, setting up the heroics in the home sixth. It was Tellefsen’s seventh homer of the season and the third for Laverty.

Christina Porta singled and Ingenito walked, sending Pipon to the plate.

“I just knew I had to get the job done,” said Pipon, a four-year fixture at first base for the Golden Bears. “We had to score there and win the game.”

Pipon grounded a single up the middle and Porta raced home with the go-ahead run.

Tellefsen then took the ball for the seventh, determined to seal the deal.

“She got two easy groundballs, but then she walked two batters in a row,” Ringen said. “It was a little heart wrenching then.”

But Tellefsen got the last Madison batter to strike out looking and the title was all Lyndhurst’s.

“When she struck out the last girl, it was chaos,” Ringen said. “It was such an awesome feeling.”

The seniors certainly enjoyed the victory.

“I knew that this was my senior year and this was my top goal,” said Ingenito, who is headed to Felician College to play soccer. “It feels great to be a part of it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I knew I didn’t want to leave high school without a (state) championship and I was so determined to get it.”

Game hero Pipon agreed.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Pipon, who is headed to Bergen County Community College in the fall. “I’m still speechless. It’s a great feeling. It’s going to be amazing to come back to Lyndhurst and look up at the wall and see our state championship on the banner. I’ve been working all these years and this was absolutely worth it.”

Fellow senior Tomko, the team’s shortstop, had to endure a knee injury last summer, then had to make a tough decision to quit basketball and join the swim team, just to get ready for softball.

“Softball is my favorite sport,” said Tomko, who is headed to the University of Delaware and will not compete in athletics. “This meant the world to me. I’ve been through so many seasons (soccer, basketball and swimming) and this was my last chance. Since the first scrimmage, I knew that if we were going to do it, this was it.

Added Tomko, “It was a total team effort for the whole season. This group is like family to me. To end my career with a state championship is awesome.”

The Golden Bears, now 22-7, were slated to face North 1, Group II sectional champ High Point and the state’s all-time leader in strikeouts in Ally Frei in the overall Group II semifinals Tuesday in Bloomfield.

Needless to say, the Lyndhurst contingent is beyond ecstatic.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said Ringen, who became the first coach to ever lead Lyndhurst to a state title in her first season. “It’s an unreal experience. I give the coaching staff and the players credit, because I wouldn’t be able to do it without them. It’s been such a positive atmosphere all year, keeping everything fun. I guess we set the bar high.”

Having Tellefsen in the circle definitely helped.

“I trusted Jenny all season to get the job done, but she took it into her own hands,” Ringen said. “Everyone knows that high school softball begins and ends in the circle. She has been beyond phenomenal.”

The rookie coach won a state sectional title with a new pitcher and catcher. Needless to say, all three will be back next year as well.

“I can’t put this into words,” Ringen said. “We had a great group of seniors who simply would not leave without creating history. It was always a dream to win a state title. We knew we had the talent. We won and had a lot of fun.”

NA boys’ track: Making strides toward respectability

6-4 Sports View, North Arlington track


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Two years ago, Danny Cordeiro was known strictly as a standout soccer player.

North Arlington High School classmate Mike Brazzel was a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball.

Now, the two have done wonders to help put the Vikings’ track and field program on the statewide map.

How does that happen? How do a soccer player and a three-sport contributor become track and field standouts?

“I still prefer people talking to me about soccer,” said Cordeiro, who backed up his first place showing in the 800 and 1,600-meter runs at the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championships two weeks ago with a gold medal performance in the overall Group I championships in South Plainfield Saturday.

“I am glad that people are talking to me about both sports, but I’m still a soccer player,” said Cordeiro, who is headed to the New Jersey Institute of Technology to play soccer in the fall. “I think on paper, it looks like I’m better in track. I didn’t run track before high school. I didn’t even think about it. It just started off as something I did to stay in shape for soccer. Over the years, it’s become a separate thing.”

Cordeiro won three gold medals at the state sectionals, finishing first in the triple jump as well. His fourth event was a fourth place finish in the long jump. It was one of the best allaround performances in the state.

Brazzel was a pitcher on the NA baseball team last spring, when he decided to walk away from baseball and become a javelin thrower.

“It took me a while to figure it out,” Brazzel said. “The coaches always told me that I was good in track.” Brazzel’s interest in the javelin came as a fluke. “It all started with a broken wrist,” Brazzel said. “I was doing the high jump, but after I broke the wrist, I went to the javelin. I never threw it before. I guess it was a lot like throwing a baseball.”

Last year, with just two weeks practice, Brazzel went to the NJSIAA North 2, Group I sectional championships and won the javelin. Two weeks ago, Brazzel repeated as state sectional champion and last Saturday, he took third overall in Group I.

“I guess after a while, track just appealed to me more,” Brazzel said. “It’s very hard for me to believe that I excelled this much. I never would have expected it. This is breathtaking.”

Now the two reluctant track standouts are headed to the granddaddy of all New Jersey track meets, the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in South Plainfield Wednesday night.

“It helps the recognition for the program,” North Arlington head track and field coach Joe Cioffi said. “It’s what we wanted to have. I’m not sure that the novelty has begun to wear off. It’s just that they both have confidence in what they’re doing.”

Cioffi is impressed with the development of both athletes.

“It’s really amazing to see what they’ve done,” Cioffi said. “They won league titles, then state sectional titles and now they’re on to the Meet of Champions. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”

Cioffi credited the work of all his seniors, including P.J. Sirotiak, Anthony Morreale and Thai Scott.

“This group of seniors we had pushed it forward,” Cioffi said. “The icing on the cake was Danny and Brazzel winning. We’ve moved this program forward in four years and I’m really proud of that. Each year, we’ve shown improvement and now we’re sending two athletes to the Meet of Champions. It’s definitely exciting for us.”

Brazzel feels that being a pitcher helped his development as a javelin thrower.

“It’s about the same kind of motion,” Brazzel said. “Being that I had been pitching for a long time made throwing the javelin easier.”

Brazzel plans on competing in both football and track and field at East Stroudsburg University in the fall.

“Track just sort of appealed to me more,” Brazzel said. “It just took a while for me to figure that out.”

Cordeiro is certainly shocked at becoming the school’s first-ever overall Group I champion in track and field.

“I’m definitely surprised, because I never thought of myself as being a runner,” Cordeiro said. “I’m happy what I did, but what we did as a team as well. I want to go to the Meet of Champions and win there. I always go to a meet thinking I can win. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Lyndhurst wins NJSIAA state sectional track and field title

6-4 Lyndhurst track_web

First for Golden Bears since 2011 and second one in 53 years


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

After winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I track and field state sectional championship in 2011, veteran Lyndhurst track coach Tom Shoebridge was hoping to get another.

After all, Lyndhurst didn’t have a state title since 1961, so winning in 2011 was pretty special.

A year later, the Golden Bears lost by a single point to Weequahic. Last year, the Golden Bears were second again, this time to Newark Tech.

“We had been second so many times,” Shoebridge said. “We were like the bridesmaids. It was getting tiresome.”

So when the Bears headed to the state sectionals two weeks ago at Ridge High School, Shoebridge was hopeful that he had the makings of another state sectional title.

He was right.

The Golden Bears took no chances this time around, steamrolling the field at the North 2, Group I sectionals. Lyndhurst collected 136 points, some 32 points ahead of the nearest competitor, Shabazz of Newark.

“The kids were great,” Shoebridge said. “It was one hell of a meet. We had a great scouting report going in. I knew we were in the hunt. I told them that if they did what they do consistently, they should win the meet. They did it. But to win by 30-something points is amazing. The kids all performed, right on down the line. We had so many kids involved.” Perhaps the spirit and the will of the Golden Bears is personified in the performance of senior captain Anthony Giaquinto. “He pulled his hamstring and hobbled his way to get fourth place,” Shoebridge said. “That said a lot to me.” Giaquinto just knew that this was his last chance to secure a team crown.

“I thought all season that we had the talent and the potential to do well in the states,” Giaquinto said. “It’s a team sport with individual performances. But it was team first and everyone chipped in. We had so much depth and we needed every single point.”

Billy Hooper won the 3,200-meter run in 10:23.94, winning by more than four seconds.

“He ran a monster twomile,” Shoebridge said. “He was very sick Friday and couldn’t run. But he came back Saturday and won the two-mile.”

Jake Estevez won three medals, finishing second in the long jump and third in the triple jump, while earning a medal as well in the 4×400- relay that finished fourth.

“He’s the first Lyndhurst athlete to jump better than 20 feet in the long jump and 40 feet in the triple jump,” Shoebridge said. “He’s done that in four consecutive meets. He’s a hell of an athlete.”

Kyle Krzastek was second in both the 110 and 400-meter hurdles, as well as third in the high jump and running a leg on the 4×400-meter relay.

“He was good for 26 points on his own,” Shoebridge said. “He’s the best all-around hurdler I ever had.”

Quintin St. Claire is just a sophomore, but he’s making his mark, winning the high jump at 6-0 and finishing second in the 400-meter run..

“He’s only a sophomore, so he’s definitely the future of the program,” Shoebridge said.

Jon Mercado won the shot put for the second straight year and was second in the discus.

“He’s a tremendously dedicated athlete,” Shoebridge said of Mercado. “All he thinks about now is throwing the shot.”

Jose Polanco was the winner of the pole vault.

“It was a big win there, because he’s been trying the pole since he was a freshman,” Shoebridge said. “He deserved it.”

Shoebridge gave Giaquinto a lot of credit for his work.

“He’s a great leader by example,” Shoebridge said. “We have a senior-based team and they all work together to get that sectional. But Giaquinto did the job as a leader and captain.”

Shoebridge will cherish this state sectional title.

“No one believed we could do it,” Shoebridge said. “But the seniors had the mindset we could. It’s as good a senior group that we’ve ever had. We won our fourth league title (the NJIC Liberty Division) and finished fifth in the (Bergen) County C Division. It was another great year.”

Shoebridge also sang the praises of his coaching staff, namely Ed Tessalone, Kim Hykey, Jim Day, Michael Pichardo and David Razscyk.

“I have a tremendous coaching staff,” Shoebridge said. “They make it easier for me.” And although he has retired as a teacher, Shoebridge said he will return next year as head coach. “I still have the passion,” Shoebridge said. “We have a great group of young kids who want to learn. I’m taking it day-by- day, but I plan to be back.”

That’s good news for the Lyndhurst track and field program, because the program is only as good as the guy running the show.


Ruth Cucchiara

Ruth Cucchiara, 91, entered into eternal rest Tuesday, May 20, at Alaris Healthcare, Kearny.

Born in Newark, Ruth lived most of her life in Harrison and East Newark. She was a homemaker.

Ruth was predeceased by her husband Santo C. Cucchiara (1994). She is survived by her loving son Thomas McConlouge and his wife, Patricia; cherished grandchildren, Melissa, Michael and Caitlyn; and one great-grandchild. She is also survived by her dear sister Jeannette Kearns.

Funeral services were under the direction of the Mulligan Funeral Home. A funeral service was held at funeral home. Her cremation was private.

Michael Demetroules 

Michael Demetroules died May 27 in Hackensack Medical Center. He was 77.

Born in Livadia Telos, Greece, he lived in North Arlington before moving to Rutherford in 1981.

Arrangements were by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. His funeral was from St. George Greek Orthodox Church, Clifton, followed by burial in Hillside Cemetery, Lyndhurst. To leave online condolences, please visit www.armitagewiggins.com.

Michael was a very hard working man and a generous but humble man. He was a general contractor in New York City and was a member of Aphea, a Greek organization.

Husband of the late Evelyn (nee Kabajy), he is survived by his children and their wives Emmanuel and Claire Demetroules, Maria and Sam Karadimos and Elaine and Nick Economou. He was the brother of Irene, Nina, Andy, Peter, Vinnie and Popy. He is also survived by all his favorite grandchildren Jessica, Nicole, Veronica, Kevin, Michael, Katerina, Evan and Maria.

Rachel J. Froelich 

Rachel J. Froelich (nee Bryson) passed away peacefully at home on May 28. She was 102.

Rae was born in Paisley, Scotland, and immigrated to America with her mother and brother in 1920 and lived the rest of her life in Kearny.

Rae was a charter member of West Hudson Hospital Volunteer Service, serving for 49 years, and was also a member of the Women’s Auxiliary. One of the longest living members of the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington, she was a member of Circle 9 and enjoyed baking and participating in the annual church fair.

For many years she was an active member of the Woman’s Club of Arlington and worked as a volunteer at the Kearny Museum. When her children were in school she was active in the PTA and was also a member of Bonnie Doon Lodge #10, Daughters of Scotia.

She was predeceased by her husband Richard (Dick) Froelich, a local counselor- at-law and town councilman for many years. She is survived by her son Richard, daughter Marilynn Hummer, grandson Gregory Hummer (Amber) and cherished great-grandchildren Adriana and Jacob.

Private arrangements were made by Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. Those wishing may make a donation to the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington.

Sherri A. Jusinski 

Sherri A. Jusinski (nee McLellan) died suddenly on May 26 in Beth Israel Hospital in Newark. She was 49.

Born in Alamosa, Col., she grew up in Kearny and lived the past 13 years in North Arlington. A

rrangements were by the Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral service was held at the funeral home. Burial followed in Arlington Cemetery. To leave online condolences, please visit www.armitagewiggins.com.

Sherri was an associate vice president at Axa-Equitable in Secaucus before becoming ill with pulmonary hypertension. She had great courage while battlling that disease for eight years. In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation to www.phassociation.org.

Wife of Stanley Jusinski, she was the sister of Robert Roche, David McLellan and Laura Perry. She was the daughter-in-law of Gerry and Ted Jusinski and sister-in-law of Teddy Jusinski. She is also survived by her nephews and nieces Bobby, Tyler, Jenna, Tonya, April, DJ, Jackson, Kaitlin, Amber and Austin.

Decio R. Louro 

Decio R. Louro, 73, of Kearny, died on May 29 at home.

Arrangements were by the Armitage & Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A Mass of Christian burial was officiated at St. Cecilia’s Church, Kearny. Interment was in Holy Cross Cemetery.

Born in Campanas, Portugal, Mr. Louro lived in Newark before moving to Kearny in 1990. He was a construction foreman with Gaccione Construction, Lyndhurst, for 10 years, retiring 11 years ago. He was a member of Heavy and General Construction Laborers Local 472, Newark.

He was the beloved husband of 48 years of Dulcinea Moreira Louro, father of Lilian Holland (Anthony), Sandra Louro (Anthony Perez) and Andrea DeMar (Eden) and grandfather of Ethan, Lucas, Cecilia, Simon, Joia and Carys. He is mourned by his sisters in Portugal.

In lieu of flowers, donations to The Lustgarten Foundation 1111 Stewart St., Bethpage, N.Y. 11714 (www.lustgarten.org) would be appreciated.

Pamela Sabia 

Pamela Sabia, 62, of North Arlington, passed away peacefully at home surrounded by her family and friends on Saturday, May 31.

She was the loving mother of Adriane and Amanda Price, and will be greatly missed by her many close friends and family. Pam happily brought joy to all those she encountered.

The funeral will be conducted from the Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave., Harrison. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at Holy Cross Church, Harrison, on Tuesday, June 3, followed by entombment in Holy Cross Chapel Mausoleum, North Arlington. Tuesday morning will be private at the funeral home for the family only. For information or directions, please visit www.mulliganfuneralhome.org.

In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, P.O. Box 1000, Dept. 142 Memphis, Tenn 38148 in loving memory of Pam.

Sally Sabia 

Sally Sabia (nee Pomianek), 95, died peacefully at home surrounded by her loving family on her wedding anniversary on Saturday, May 31.

The funeral will be conducted from the Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave., Harrison. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at Holy Cross Church, Harrison, at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 4, followed by interment in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington. Friends may call on Tuesday, June 3, from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday morning will be private at the funeral home for the family only. For information or directions, please visit www.mulliganfuneralhome.org.

Born in Camden, Sally was a lifelong resident of Harrison. She spent most of her life as a homemaker, but prior to that she worked for Worthington Pump Co., Harrison, where she met the love of her life, her husband Michael. She was a parishioner of Holy Cross Church, Harrison, and was a member of the church’s Rosary Society, Vincentian Society and the Holy Name Society.

Sally greatly enjoyed traveling the world with her husband and friends and spending winters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She loved walking the boardwalk in Belmar where she resided in the summer at her beloved shore house.

Predeceased by her husband, Michael (2008) she is survived by her three daughters Lorraine, Vickie and Sally Ann and her husband Robert Bond, her granddaughter, Julie Ann and her husband Brian Hay, two great-grandchildren, Joseph and Lauren, a sister, Dorothy Mott, Godchild and nephew V. John Sabia and her special friend and caretaker Nina. She is also survived by many cousins.

Belleville’s volleyball team advances to NJSIAA state sectional semifinals




By Jim Hague

 Observer Sports Writer 

John Spina knew that his Belleville High School boys’ volleyball team would be very competitive this season.

Spina just didn’t know how competitive.

The Buccaneers advanced to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV semifinals last Thursday with a straight set 25- 16, 25-16 victory over Lakeland Regional.

The Buccaneers, now 21-6, will face Wayne Valley in the semifinals Wednesday afternoon.

Needless to say, it’s been a fun run for the Buccaneers.

“I expected that we would have a good team,” said Spina, who doubles as the girls’ volleyball coach at Belleville in the fall. “But we did have to fill two big spots from last year.”

One of those spots came when junior Edward Edghill moved from outside hitter to middle hitter. Spina was taking a little bit of a gamble, putting Edghill inside, but it turned out to be a blessing.

“Edghill is a very versatile player,” Spina said of Edghill, who has collected 59 kills and 40 blocks this season. “He’s made us very hard to stop.” The other move was to find a temporary replacement for junior Marlon Rodriguez, who was suffering from a handful of injuries. Rodriguez is also a fine soccer player at the school.

So Spina looked to junior Raymond Cortez to replace Rodriguez.

“He’s our jack of all trades,” Spina said of Cortez. “His main position was defensive specialist, but we moved him to outside hitter.”

The two moves turned out to solidify the Buccaneers, as did the healthy return of Rodriguez, who has 80 kills, 102 digs and 65 service points, albeit in limited duty.

Junior Ammar Rahim is the team’s setter.

“He’s probably our most underrated kid,” Spina said. “He has springs in his legs. He can really stuff the ball.”

To go along with his incredible 555 assists and 33 kills, Rahim also has 30 blocks, 99 service points and 19 service aces.

“In the past, I used to have to call every play,” Spina said. “This year, Ammar runs it all by himself. He makes the calls. He also spreads the ball around and keeps everyone happy. I would rank him right up there with the best setters in the state.”

Senior Brandon Ojeda is one of the Bucs’ top reserves.

“We bring him in off the bench, because he does whatever we need him to do,” Spina said. “He was playing defensive specialist for us, but we moved him up. If Brandon was on another team, he would probably start. He’s that talented.”

Cortez earns the distinction of being “the most improved player,” according to Spina.

“He’s become so much of a better player.” Spina said. “He’s such a positive influence on the floor.”

Cortez has accrued 131 digs for the season, along with 126 service points and 19 service aces.

Junior Douglas Fonseca is another rapidly improving player.

“He’s improved dramatically,” Spina said. “We brought him in as a blocker, but now he’s hitting the ball hard, so we use him as a hitter. He’s progressed very nicely and I like what he brings to the table.”

Fonseca has 14 blocks, 23 kills and 54 service points this season.

The key to the Buccaneers’ success is junior outside hitter P.J. Gencarelli, who plays every single position on the floor.

“In my opinion, I think he’s the best hitter in the state,” Spina said. “His vertical leap has improved and he hits from any place on the court. He blocks just as good as anyone and he’s a force at the net. His jump serve is the best I’ve ever seen. It’s unstoppable.”

Gencarelli has 319 kills and eclipsed the 500 kill mark for his career earlier this year. He has 139 digs, 137 service points and 63 service aces. He also has 29 blocks.

“He really does it all,” Spina said.

Senior Edward Peralta is the team’s middle blocker. He has 83 blocks on the season, as well as 112 kills and 104 service points.

“He’s a very hard worker,” Spina said of Peralta.

Kevin Vicente is the team’s libero. He has been playing competitive volleyball for only two seasons.

“He is the guy who sets the pace for us,” Spina said of Vicente, who has 224 digs.

The Buccaneers have their sights on another upset in the state tournament. A year ago, the Bucs upset Wayne Valley. Now, they get to see Wayne Valley again.

“It will be a battle,” Spina said. “We scrimmaged them early in the season. We hope to go in and upset them again.”

Nothing will deter the Buccaneers if their work ethic is any indication. A state sectional championship is now just two wins away.

QP’s Negroni heads to state sectionals on high note




By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Natalie Negroni has established herself as one of the most diversified track and field athletes in the area.

The Queen of Peace junior competes in four events – the high jump, the 200-meter dash, the 100-meter hurdles and the 400-meter hurdles.

Two weeks ago, at the Bergen County Division D championships, Negroni won the 400-meter hurdles, finished second in the 100-meter hurdles, placed third in the high jump and seventh in the 200-meter dash.

A week later, Negroni was sixth at the Bergen County Meet of Champions in the 400-meter hurdles and 12th in the 100-meter hurdles.

“I’ve been trying to focus more on the high jump,” said Negroni, a resident of Kearny. “I think I’m getting there with the 200. I love track more than anything. I’ve played soccer since I was a little girl, but once I did track, I fell in love with it.”

Queen of Peace head track and field coach Ron Mazzolla has been around the block a few times, having spent nearly 20 years as the coach at North Arlington.

Mazzolla cannot stop singing the praises of Negroni.

“She really is a pleasure to work with,” Mazzolla said. “I made her a captain this year and she’s really embraced this leadership role. I might be late getting to the school, but all I have to do is call her to get things set up. She’s out there setting up the hurdles. She gets everyone together so when I get there, everyone’s ready to go. She’s just a pleasure to coach and be with.”

Mazzolla believes that Negroni is just scratching the surface of her ability.

“The key to her success, other than staying healthy, is to work a little more with her upper body,” Mazzolla said. “She needs to get just a little physically stronger. We’re working on her technique and her times, but I really think next year, she’s going to be at the top of her game. I think she has the potential to be either No.1 or No. 2 in Bergen County in both (hurdles) events.”

Negroni said that she matured greatly between her sophomore and junior years.

“I take it real seri ously,” Negroni said. “I wanted to be a captain this year. I love the sport and I like having an organized team.”

So there’s no problem rounding up the rest of her teammates for practice?

“I’m just an organized person,” Negroni said. “Ever since I was younger, I was organized. I color organized everything. It’s just the way I am.”

Negroni knows that the hurdles races are her bread and butter.

“If I focus on the hurdles, I can still do other things,” Negroni said. “I enjoy doing all of them. It definitely helps me get ready for college.”

It’s not too soon for Negroni to prepare a little for college. After all, she is a junior. College will be here soon enough.

“I have been getting a lot of letters from colleges,” Negroni said.

More will certainly come if Negroni fares well at the NJSIAA Non-Public B North state sectionals in Toms River over the weekend.

“I’m trying not to think about it too much,” Negroni said of the state sectionals. “I just hope I can continue to do well. I think it’s all just working toward the goal, which is to be on top for my senior year.”

“When she’s running with the best, you can definitely see the improvement,” Mazzolla said. “I still think she needs to improve her body. That’s one of the major objectives we plan on working on. We’ll see next year how much we’ve been able to help her.”

Negroni’s teammate and fellow Kearny resident Kas Rozalski won the Bergen County Meet of Champions in the pole vault, having cleared 12-1 1/2., so she is an athlete to watch over the next two weeks.

But Negroni leads the way for the Golden Griffins, no question. With her versatility, she’s an inspiration for everyone involved in the Queen of Peace track and field program.

Nutley’s Mercadante belts 3-run homer, lifting Maroon Raiders to sectional semis


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

All Nico Mercadante wanted to do was make a name for himself.

But the versatile Nutley High School senior was having a tough time achieving that goal.

How tough?

Well, when the time came for Mercadante to receive his warm-up hoodie for the baseball team this spring, his last name was misspelled as “Mercandante.”

“I didn’t even notice it at first,” said Mercadante, who has played the outfield, third base and now first base over the last three years for the Maroon Raiders. “You don’t know how many times I’ve had my name misspelled over the years. I’ve almost become used to it.”

Nutley head baseball coach Bob Harbison has no problem spelling Mercadante’s last name – and putting that name in the Maroon Raiders’ lineup every game.

“I can always find a spot for him,” Harbison said. “He’s been a three-year starter for us. He started as an outfielder, but last year, we needed a third baseman, so we just put him there. This year, we needed a first baseman, so we moved him there. He’s become a very good first baseman and he also has the best arm on the team.”

Mercadante likes having the ability to play multiple positions on the field.

“I really love the game and I understand the different points of it,” Mercadante said. “I can play all over the place and I try to do that. I play for the New Jersey Athletics during the summer and I have played every position for that team. I’ve even played catcher. I love it. I love playing every position. It gives me a better look from the different positions.”

Mercadante is the quintessential team player.

“I want to do whatever it takes to help my team win,” Mercadante said.

Last Wednesday, the Maroon Raiders traveled to Governor Livingston in Berkeley Heights for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III quarterfinals. The Maroon Raiders faced a Governor Livingston squad that began the 2014 season ranked among the state’s top 20 teams and were seeded second in the state sectionals.

Mercadante was in the Nutley lineup, batting seventh and playing first base.

“To be honest, I was batting fourth or fifth in the beginning of the year, but I like the seven slot better,” Mercadante said. “It takes a lot of stress off me, because pitchers don’t expect anything coming out of the No. 7 hitter.”

Harbison does expect things from Mercadante.

“He’s very dangerous,” Harbison said. “When he puts his bat to the ball, generally good things happen.”

In Mercadante’s second at-bat, he struck out, but not without a fight.

“He must have fouled off seven pitches,” Harbison said. “It was a good at-bat. He was fighting it, facing a very good pitcher. Afterwards, I told Nico that it was a great at-bat and told him to keep his head up. He did a good job remaining positive.”

“The first two previous atbats, the pitcher was pitching me outside,” Mercadante said. “So the next time, I was set up looking outside. I fouled off one pitch, but then he went outside again and I caught one.”

With runners on first and second in the top of the sixth inning, Mercadante went with the outside pitch and belted it over the fence for a threerun homer, helping to give the Maroon Raiders the 6-2 upset victory and the right to advance to the state sectional semifinals this week against the winner of West Essex and Morristown.

It was clearly the biggest single hit that Nutley baseball has enjoyed in a few years.

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

Mercadante certainly felt good helping to contribute to such a huge victory.

“It felt amazing,” Mercadante said. “The ball came off the bat great and just kept going. I’m pretty proud of myself. I’m just glad to help out.”

Harbison was a little surprised with the way Mercadante’s drive carried.

“He hit the ball to right center and it was pretty deep, so we had the runners tagging up,” Harbison said. “But I could see that the centerfielder wasn’t going to make a play on it and it just left the park. He is a power hitter and a strong kid. It was a huge hit.”

Haribson said that Mercadante is more of a “streaky hitter.” Mercadante is batting .306 with two doubles, two triples and now two home runs – none better than the shot that lifted the Maroon Raiders to the sectional semifinals.

“We needed everyone against that good team,” Harbison said. “We needed our No. 7 hitter to come up big and he did.”

Harbison likes Mercadante’s approach to the game.

“He’s a good kid,” Harbison said. “He’s pretty quiet, but he works very hard. He’s serious about baseball and plays all the time. I’ll always find a spot for a kid like him, because he’s that dangerous. He has that kind of talent.”

But Mercadante knows his baseball career will be coming to an end shortly. He plans on attending William Paterson University, but will not play baseball there.

“I am going to try to get into their dental program,” Mercadante said. “I want to go to dental school and become a dentist, so I have to dedicate myself to my education and getting into a good dental school.”

So Mercadante made a name for himself before he moved on – and will be forever remembered in Nutley baseball folklore.

“It means a lot to me,” Mercadante said. “It’s been building up to this. In the beginning of the season, I was doing pretty well, but honestly, I got too comfortable and I went 0-for-3 in a couple of games. I just had to get my head on straight and focus. Maybe this home run will start me back up again.”

If it does, then Nico Mercadante picked the right time to make that name for himself, with or without the extra n in his last name.