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Three local girls’ soccer teams move on

Durning_web

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Three local girls’ high school soccer teams have all advanced to their respective NJSIAA state sectional playoff semifinals that were slated to be played after press time Monday.

The Kearny High School girls advanced to the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV sectional semifinals with a dominant 11-0 win over Bergen Tech last Friday. That win came on the heels of a 5-0 win over North Bergen in the first round.

In the win over Bergen Tech, Lily Durning erupted for four goals, her best performance to date. Barbara Paiva, who was named the Hudson County Interscholastic League Player of the Year earlier last week, had two goals and an amazing five assists. Breeana Costa had three goals and Amanda Eustice had two for the winners, who were slated to face Montclair Tuesday in the sectional semis.

Nutley advanced to the North 2, Group III semifinals with a 5-1 win over Woodbridge. In that game, Victoria Kealy had three goals, including her 76th career goal, becoming the all-time leading goal scorer in the history of the school. Samantha Chimento and Kaitlyn Salisbury each scored a goal and Zoe Steck had three assists.

The Maroon Raiders were slated to face nemesis West Morris in the sectional semifinals Tuesday. West Morris knocked Nutley out of the state playoffs a year ago, so revenge was certainly on the minds of the Maroon Raiders entering that showdown.

And Lyndhurst steamrolled its way into the North Jersey Section 2, Group I semifinals with an 8-0 victory over neighboring rival North Arlington. The Golden Bears won their first state playoff game over Weehawken by a 7-0 score.

In the win over North Arlington, Mia Luna had three goals and Giana DiTonto had two goals and two assists. The top-seeded Golden Bears were slated to face fifth seed Glen Ridge in the sectional semifinals Tuesday.

Needless to say, it has been an excellent season for the local girls’ soccer teams.

Good news for grid locals

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Nutley makes NJSIAA state playoffs; Harrison earns first victory

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

There is good news to report this week for two local high school football teams.

First, Nutley defeated Weequahic, 28-18, to improve to 6-2 on the season. It was the Maroon Raiders’ third straight victory.

More importantly, the Maroon Raiders have qualified for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state playoffs, the first state playoff appearance since 2011.

“It is very rewarding,” Nutley head coach Tom Basile said. “The kids were excited. The locker room was electric. It was like a weight was lifted off their shoulders.”

Basile said that he always believed that the Maroon Raiders were going to have a successful season.

“I absolutely felt that this team was going to be special,” Basile said. “The expectations were pretty high. This is a group that has been together for three years. The last three weeks, we were in do-or-die situations and we won all three. Having three and four-year players really is paying off. We tried to build this program for the last three years.”

Harrison is another local team that enjoyed success over the weekend, but it wasn’t in the same proportion as Nutley. The Blue Tide won for the first time in 2014, defeating Hawthorne, 27-26, giving Harrison its first win of the season.

“When you’re having a season like we’re having, a lot of kids would have thrown in the towel,” said Harrison head coach Matt Gallo, whose team improved to 1-7. “The commitment of the kids has been consistent. They have been working so hard for that first win and they finally got it.”

The Blue Tide actually trailed Hawthorne, 20-0, in the first half and later trailed 26-14 before making the dramatic comeback.

Quarterback Mike O’Donnell was the Harrison standout, rushing for 155 yards on 10 carries and scoring both fourth quarter touchdowns that gave the Blue Tide the win. Sophomore O’Donnell also completed three passes, including a 55-yard touchdown to Jason Sheppard, for 80 yards.

“Trailing 20-0 and being able to come back is a testament to the character of this team,” Gallo said. “They were not giving up on the season. They fought hard in the fourth quarter, regardless of what the score was.”

Gallo was impressed with the way O’Donnell played down the stetch.

“He just took over in the fourth quarter,” Gallo said. “He was the guy who was not going to lose that game. He did everything he could to make sure we were not going to lose. He was throwing and running like he’s an upperclassman. We know we have a very young team, but Mike has been phenomenal. The mission has been to improve every year. We have a bunch of young players who are going to get better.”

Jerry Rodriguez also had a big fumble recovery for the Blue Tide. He’s another sophomore.

“After a while, as the season goes by and you’re playing without a win, it’s easy to get discouraged,” Gallo said. “But nothing has been compromised. Our practice structure has been the same way every week. They’ve all stayed the course.”

The Maroon Raiders once again got a huge performance from junior running back Craig Merkle, who rushed for 211 yards and three touchdowns. He also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season with his performance.

Pete Russo had a big game, collecting two huge receptions as well his fifth interception on defense.

Rob Melillo was solid at quarterback, completing five passes for 124 yards and a touchdown.

“Offensively, when people focus on Craig, it opens up things for everyone else,” Basile said. “Craig makes everyone else around him better. Rob was our JV (junior varsity) quarterback the last two years and he works so hard at it. He’s gone to the (Peyton and Eli) Manning camp to get better. He knows the offense and knows it well.”

Frank Malanga made 19 tackles on defense, including an interception. Andrew Aiello also had an interception.

“Russo has hands of gold and is always making big catches,” Basile said. “Malanga is always around the football every play”

Needless to say, it was a solid team effort.

The win also put Nutley in position this weekend to play for a Super Essex Conference- Liberty Division championship against Caldwell.

“We talked to the kids about what they had to play for,” Basile said. “We asked them to imagine what it would be like to play Caldwell in a game that didn’t matter and then play in a consolation game instead of the state playoffs. They definitely responded. They all chose to play playoff football. There’s nothing like that atmosphere of a state playoff game.”

So both local teams head to their respective practices this week with something to play for.

“It’s very exciting,” Basile said. “We’re now preparing for the big games ahead.”

After facing Caldwell for the SEC-Liberty crown, the Maroon Raiders appear headed to face No. 3 seed Paramus in the first round of the state playoffs in two weeks.

“We’ve waited 10 weeks for the chance to play these big games,” Basile said. “Now, it’s here. We were talking about it. Now it’s here in front of us.”

Let the big games begin.

Belleville boys’ soccer team keeps winning ways

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

In August, the Belleville boys’ soccer team was headed toward great things in 2014. The school just hired one of its all-time greats in Jim Damiano to run the program, after longtime coach Len Marino had stepped down due to medical reasons.

The Buccaneers were destined for greatness.

Meanwhile, Carlos Goncalves was the program’s junior varsity coach for the prior four years. In August, Goncalves was on vacation, visiting his family in Portugal, when the Belleville Board of Education made more than 50 teacher cuts, one of whom was Damiano.

Without Damiano, the Buccaneers became a program without a coach.

“I got the phone call that Jimmy was no longer going to be the coach,” Goncalves said. “The AD (athletic director Tom D’Elia) called me and asked me if I would take over. I didn’t want to be the head coach, but I decided to do it for the kids. I’m not sure about next year, but I agreed to do it this year.”

The program also brought back a familiar face to be the assistant – namely Marino.

“It helped tremendously,” Goncalves said. “Having Lenny beside me was great. He’s a great individual and a great coach. The kids all know him and love him. Lenny was determined. He said, ‘If you take over, I’ll help you.’ Lenny is my mentor. His help is always needed.”

So Goncalves inherited the program and had to try to stem the tide, keep the players on the right track that was established before him.

“I was doing it for the kids,” Goncalves said. “Regardless of their talent, I would take over for the kids. I put their ability and their play aside. I did it for them.”

Goncalves knew that there was a lot of talent returning on the 2014 roster.

“You always have high expectations when you have a team like this,” Goncalves said. “These kids have been together for like six years. The core of the team has been playing together forever. When they play together as a team for that long, there’s no other choice but to have high expectations.”

The Buccaneers have responded well for the new coach and the old coach, winning 14 times this season and advancing all the way to the Essex County Tournament semifinals for the first time before falling to perennial power Livingston.

 

Photo by Jim Hague Belleville senior defender Marlon Rodriguez (top) is recognized as one of the top defenders in Essex County and the Super Essex Conference while Belleville senior midfielder Max Correa (above) has been outstanding with the ball this season, collecting 23 assists, among the best in the state.

Photo by Jim Hague
Belleville senior defender Marlon Rodriguez (photo at top) is recognized as one of the top
defenders in Essex County and the Super Essex Conference while Belleville
senior midfielder Max Correa (above) has been outstanding with the ball this season,
collecting 23 assists, among the best in the state.

 

“It felt great to be in the semifinals,” Goncalves said. “I told the kids that it was already an achievement to get there. I told them if they walk off the field, they should do so with their heads held high. I just believe that they felt the pressure a little bit, playing Livingston at home with our fans there at night. It was tough for them, but I’m very proud of them.”

The Buccaneers were set to face Morristown in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state playoffs Monday.

In goal, the Bucs have used senior Kevin Coronel in goal, but he hit his head in the win against Millburn in the Essex County tourney. Junior Jason Cadena has filled in admirably in net. Junior Elias Tapia is another reserve.

The Buccaneers have two of the best defenders around in seniors Marlon Rodriguez and P.J. Gencarelli, both of whom have been with the program for four years.

“Having them back has helped tremendously,” Goncalves said. “They’ve both together helped us scoring on set pieces, scoring at least 11 goals with headers.”

Junior Maverick Garcia and senior Nelson Pichardo round out the Buccaneers’ solid defensive unit, with seniors David Esquivel and Cesar Idirovo coming off the bench.

Senior Max Correa has been a huge plus for the Belleville midfield. Correa has 23 assists, among the leaders in the state.

“He always plays defensive minded and assist first,” Goncalves said. “He could have scored more goals, because he really has a good shot, but he prefers to give it off for assists. He’s just a complete player.”

Others in the midfield include seniors Randy Fernandez, Kevin Vicente and junior Jairo Campoverde. Senior Carlos Fuentes and junior Chris Sosa are key reserves off the bench, with senior Marco Guaman also coming in as a reserve.

Senior Muhammad Cheikali is another midfielder who Goncalves uses off the bench.

On the forward line, the Buccaneers have Matthew Gavidia, who has scored 10 goals, and senior Luis Lopez, the team’s super striker, who has knocked home 23 goals. “Lopez is tremendously fast,” Goncalves said. “He’s very quick and gets to a lot of balls with his speed. When he gets the ball, he’s very lethal and is difficult to stop.”

Senior Gerson Hernandez can contribute at either the forward or midfield slots. Senior Daniel Bamimore is another key reserve for the Belleville front line.

Whatever happened in the state playoffs Monday would not deter what has been a tremendous season, especially with the preseason turmoil.

“I told them that this has been really exciting,” Goncalves said. “There were a lot of challenges. We faced a lot of tough teams all season. But we grew as a team through it all in all respects. It was exciting, challenging and it was worth it for me to have the experience.”

Maybe the Belleville Board of Education can do the right thing and insure that both Goncalves and Marino, health permitting, will be back next season. The successful program needs to have some sort of stability, even with all the top players graduating.

Lyndhurst’s Failace makes remarkable comeback

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Jessica Failace vividly remembers the day that dramatically changed her life.

“We were playing River Dell in the county playoffs (two years ago),” said Failace, the Lyndhurst High School senior. “My knee twisted the wrong way. I heard it pop.”

The results were staggering. Not only did Failace tear the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), but she also damaged her meniscus.

“There was only 1:44 left in the game,” Failace said. “I knew it was bad.”

It also came at an emotional time in Failace’s life. Just eight days prior to the injury, Failace lost her beloved grandfather, Frank Benedetto, Sr.

“It was a hard time for me,” Failace said. “It was absolutely horrible. I had everything I loved to do taken from me.”

However, Failace was determined to get back to the soccer field and to the track (where she competes in the middle distance races).

Failace’s uncle, Frank Benedetto Jr., is a physical therapist who works at Paramus Orthopedic Physical Therapy.

“He took care of me right away,” Failace said. “I was blessed that he helped me. I ended up needing two surgeries. I was non-weight bearing for 66 days. But the day after my last surgery, I started physical therapy. Those were the worst days of my life, but they changed me. Those days made me who I am today. I completely believe that things happen for a reason. It all made me a stronger person.

” Failace worked diligently in her physical therapy in order to make it back to the soccer pitch and back to the track.

“I worked very hard,” Failace said. “I wanted to come back better than ever.”

Fast forward to 2014. Failace entered her senior year with high hopes and expectations.

“I felt as a senior and as a captain, I had to step up for my team,” Failace said.

Last year, Failace played for the Golden Bears, but she was limited in what she could do.

“I doubted myself a little,” said Failace, who played while wearing a bulky brace on her injured knee.

“You could definitely tell that she wasn’t 100%,” said Lyndhurst head girls’ soccer coach Kim Hykey. “She was wearing the brace and she just basically got through the year.”

But when practices began in earnest for the 2014 season, Failace was a different person and player. The bulky brace was gone.

“This year, it’s like, `What injury?’” Hykey said. “Her speed and confidence is back. It’s night and day to what she once was.”

“It upset me that people always came to me and asked me how I was doing,” Failace said. “I wasn’t able to run like I used to. I wanted to become better than I was.”

Failace scored two goals as a freshman, one as a sophomore and two as a junior. But no one could expect the explosion that she has enjoyed this year as a senior.

“She has been playing phenomenally,” Hykey said.

No one could have ever anticipated what Failace could accomplish this season – or for the last two weeks, scoring two or more goals in five straight games.

Failace scored two goals and added an assist against Leonia, had two goals against Queen of Peace, scored two goals and had two assists against Bergen Charter, had the three-goal hat trick against Dwight-Englewood and scored two more against Ridgefield.

For the season, Failace has tallied an astounding 20 goals and added five assists.

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

“I think I have much more confidence this year,” Failace said. “Going through physical therapy has made me stronger and gives me confidence that I can shoot with either leg. I can shoot from all different angles.”

Hykey said she remembers the turning point for her senior captain.

“When I noticed her turning point was in the beginning of the season,” Hykey said, “She wasn’t scoring much, but I noticed that she hustled and played well against Glen Rock. I don’t know if that gave her confidence, but from that point on, she got started and has been amazing. She has been making shots from ridiculous angles. I didn’t know she could do that.

Added Hykey, “She plays the left side (of the midfield) and has developed a left shot. Her left foot has become very good. She’s not afraid to take a shot with her left foot.”

Failace admits that she has fully recovered from the knee injury.

“I feel like I’m better than ever,” Failace said. “I feel less limited than I was. I’m much better without the brace. It feels great to be able to do this. I’m completely recovered.”

The Golden Bears are also enjoying success, with a 17-2 record and a top seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state playoffs that begin this week.

“She’s been a surprise, a pleasant surprise,” Hykey said.

Hykey likes the chemistry she has with fellow midfielder Amanda Fulcher. Another team captain, Giana DiTonto, has an incredible 31 assists.

“Amanda has done a great job distributing the ball,” Hykey said. “Jess has been getting open through the defense and making shots.”

Hykey also counts on Failace to be a leader.

“She’s awesome,” Hykey said. “She’s like having another coach on the field. She’s smart and knows what has to be done. She always tries to do the right thing.”

Failace also runs track and holds the school record for the 400-meter run as well as two records with Lyndhurst relay teams.

Failace is also a standout in the classroom. She’s currently ranked No. 2 in the Lyndhurst Class of 2015 with a grade point average of 4.16 and a score of 1810 in the Scholastic Aptitude Tests.

Failace has not made a commitment to college. Because of her experience in the field, she wants to become a physical therapist and will attend an accelerated six-year program in college.

She’s undecided about the school and whether she will play soccer in college. “I might run track and play club soccer,”

Failace said. “I’m not ready to give up playing soccer.” Failace also has a reputation off the field.

“She’s a goofball,” Hykey said. “I will come to my office and find 75 Post-It stickers on my wall that say, ‘Jess is the best.’ I don’t even have to read them to know who’s done it.”

“I just want to leave my mark when I go,” Failace said. “I like having fun. People meet me and they think I’m quiet and shy, but I’m actually quite the opposite.”

So the fun-loving captain is enjoying life once again – and scoring goals at will.

“It all made me a stronger person,” Failace said. “I am absolutely better than ever. I was asked if I wanted to have plastic surgery to hide my scars on my knee. I want them there forever as a reminder of what I’ve been through. They made me who I am.”

Kearny is ‘Soccertown, USA’ for a reason

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Boys’ and girls’ teams both win Hudson County Tournament championships

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

Kearny is certainly called “Soccertown, USA” for a reason.

The Kearny High School boys’ and girls’ soccer teams both won their respective Hudson County Tournament championships Sunday afternoon.

The girls’ team won their sixth straight Hudson County championship with a 3-0 victory over Memorial.

Then the boys’ team finished off the clean sweep by defeating North Bergen in their championship game by a 2-0 score.

It’s definitely a reason for celebrations at Kearny High.

Kearny girls’ head coach Vin Almeida had some concerns, because his team was trying to defeat Memorial for the third time this season – and there’s an old sports adage which states that it’s very hard to win for a third time against the same team.

“Memorial over the last several years has become much improved and they’ve become a dander in the county,” Almeida said. “They have tough competitors who fight until the last minute. It was a challenge to play them. It’s always tough to get that third one. They have some good players, but our girls were able to shut them down. They didn’t produce many threats.”

Almeida credited his veteran group of midfielders for their prowess defensively, namely Amanda Eustice, Kathleen Dos Reis, Taylor Munro and Amber Crispin.

“They were asked to play as a unit and cover for each other,” Almeida said. “They had to be patient and did a great job of taking away everything.”

For Eustice, the victory was certainly redeeming, considering she missed all of last season due to a knee injury.

“It was a huge goal for me,” said Eustice, a senior. “I made sure that I came back and made a difference. I made sure each time I stepped on the field that it counted. I know now that you never know when it’s going to go. I missed it all last season. I wanted to be alongside my teammates and couldn’t, so to come back and make a contribution really feels great. We have a six-peat. How awesome is that?” Eustice said that it was a goal from the start of the season to go for No. 6 in a row.

“We wanted to be the first class to win all four years,” Eustice said for the rest of the seniors. “To finish off our senior year with another county championship is just awesome. We worked very hard for this.”

Senior Barbara Paiva scored a goal, the 34th goal of her season, breaking the single season scoring record in the process. Crispin and Natasha Magee scored the other goals.

Kearny boys’ head coach Bill Galka knew that his team was going to have a tough time with North Bergen.

“We knew that they were a good team and it was certainly going to be a battle,” Galka said. “We felt better playing them on a bigger field (at Harrison High). If we opened up the field, it was to our advantage. It would benefit us all around.”

Photos by Jim Hague The Kearny girls’ soccer team won the Hudson County Tournament for the sixth straight time. Front row, from l., are Amanda DeSousa, Eliza Rodrigues, Amanda Eustice, Barbara Paiva, Taylor Munroe, Kathleen Dos Reis and head coach Vin Almeida. Second row, from l. are Megan McClelland, Dana Green, Nicole Sanchez, Salma Bouzidi, Ryelle Seda, Breanna Costa, Isabel Fernandez and Laura Vilar. Third row, from l., are Sydney Viscuso, Sydney Pace, Natasha Magee, Amber Crispin, Merrin Keim and Rachel Nieto. Back row, from l., are Cindy Guzman, Lily Durning, Victoria Van Riper, Brianna Rodriguez and Nawal Farih

Photos by Jim Hague
The Kearny girls’ soccer team won the Hudson County Tournament
for the sixth straight time. Front row, from l., are Amanda DeSousa,
Eliza Rodrigues, Amanda Eustice, Barbara Paiva, Taylor Munroe, Kathleen
Dos Reis and head coach Vin Almeida. Second row, from l. are
Megan McClelland, Dana Green, Nicole Sanchez, Salma Bouzidi, Ryelle
Seda, Breanna Costa, Isabel Fernandez and Laura Vilar. Third row, from
l., are Sydney Viscuso, Sydney Pace, Natasha Magee, Amber Crispin,
Merrin Keim and Rachel Nieto. Back row, from l., are Cindy Guzman,
Lily Durning, Victoria Van Riper, Brianna Rodriguez and Nawal Farih

 

Senior Danny Vicente, who was not with the program last year as he was part of a soccer academy, scored both goals in the win over North Bergen. Vicente, who missed most of the week because of a rib injury and illness, came off the bench to score the game’s first goal on a header, then later added a penalty kick.

“I knew I was going to play, but I didn’t know how much,” Vicente said. “This was the county championship. It’s my senior year and I wasn’t going to miss it. It was a good feeling to share this with my friends. I didn’t think I’d score at all. But to come off the bench and lead the team is amazing.”

Senior goalkeeper Sebastian Ferreira echoed Vicente’s sentiments.

“It’s a perfect story line,” Ferreira said. “It’s a perfect setting for us. You can’t write it any better than that. To win this again makes it so much sweeter.”

The Kardinals won for the third time in the six-year history of the county tourney. They last won in 2012.

Galka credited the work of his backline, namely Michael Almeida (no relation to the coach), Adrian Velazquez, Andrew Quintos and Damian Kolodziej for their defensive work.

“Adrian really stepped up and won a lot of balls for us,” Galka said. “That got us going. They’ve all been solid all year.”

The seniors all had it in mind that they wanted to win the county title after losing last year in the semifinals.

“They all said that it was a goal to win the county tournament,” Galka said.

Almeida also credited his defensive line, namely goalkeeper Laura Vilar and defenders Dana Green, Lisa Rodrigues and Salma Bouzidi for their efforts.

“We thought by now that someone might have caught us sleeping,” said Almeida, whose team is 85-0-1 against Hudson County opponents over the last six years. “It’s a tribute to our girls, because we never let our guard down.”

Eustice said that her comrades actively cheer for the boys’ team.

“We are all good friends,” Eustice said. “We always talk to each other. Our goals are always the same. Both teams are extremely close. Some of my closest friends are on the boys’ team.”’

“It’s always good when the girls win, because if they win, then we’re expected to win,” Ferreira said. “It’s always a good feeling when we both win.”

Like it was destined to be, in the beautiful world called “Soccertown, USA.”

Harrison native Martino a credit to athletics, academics

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Although he’s a key player on one of the top high school football teams in New Jersey, Tyler Martino believes that his work in the classroom is far more important.

“I always think academics are far more important than football,” said Martino, a Harrison resident who plays football at St. Peter’s Prep. “I want to make a good living when I’m done playing football. I don’t have the size to play football for a long time. So academics have always come first and foremost. It’s the reason why I went to (St. Peter’s) Prep in the first place, to get a great education.”

Last week, Martino received the ultimate honor as a student/athlete. He was inducted into the National Honor Society, the lone member of the Prep grid team to become a member of the NHS.

“It means a lot to me,” Martino said. “Usually, people say that athletes don’t do well academically. But I’m proud to represent my team, my hometown. I’m the only one from Harrison in my class to go to Prep. It’s a great honor.”

Prep head football coach Rich Hansen had nothing but praise about his undersized senior running back.

“He’s a great kid who works very hard,” Hansen said of Martino. “He makes the most of his ability and is in there every day, grinding it out, making contributions. He definitely helps us be more competitive. He’s one of those players where height and weight don’t matter. It’s not a big distraction. I’ve had other smaller kids who played big roles.

Added Hansen: “Tyler has that competitive fire. He’s a tough minded kid. He’s the kind of kid who you have to find a place on the field for.”

Hansen was asked about Martino’s induction into the National Honor Society.

“That’s what this is all about,” Hansen said. “He has that ultimate balance, the combination of athletics and academics. Every single student is challenged when they come to Prep. It takes a lot of maturity and mental toughness. For him to achieve what he did academically is the pinnacle. It’s what it’s all about.”

Martino stands only 5-foot-2 and weighs only 150 pounds. But that is not a deterrent to him. He runs like the wind – and shows that speed during the indoor track season, running the 55-meter dash.

“When you’re not blessed with size, you have to go harder than most,” Martino said. “I have to give 100% every play. I spend a lot of time in the weight room, so I can have somewhat of an advantage. I get really low and run hard and fast, so teams have a tough time trying to handle me.”

Martino spoke of his academic commitment.

“I have a couple of advanced placement classes, so it’s tough to come home after practice at 8 p.m. and then do my schoolwork,” Martino said. “Once I learned how to manage my time, it got a lot easier.”

Martino is also civic minded.

“I want to give back to Harrison,” Martino said. “I like to go help at the Pop Warner program. I try to stay as close to my community as possible. I love Harrison. We have a really close knit community.”

Despite his size, Martino has been looked at by some colleges.

“I’m being recruited a little,” Martino said. “I think I’ll be able to play somewhere in college.”

Martino is looking at Lehigh, Lafayette, Monmouth and Fordham.

“We’ll see what happens,” Martino said. “I think I’ll get my chance to play.”

Martino said that he’s blessed to be on one of the state’s best football teams.

“It’s awesome,” Martino said. “It’s crazy how good this team has become. We’ve been together for four years and it’s like a brotherhood. We have a really good chance to win a state championship. Everyone is so talented. When you play football at Prep, people want to come up to you and talk to you. It’s a great honor to play for Prep and it’s always been a lot of fun.”

Martino said that he is looking into studying business or engineering in college.

Needless to say, Tyler Martino is enjoying things right now.

“I’m living the life,” Martino said. “It’s great.”

Kearny’s Rodriguez becomes instant quarterback in big win

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

The entire Kearny High School football season was hanging in the balance. The Kardinals trailed Dickinson, 20-6, at halftime last Friday night, watching their faint hopes of finally qualifying for the NJSIAA state playoffs fade into the dark night.

With that, Kearny head coach Nick Edwards knew that he had to make a change, putting starting fullback Christian Rodriguez in as the Wildcat formation quarterback.

In the Wildcat, the quarterback takes a direct shotgun snap and then determines to either run the ball or throw a pass.

“I knew we were struggling and I knew we had to step up,” Rodriguez said. “I loved the idea of playing the Wildcat. I liked being the general of the offense. I know that there’s a responsibility, but I loved it.”

Rodriguez said he had one reaction when Edwards told him he was going in as the Wildcat signal caller.

“It is very tough,” said Rodriguez, who was once a quarterback earlier in his life. “But I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

“We have the Wildcat package and Christian is the one to run that,” Edwards said. “He’s a strong kid with good speed. He also has good vision. He’s played about three years at quarterback in his life, so we knew he could do it.”

So Rodriguez took over the signal calling responsibility in the second half of the Dickinson game. The results were staggering.

Rodriguez carried the ball 12 times for 120 yards and completed five passes for 73 yards. More importantly, he guided the Kardinals to 34 unanswered points in the second half, keying Kearny’s gigantic 41-20 victory.

And the Kards are in position for their first-ever state playoff berth. If they win this weekend against Bayonne, the Kards are in. Simple as that. A loss last week would have destroyed those hopes.

So for his all-around effort, Rodriguez has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Rodriguez said that he was up for the challenge to fill in at quarterback.

“I was once the starting quarterback and then I got moved to fullback,” Rodriguez said. “I was excited to get the chance to play quarterback again. It was fun.”

Football is always more enjoyable when your team is winning.

“He played a big part in the second half comeback,” Edwards said. “We had 230 yards rushing in the second half. He’s perfect at that position. The more experience he gets there, the better he is. If we need a short screen pass, he’s capable of doing it.”

Rodriguez said that the hardest part of the Wildcat offense is reading the opposition defensive formation.

“I have to try to find the reads,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t have anything distract me. I have to have the right vision so I can see the play develop.”

Rodriguez said that he has watched other Wildcat quarterbacks, like former New York Jet and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.

“I see them running it and it motivates me to want to do it as well as they did,” Rodriguez said. “It blew my mind how well we did it. We just ran the ball right in their faces and they couldn’t stop us.”

Rodriguez said that he never played organized football before entering Kearny High School.

“I was more into skateboarding,” Rodriguez said. “That was what I did.”

Rodriguez was also hanging out with a wrong crowd. It forced Rodriguez’s mother, Maria, to step forward and put her foot down.

“She wants me to go to college,” Rodriguez said. “I started to think I could play football in college. I learned my lesson and realized that I couldn’t hang out with the wrong kids. I had to make a change in my life.”

Rodriguez has played quarterback in a triple option offense, then a fullback and now a Wildcat QB. Defensively, Rodriguez has played linebacker and defensive end, but does not play defense when he’s calling the signals.

“I got a little taste of everything,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t mind, because I love playing football. I like being with my teammates. They’re like my family. That’s why I stuck with it.”

Rodriguez is also a member of the Kearny wrestling team in the winter months.

“It helps my conditioning,” Rodriguez said of wrestling after football season is over. “It makes me stronger.”

Edwards likes what Rodriguez brings to the table.

“He’s a very respectful kid,” Edwards said. “He’s always at practice and he’s a very vocal kid. He’s become a leader.” That’s quite a compliment for someone who is only a junior.

“He also does well in the classroom,” Edwards said. “He’s the one getting us through the season.”

And yes, if the Kardinals get a win this weekend, they’re in the state playoffs for the very first time.

“None of these kids ever thought of being in the state playoffs,” Edwards said. “If we do win, we’re in. We definitely will talk about it. By telling them about it, it gives them something to shoot for. It’s good that this team is getting some recognition. They’re also getting some good support from the school and their families.”

Rodriguez was asked what it would be like to be part of the state playoffs.

“That would be so awesome,” Rodriguez said. “Next year, we’ll be even better. But this has been a fun year. I never expected all of this. “

Rodriguez has hopes of majoring in business management in college at either Montclair State or William Paterson. Of course, football will be a part of his life.

“I would love to play in college,” Robinson said. “I want to keep playing. Whatever position they want to put me at, I’ll play it. But this has been an awesome year. It’s one of the best years of my life.” And maybe the best is yet to come for Christian Rodriguez.

Kearny defeats rival Harrison again, this time in overtime

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Defender Quintos becomes hero with golden goal

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

Andrew Quintos is a defender on the Kearny High School boys’ soccer team. He knows defenders rarely grab the headlines, because they rarely score goals.

However, Quintos has been recently finding himself in a position to put the ball in the net.

He scored three goals in a recent win against Memorial and had two more goals in a victory over Belleville. In fact, Quintos has tallied an astounding seven goals this season.

But none bigger than the one Quintos knocked home Sunday afternoon. In fact, it’s a goal that Quintos will hold dearly for the rest of his life.

Quintos got the ball off a mad scramble in the second overtime of the Hudson County Tournament semifinal against neighboring rival Harrison Sunday afternoon at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium and somehow knocked it home, giving the Kardinals a thrilling 2-1 victory.

With the win, undefeated Kearny (13-0-2) advanced to Sunday’s county tournament finale to face North Bergen, which upset St. Peter’s Prep, 1-0, in the other semifinal held at Harrison High School.

Quintos was asked to describe the game-winning play.

“The ball came right in front of me,” Quintos said. “I got there first before a Harrison defender could get to it. It was just my instinct. I had to get there.”

“There had to be about 19 or 20 players in the box,” Kearny head coach Bill Galka said. “The ball was bouncing back and forth.”

The winning play was set up by a corner kick from Calvin Carbajal, but was then touched about seven or eight times by players on both teams before it bounced back to Quintos.

“He just has a knack to get to the bouncing ball,” Galka said. “He somehow gets to it. He scored two the same way against Belleville. As our center back, he goes up for free kicks. He’s been getting goals from the back. It’s amazing.”

“Of course, it’s as big as it gets,” Quintos said. “I knew that the goal ended the game. There was a sense of relief and joy. We put a lot of hard work into it. It feels good to get to the finals. Last year, we were disappointed, because we didn’t win anything. This year, we have a chance to go far, so it makes winning important.”

Quintos knows the importance of the goal, because he gave Kearny its second win of the season against the rival Blue Tide. Kearny has never defeated Harrison twice in one year before. The previous win came at Red Bull Arena by a 3-1 decision Sept. 27.

“It’s something that gets built up for years,” Quintos said. “It feels great. To be honest, I couldn’t even have something like this in my thoughts. I’ll never forget it.”

Galka knew that Harrison was going to be a tough out, considering the two teams played a spirited game less than a month ago.

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny forward Calvin Carbajal scored a goal early on and almost had another during the Kards’ 2-1 win over Harrison Sunday afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny forward Calvin Carbajal scored a goal early on and almost had another
during the Kards’ 2-1 win over Harrison Sunday afternoon.

 

“They had a little bit more of a motivation, considering we won the first time, so there was a revenge factor,” Galka said. “So the way we looked at it, we had to play better than them. They were ready and put the pressure on us. We were up against it.”

The Kards were also without top ball distributor Marcello Matta, who was out with a groin injury.

Harrison head coach Mike Rusek thought that his team had a chance against the Kards this time around.

“I thought we battled hard with them at Red Bull Arena,” Rusek said. “We thought we could go in there Sunday and battle with them. I told our kids that it was our county championship (the Blue Tide were the defending champs) and we had to go there to defend our title. We had to go there and play like champions, which we did.”

Rusek said that it was a tough situation for his team to be in.

“I went back as far as I could and couldn’t find another time where Kearny beat Harrison twice in one year,” Rusek said. “It’s a different year. They got us twice.”

The Kardinals took the lead in the early going, when Carbajal scored in the eighth minute off a fine pass from Alexi Velasquez.

“Scoring early sometimes hurts,” Galka said. “You tend to get a lackadaisical feeling and let up. It might be easier not to score early. We had a long way to go in the game.” Midway through the second half, the Blue Tide tied the score on a goal by freshman Ney Moreno.

“It was a nice goal,” Galka said. “It really got some momentum going for them. We were defending pretty well, but it was a matter of survival.”

“We were pushing for a second goal,” Rusek said. “We played well in the second half. The wind was pretty strong and it played a factor, because we had the wind at our backs in the second half.”

With five minutes to go in regulation, the Blue Tide thought they had the game winner. Ali Lakhrif chipped one that eluded Kearny standout goalkeeper Sebastian Ferreira and appeared headed toward the goal.

“Ali chipped one from the 18 (yard line) and the ball hit the crossbar, the corner of the goal post and slid off to the side,” Rusek said. “That was tough.”

Kearny also had a chance to win the game, but Carbajal plunked one off the crossbar as well, sending the game to the overtime, eventually giving Quintos the golden opportunity to be a golden hero with a golden goal, a score of a lifetime.

“Unfortunately, when you lose on a goal like that, everything just stops,” Rusek said. “We started to think about penalty kicks already. The mind starts prepping for things like that. Then, suddenly, it’s over. You’re in shock, because you were not prepping for that. You stand there, like ‘What just happened?’ But that’s soccer.”

The Blue Tide dropped to 13-3 on the season, with two of the three setbacks to the local rivals and the other coming at the hands of Princeton.

Both teams will be forces to be reckoned with in the upcoming NJSIAA state tournament – Kearny in North Jersey Section 1, Group IV and Harrison in North 2, Group I.

“I told our kids that the only month where you have to worry about being undefeated is November,” Rusek said. “This was a good experience for us for the state tournament.”

The Kardinals have a county title to be won, facing North Bergen somewhere this weekend. The Kards defeated North Bergen, 2-1, in overtime a few weeks ago.

“We haven’t won in a while,” Galka said of the county tournament title. “We’re looking at trying to get it back again.”

As for the unbeaten mark this late in the season?

“We don’t mention it and certainly don’t talk about it,” Galka said.

Such are the superstitions of soccer.

Lyndhurst boys’ XC wins NJICColonial title

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

 

It had been three years since the Lyndhurst boys’ cross country team won a league championship, so Andre Francisco wanted to make sure that his team got a chance to enjoy the fruits of winning a title one more time.

“Since we won the last one our freshman year, we had to come back and win again as seniors,” said Francisco, whose second place finish overall led the Golden Bears to the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Colonial Division championship last week at the Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park.

“We knew we had a good team this year,” said Francisco, who finished second in 17:05. “We just wanted to make sure we got our championship.”

The Golden Bears were solid throughout the race, also placing fifth (Dylan Stanco in 17:23), sixth (William Hooper in 17:27) and seventh (Stephen Covello in 17:29). That consistency was enough to catapult the Bears to a resounding victory, defeating closest rival Leonia by an astounding 46 points.

“We felt like we had something to prove,” said Hooper, whose brother is the goalkeeper on the Lyndhurst soccer team. “We just got stronger as a team. We knew we were going to win going in. With the hard work we put in, we knew we were the best team.”

“We felt like it was our responsibility to win,” Stanco said. “We’ve been preparing for this since our sophomore year. It’s the strongest team I’ve ever been on.”

Covello agreed. “We’ve all been training hard together as a team since the summer,” Covello said. “We all have been working hard, doing double sessions, just to get better. We wanted to win this year and prove that we could become a Group I power house.”

“We wanted people to see that we have a great cross country program,” said Christopher Barreto, who finished 16th overall.

Beside the aforementioned seniors, the Golden Bears were helped by sophomore Xavier Locke, who fin ished 13th and junior Anthony Dell Aquila, who was 19th  overall in the race.

Lyndhurst head cross country coach Michael Pichardo was pleased with his team’s performance.

“We absolutely have a great group of seniors,” Pichardo said. “I had high expectations for this group this year. This is just the beginning. Winning the league was just the start of the journey. We want to win the county, the state sectionals and make it to the Meet of Champions.”

Pichardo likes the commitment he gets from his team.

“This is a very experienced team,” Pichardo said. “They won the state sectional (the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I) last year and have a chance for bigger things this year. We don’t have just five kids or seven kids. We have 10 kids who are willing to step up and do whatever it takes to continue the legacy of the program.”

Added Pichardo, “Andre was able to win the league as a freshman, but the others didn’t, so I was happy for them.”

Pichardo knows that bigger things will happen for this group.

“They’re hungry,” Pichardo said. “They get the history and tradition of the program. They all know their roles. They want to do something special.”

Pichardo knows that the next steps, which include the Bergen County Championships this Saturday at Darlington Park in Mahwah, will not be easy.

“Winning the county would be an honor,” Pichardo said. “But we’re right in the mix. And if the stars align, we have to be in the discussion for the state sectional and the Groups. The championship season is just starting now and the first step has been won. It’s a long journey, but we have a chance to get everything we want. We have a great group of kids who are totally dialed in. I can’t ask for anything else.”

“We still want to accomplish more,” Covello said. “We’re not satisfied. We want to leave more of a legacy.”

Still, leaving a league title banner on the wall of the gym won’t be too hard to swallow.

“It’s amazing,” Stanco said. “It’s going to be a great feeling to see that go up and know that we all had a part of that.”

One win from six straight: Kearny girls’ soccer rolls to finals

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

The Kearny High School girls’ soccer team is just one win away from an amazing sixth straight Hudson County Tournament championship.

The Kardinals advanced to the title game with a resounding 11-0 win over Hoboken in the county tourney semifinals Sunday at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium in Jersey City.

The Kards will now face Memorial in the tourney title game this Sunday at a site to be determined, quite possibly the same location.

The Kardinals received yet another stellar performance from senior forward Barbara Paiva, who is well on the way to re-writing the school’s record books.

Paiva tallied an incredible five goals in the win over Hoboken, giving her 33 on the season, tying the school mark set by Stefanie Gomes (now at Montclair State) a few years ago.

Lily Durning added two goals while senior midfielder Amanda Eustice had a goal and three assists. It was a complete domination, as the Kardinals continue to roll.

“Hoboken had a nice game against North Bergen to get to the semifinals, but they lost a lot of girls to injury,” said Kearny head coach Vin Almeida. “So they were a little light handed to face us. It was a tough situation for us to play them in the semifinals, but in way, it was fortunate, because we were able to get a lot of girls on the field.”

Almeida said that he was impressed with Paiva’s performance.

“She’s really on a roll right now,” Almeida said. “She scored some nice goals. She’s a solid finisher. She’s really heating up at the right time.”

Almeida said that he was also impressed with the play of Eustice, who missed all of last season due to knee surgery.

Photos by Jim Hague TOP: Kearny senior defender Dana Green (12) passes the ball during the 11-0 win over Hoboken in the Hudson County Tournament semifinal win over Hoboken Sunday. BOTTOM: Senior midfielder Amanda Eustice (10) controls the ball during tourney contest at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium in Jersey City Sunday. Eustice had a goal and three assists.

Photos by Jim Hague
TOP: Kearny senior defender Dana Green (12) passes the ball during the 11-0
win over Hoboken in the Hudson County Tournament semifinal win over Hoboken
Sunday. BOTTOM: Senior midfielder Amanda Eustice (10) controls the
ball during tourney contest at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium in Jersey City
Sunday. Eustice had a goal and three assists.

 

“She’s getting the ball to our scorers, serving the ball to where the girl can finish,” Almeida said. “It makes things a lot easier. She’s been doing that a lot lately. She’s playing in a spot where she never played before (defensive center midfielder) and she’s handling it well. She’s doing a lot of the dirty work that goes unseen. But that leads to our success.”

Needless to say, Almeida was pleased with the incredible performance.

“It’s a great feeling to be in the finals and hopefully, we can win another county championship,” Almeida said. “That was the goal coming in.”

The Kards will now face Memorial, a team that they have defeated twice already this season by 3-1 and 4-0 margins. Almeida knows the old adage that it is very difficult to beat the same time three times in a season.

“Memorial will certainly not be a pushover,” Almeida said. “We have to be sharp to beat them. We can’t let our opponent get one up on us. We have had some good tests against them.”

Memorial features standout forward Mayensy Vargas, who has 31 goals this season, so the county final will pit two of the state’s leading scorers in Paiva and Vargas.

“We shall see,” Almeida said. “It’s two of the top goal scorers playing against each other. It should be very exciting.”

Almeida knows that history is hanging in the balance. There aren’t many soccer programs in New Jersey that can lay claim to six county championships in a row.

“We just have to keep our composure,” Almeida said. “We have to come out and play our game. We just have to stay focused. We’re feeling pretty good. We’re confident, but cautious.”

Perhaps history is in the making on Sunday.