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NA grid Vikings: Vow to improve in 2014

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The North Arlington High School football team posted a 2-8 record in 2013.

“We had a pretty tough schedule and played well at times, but we couldn’t finish,” said North Arlington head coach Anthony Marck, who enters his ninth season as the head coach at his alma mater.”We just didn’t have depth to compete. We’ve talked about finishing all during the offseason. It’s become the main point of our program, to finish everything. In the weight room, every repetition, make sure you finish what we start.”

The Vikings will eventually have a new home to start the 2014 season as improvements to Rip Collins Field continue toward the scheduled opening in two weeks.

So it’s a new start for the Vikings all around this season.

“You can sense it completely,” Marck said. “That’s the best part about this team. They’re all in. They genuinely like each other and get along incredibly well. They buy into what the other guy is doing. They enjoy each other’s company, on and off the field. I have no worries about who’s getting credit for doing what.” So Saturday afternoon, when the Vikings head to the new athletic facility in Riverside County Park to take on neighboring rival Queen of Peace at 1 p.m., they will be ready as a unit, ready to move forward, ready to forget what took place last year.

“We have a group of unselfish football players,” Marck said.

Leading the way is junior quarterback Mike Paolello (5-9, 165), who Marck cannot stop raving about.

“I’ve watched him since he was little,” Marck said of Paolello. “He was on a team in eighth grade that went undefeated and he was the quarterback throughout his whole life. His football knowledge is through the roof. His athleticism is almost freakish. I truly believe he’s a special player. He can throw it, he can run it. He’s the fastest player on the team and he can throw it on a dime.”

To feature Paolello’s skills, the Vikings will be more of a spread team offensively this year.

“We’ll be in the spread, running and throwing,” Marck said. “With him there and the ball in his hands, we can be so much more dangerous.”

The running back is junior Joe Morales (5-10, 185), who Marck likes for his toughness. “He’s a downhill runner,” Marck said of Morales. “He’s a strong, physical runner.

He just loves the game of football.”

The Vikings feature a bunch of talented performers at wide receiver and slot receiver. One of them is junior Edgar Carranza (5-11, 175), who has been a standout in basketball and now takes his talents to the gridiron.

“He has excellent hands,” Marck said of Carranza. “He has a knack for the football. We talked him into playing and he’s shown me a lot.”

Junior Kevin Sequeira (5-9, 160) is another basketball player who is playing football.

“He is an outstanding route runner,” Marck said. “He’s shown a lot of ability.”

The slot receiver is Alex Samaan (5-10, 180), who has been moved to slot from running back.

“He’s a good athlete and super fast,” Marck said.

The second slot is being shared by senior Giuseppe Gugliuzza (6-0, 200) and junior Tim Ford (5-8, 165), who Marck said is “a lot like Wes Welker.”

The offensive line features three returning starters in senior Danny Goffredo (5-10, 190), who is a four-year starter at guard, senior Brandon Pipher (5-9, 205) at guard and senior Dominic Reo (6-2, 210), who Marck said is “an athletic lineman,” at center.

Junior Brandon Dickson (5-11, 235) and senior Cesar Ramos (6-1, 185) are the bookend tackles.

“It’s a little easier having that experience upfront,” Marck said. “They are athletic and tough.”

The Vikings’ 4-4 defense features a lot of the same personnel.

Reo is a returning starter at defensive end, along with senior Colin Clifford (5-8, 165).

Pipher and Goffredo are returning starters at defensive tackle.

Morales is at outside linebacker along with senior Michael Cammett (5-8, 180). Gugliuzza is at inside backer with junior Devon Lopes (5-10, 180).

Carranza and Ford are the cornerbacks with Samaan at safety.

It’s only fitting that North Arlington kicks off the season against the Golden Griffins. It’s a natural rivalry that has been instituted thanks to the new North Jersey Interscholastic Conference.

“I’m excited about the season,” Marck said. “I’m excited about the speed that we have. We have a new team, a new field, a new field house. I think we have a chance to make some noise.”

Golden Griffins gridiron group move on without Momnohin

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

The Queen of Peace football team enjoyed a resurgent campaign in 2013, winning six games, including a first round NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state playoff game against St. Anthony.

“Without a doubt, it was a success,” said Bob Kearns, who returned to his coaching roots last year to take over the QP program once again. “Coming back for me with a team in turmoil and not knowing where we were going to go. We kept a lid on things and had a very successful season, going back to the state playoffs and winning a game.”

The Golden Griffins also had the state’s leading rusher in Kevin Momnohin, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards and scored 35 touchdowns last season.

“You never replace anything like that,” said Kearns, who guided the Golden Griffins to a 6-5 record last year. “He was a coach’s gift. The football gods were good to me, getting a kid like that. That’s for sure. But you can’t replace blue lightning. I can’t stop talking about him. I may never stop.”

Momnohin is now at Scottsdale Junior College in Arizona, hoping to hook on with an NCAA Division I program in the future.

In the meantime, the Golden Griffins have to move on without their franchise running back.

“I hope we can find another one like him,” Kearns said. “Maybe there’s another one. Who knows? He was just a coach’s dream, a special kid.”

Leading the Golden Griffins this season is sophomore quarterback Derick Suazo (6-1, 175), who Kearns said has the potential to be a good one.

“He’s a tough kid who has really picked up the offense quickly,” Kearns said. “He’s very composed at a very young age. He’s a leader. He’s very mature.”

Senior Brandon Cummings (5-9, 160) is one of the team’s running backs. He was Momnohin’s backup last year.

Senior Shaquan Chavis (5-7, 155) is a little scat back who adds speed. Muadh Abdus Salaam (5-7, 155) is another sophomore in the Griffin backfield.

Sophomore Javon Turner (6- 2, 175) is one of Suazo’s main targets at wide receiver.

“He has good hands and is a great route runner,” Kearns said. “He knows how to get open. He looks like he’s a winner on the field. He’s going to be a star. We have to get him the ball.”

Jasiah Provillon (6-0, 150) is another sophomore wide receiver.

“He has great hands and is a good possession receiver,” Kearns said. “When we need the tough yards, he’s the one we’re going to.”

The tight end duties are being shared by a pair of sophomores, namely Donte Small (5-11, 170) and Chad DiCastro (6-2, 170).

The offensive line features promising freshman Deshawn Brickhouse (6-2, 190) at tackle. Senior Peter Haas is the other tackle, with solid player Chima Dunga (6-2, 230) at guard. Joshua Fedd-Jackson, a 6-foot- 2, 310-pound sophomore, is the other guard.

Defensively, the Griffins fea ture a 4-4 formation, with freshman Kenyon Bowman (6- 1, 175) showing a lot of promise at defensive end, where Dunga also plays. Brickhouse will also get time at defensive end.

Jackson and freshman Rajohn Jones (5-8, 280) are the defensive tackles, giving the Griffins a lot of bulk along the defensive line.

Sophomore Ali Beh (5-10, 165) is a player to watch at linebacker.

Cummings and Chavis are also linebackers. The cornerbacks are junior Mike Scaravilli and freshman Michael Fields (5-10, 160), with Turner at safety.

Yes, the Golden Griffins kick off the 2014 season Saturday afternoon at Riverside County Park against neighboring rival North Arlington in what should be a barnburner of a contest to start the year.

“I love this team,” Kearns said. “They’re young and energetic and have a ton of speed. They want to learn.”

And all that talk about QP either dropping football or the school closing? It’s all hogwash, in the eyes of Kearns. “

We’re here to stay,” Kearns said. “We had to do something to keep going.”

So there is a relationship between a local Pop Warner coach in Newark and the QP grid program. Several of those players are now at QP this fall.

“We had to do something to survive,” Kearns said. “We had nothing. The young kids are going to get a baptism by fire this year right away.” Kearns also likes Suazo and what he brings to his program. “He’s a pleasure to coach,” Kearns said of his quarterback. “He carries himself well. Once you see him, you’ll see he can handle it. We just have to try to keep other teams off him.” Needless to say, the Golden Griffins will be a grid team to watch this fall.

Lyndhurst turns grid hopes to alum Tuero

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

It’s been a few months since Rich Tuero officially took over as the head football coach at his alma mater Lyndhurst High School, so there’s no state of shock involved with anything Tuero does as head coach anymore.

“It’s been a great transition,” said Tuero, who took over for Joe Castagnetti as head coach, but Castagnetti remains on staff as an assistant coach. “I’m lucky to have a great coaching staff with great consistency. We’re all on the same page. I’ve been with these guys my whole life, so that helps.”

The Golden Bears finished 3-7 last season and graduated an astounding 22 seniors from that squad.

Needless to say, the Golden Bears will have a different look this season, with a new head coach and a new roster.

“We can say we’re young and inexperienced, but a lot of these kids were with me on the JV (junior varsity) level,” said Tuero, who was the head JV coach last year. “So it’s like we all just moved up to the varsity together. I told them that they were either all in or all out and so far, they’ve all bought in.”

Tuero has a simple goal in his first season. “We just have to continue to get better every day,” Tuero said. “We can never get satisfied.”

The Golden Bears have a battle right now at quarterback, with three players looking to earn the starting nod.

Senior Jonathan Wartel (5-8, 155) and a pair of juniors George Ryan (6-1, 170) and Pete Guerriero (5-9, 170) are all vying for the No. 1 quarterback slot.

“I still don’t know who the guy is,” Tuero said. “All three bring something different to the table.”

There’s no doubt who the Golden Bears’ top running back is. Junior Matt DeMarco (6-0, 180) returns to his starting running back slot in Lyndhurst’s spread offensive set.

“He’s grown a little and looks good so far,” Tuero said. “He has all the tools. He’s respected by his peers.”

How much so? Well, Tuero turned the idea of a team captaincy to a vote of the players.

“Matt was the top vote getter by far as a junior,” Tuero said. “He’s just a hard-nosed, tough football player. He can run over you or run past you. He’s just a hard working kid.”

Senior Joe Cosenza (5-9, 195) will also see some time at running back.

“He’s a hard-nosed bruiser,” Tuero said. “He’s a north and south runner.”

The Golden Bears utilize four wide receivers in their offense.

Junior Quinton St. Helaire (5- 7, 150), a standout in track and field, gives Lyndhurst a ton of speed on the perimeter. If he’s not the quarterback, Guerriero will move to wide receiver.

Senior Derrick Ruiz (5-9, 165) returns as a wide out. Another receiver is senior Marc Estevez (5-11, 175), the basketball standout who has joined the football team for the first time.

“He’s a good athlete and a good leader,” Tuero said of Estevez.

Senior Jordan Stuart (5-8, 175) is the Golden Bears’ tight end.

The Lyndhurst offensive line has some good size and experience. Sophomore Matt Schnoll (6-3, 310) is a returnee who started every game as a freshman last year.

“He’s a man-child,” Tuero said of the hulky Schnoll. “He has the potential to be a good one. He has great feet.”

Junior Ryan Smith (6-0, 240) is the other starting tackle.

Senior Pete Urgola (5-9, 190) returns as a starting guard and he’s joined by the Lyndhurst version of the eye doctor’s eye chart.

Junior newcomer Oluwayomi Olasehinde (6-0, 205) is a first-year football player who has earned a slot at guard.

“He’s a good football player,” Tuero said.

The center is junior Fred Rivers (5-9, 195). The Golden Bears will play a 3-4 defensive formation.

Schnoll and Smith are the defensive ends with senior George Feurtado (6-0, 260) at the nose guard.

The outside linebackers are Olasehinde (pronounced exactly as it is spelled) and Stuart.

DeMarco heads the inside linebackers, along with Rivers and Cosenza.

Ruiz and Wartel are the cornerbacks, with Guerriero and St. Helaire at safety.

The Golden Bears have to take their young roster into a very tough schedule, facing Waldwick to start the season next Friday.

“This is how it is,” Tuero said. “We have speed, but we’re small. We have to use the speed to our advantage. We need to keep people healthy. We’ve been working on that all throughout the offseason. We don’t have a lot of depth, so we have to keep our players healthy.”

Tuero said that he has been keeping his top personnel out of a lot of workouts to keep them fresh throughout the season.

“We’re doing fine right now,” Tuero said. “We have a lot of great kids who are buying into what we’re doing. They’re doing the right things.”

And has it hit home that Tuero is finally coaching his alma mater?

“I love it, because this is what I wanted,” Tuero said. “I love this team. They’re giving every last effort they have. If they just get a little better every day, that’s all I ask for. We have two mottos. We have to get better every day and we’re either all in or all out.”

Judging by the attitude of the Golden Bears, they’re all in for their new coach.

NA girls’ soccer: New coach Farinola leads the way

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

North Arlington High School has a new girls’ soccer coach in Dan Farinola, who had previously been the bowling and golf coach at the school.

Farinola takes over the girls’ soccer coaching duties at North Arlington, where he teaches. For the last few seasons, Farinola was the head boys’ soccer coach at Secaucus, his alma mater.

But Farinola bleeds NA blue and white these days and was excited to take over the reins of coaching the Vikings this fall.

“The transition has been really smooth,” said Farinola, who replaces veteran Sharon O’Brien Romer. “We graduated 12 seniors from last year, so we’re still trying to get our numbers up. But I’m excited about the girls we have coming back. When we’re completely whole, we are going to be competitive. It’s just hard right now getting the numbers. We might end up being a little thin on the bench. When school starts, we hope to get a few more girls.”

Farinola said that he’s still trying to implement a system for the Vikings to follow.

“We’re trying to do things a little differently, but I think offensively we can be a threat,” Farinola said. “We have some talented girls.”

Leading the way for the Vikings is junior midfielder Joanna Seca, who scored 12 goals and had 14 assists last year, as North Arlington won eight games.

“Joanna has complete control of the game,” Farinola said. “She’s a great player. She has all the tools to be a topnotch player.”

Senior Sarah Palma is another talented midfielder.

“She played more of a stopper role in the past, but we’ve moved her up to get involved with the offense,” Farinola said. “Her ball handling will help with control of the game.”

Sophomore Callie Evanchick is another solid player in the North Arlington midfield.

“She has a lot of potential,” Farinola said. “She played a lot last year as a freshman. I still think she is a little raw, but she has made a lot of improvement in such a short time.”

Freshman Carlie Mullins is another midfielder with talent and potential.

“She’s very good for her age,” Farinola said of Mullins. “She fits right in with the rest. She’s technically sound for a freshman.”

No question, the strength of the Vikings will lie within the midfield. Senior Taylor Barth is another key returnee. Barth scored 10 goals last year at forward.

“I think she can have a huge year this year,” Farinola said. “She has a nose for the ball and can put the ball on net. She has the ability to get good shots off.”

Freshman Kaitlin Stajek is another forward.

“She’s a product of the (North Arlington) Rec (recreation) program and is an aggressive player,” Farinola said. “She’s going to help us. She can get shots on goal as well and complements Taylor well.”

The Vikings will have to play strong defensively and Farinola is asking a lot of the young group.

Freshman Makayla Cortes has inherited the role as the starting goalkeeper.

“She’s adapting very well,” Farinola said. “She is stopping the ones in front of her. She has to keep improving because she’s never played goalkeeper before.”

Junior Jessica Gilmour is the team’s starting sweeper. Farinola is still working with Gilmour with learning the intricacies of playing the position.

“She’s settling in,” Farinola said.

Junior Kayleigh Lavornia is the team’s stopper. Lavornia is a first-year soccer player, so she is also learning the position.

“She’s a tough girl who is willing to learn,” Farinola said.

Sophomore Melissa Torres is another defender who spent some time in goal last year. Junior Sam Magliori will also play a key role as a defender.

The Vikings are clearly a work in progress along the backline. They will need to develop and learn in a hurry.

The Vikings open their season on Thursday against St. Mary’s of Rutherford, so they will know soon enough how they stack up against the opposition.

The Vikings will eventually get the chance to play on the newly refurbished Rip Collins facility. Some of those games, including an Oct. 23 game against Weehawken, will be played at night.

“The girls are really looking forward to those night games,” Farinola said. “It’s really exciting.”

Maybe the idea of playing night games on a brand new state-of-the-art facility will entice more girls to want to play soccer at North Arlington. One thing’s for sure: It can’t hurt.

“We’re hoping things like that will encourage more to play,” Farinola said. “We want to be able get the program going in the right direction.”

For now, players like Seca, Palma and Barth have to be the beacons, the guiding lights, to lead the Vikings to respectability right away. After that, it remains up to the girls of North Arlington to get involved in a sport that so many girls in the town already participate in.

Blue Tide prepares for second season under coach Gallo

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

When Matt Gallo took over the head football coaching position at Harrison High School, the program was in the midst of an awful 21-game losing streak.

“It was big,” Gallo said. “They hadn’t won a game here in three years.”

But the Blue Tide won one game last season, snapping the streak, then won another. Although the 2-8 record wasn’t going to win any championships, it was good enough to get the ball rolling.

“It showed the kids that the system works,” said Gallo, who will begin his second season as the head man with the Blue Tide Sept. 12 against Park Ridge.

“It was good to see that the kids are buying into the system.”

The Blue Tide lost 10 seniors to graduation after last season, so it means that this year’s team will be filled with sophomores and even freshmen.

“We might have to go through some growing pains,” Gallo said. “But I’m excited about this underclass. Once they get rid of the growing pains, they’re going to be fine. It might be tough to compete this year with a team with 90% freshmen and sophomores, but we have some good talent in our underclass. They are tough kids who like to compete. If they continue to get better, we can do some good things.”

Leading the way will be sophomore quarterback Mike O’Donnell (5-9, 160), who comes from a long line of O’Donnell athletes who graced Harrison’s field of play.

O’Donnell has all the tools to be a very good signal caller for the Blue Tide.

“He’s extremely cerebral,” Gallo said. “He’s an honors student, so there was no problem with him learning the offense. He knows what I want him to run. It’s almost like having another coach on the field and that’s rare for a sophomore. But that’s the way he is. He’s solid there.”

The fullback is another sophomore in Jeff Cisneros (5-11, 170), who will see most of the carries out of the Blue Tide backfield.

“He’s a tough kid who runs hard,” Gallo said. “He does everything we ask of him and doesn’t complain about anything.”

The two halfbacks are both named Rodriguez, but are not related.

Sophomore Jerry Rodriguez (5-9, 165) and junior Rico Rodriguez (5-10, 170) will also get their fair share of carries, as the Delaware Wing-T offense predicates on sharing the football.

“There’s talent back there,” Gallo said. “I like what we have there.”

Senior Justin Castellano (5-11, 150) is the Harrison wide receiver, with sophomore Hector Rueda (5-11, 175) as the tight end. Castellano is one of the rare senior returnees on the Harrison roster.

The offensive line features some size and experience.

Senior Axel Carmona (5- 11, 210) is a returning starter at tackle, with sophomore Johanser Nunez (5-10, 205) at the other tackle. The guards are junior John Di- Costa (6-3, 230) and senior Brandon Perez (5-9, 200).  The center is junior Aaron Velasquez (5-11, 200).

“The strong point of this team is our offensive line,” Gallo said. “We have a lot of faith in them.”

The Blue Tide will utilize a 5-2 defensive formation. Perez and DiCosta are the defensive ends, with Nunez at the nose guard. Carmona and sophomore Adrian Sime (5-10, 190) are the defensive tackles.

Cisneros, Jerry Rodriguez and Rueda are the linebackers. Rueda started at linebacker last year and emerged as a top-notch defensive player.

“We expect a lot from him this season,” Gallo said. “I trust him to make the right calls for us defensively. He’s a tough football player.”

Castellano and sophomore Rafael Santana (5-10, 165) are the cornerbacks, with O’Donnell holding fort at safety.

On paper, it looks tough for a team to compete against others who have rosters comprised with much older players.

But the Blue Tide will try to persevere and hope to gain experience in a hurry.

“I love the makeup of this team,” Gallo said. “We have young kids, but they are competitors. They’re aggressive and want to play. You can’t coach that. You either have that aggressive approach or you don’t. A lot of what will happen this year depends on how these kids develop. I’m excited about that. It should be a good season for us.”

Maroon Raiders look to improve on gridiron

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

The Nutley High School football team posted a 5-5 record in 2013. With any luck, that record could have been dramatically better.

“We lost three games where we had leads going into the fourth quarter,” said Nutley head coach Tom Basile, who enters his third season as the head coach of the Maroon Raiders. “We have to do a better job of finishing football games. That’s our goal this year. We have to finish better.”

Basile said that the Maroon Raiders’ season ending victory over Wayne Valley, a game where Nutley came from behind to win, has been a giant stepping stone into the 2014 season.

“We’re using that game as a springboard,” Basile said. “We have a lot of kids coming back from that team. It’s a different year, with a different schedule, but with a lot of the same kids, we feel good about our chances. The kids have really been receptive. I couldn’t be any happier.”

The Maroon Raiders will face different foes such as Caldwell, Weequahic and Irvington in 2014, shifting divisions in the Super Essex Conference.

“We have good senior leadership,” Basile said. “We have good impact players.”

One of the impact contributors will be senior quarterback Rob Melillo (6-2, 190). Melillo was the junior varsity quarterback for the last two seasons and gets his chance to finally start this fall.

“He did bide his time,” Basile said of Melillo. “He runs smart. He runs more like a fullback than a quarterback. He is smart with the ball and has a gun for an arm. His accuracy is good and manages the offense well.”

Senior Frank Malanga (5-9, 180) is the returning starter at fullback.

“He’s a hard-nosed runner who is also a good lead blocker,” Basile said. “He runs our Veer option and misdirection well.”

The key to the Raiders’ offense is junior running back Craig Merkle (6-0, 195).

“A year ago, we tried to bring him along slowly and he ended up being our leading rusher and tackler,” Basile said. “He did everything for us, running, catching passes, scoring touchdowns (11). We realized midway through last year that he was our best player. He’s everything and more.”

The other running back is junior Devin Merritt (5-9, 170), whose father, Dave, is the defensive backs coach for the New York Giants.

Senior Pete Russo (5-11, 175) is a sure-handed wide receiver who also serves as the backup quarterback. Junior receiver Anthony Condito (5-10, 170) is also a quarterback.

“All three are going to be on the field at the same time,” Basile said. “We feel pretty fortunate to have all three play quarterback.”

Senior Jason Hoffman (6-1, 230) is the starting tight end.

Senior Kevin Davis (6-3, 230) is a returning starter at offensive tackle, joined by junior August Mustardo (6-0, 195). Senior Jesse DeFuria (5-9, 215) returns to his starting slot at guard, joined by junior Devin White (5-10, 195).

The center is senior Joe Iorio (5-10, 190), who is a converted fullback.

“Joe started the season last year as our starting fullback,” Basile said. “We moved him back to center this year. He played center as a little kid, so he knows what he’s doing.”

The Maroon Raiders will utilize a 3-4 defensive set this season to better use their personnel.

“We felt that we had a lot of talent at linebacker, so we made the transition to 3-4 to get them all on the field,” Basile said.

Senior Austin Brendel (6-2, 190) joins Hoffman at defensive end, flanking DeFuria at nose guard.

Merkle is a standout at outside linebacker. He made 81 tackles to lead the team last fall. Merritt is the team’s other outside linebacker.

Malanga and Iorio return to their starting slots at inside linebacker, so the Maroon Raiders have three returning players at linebacker. Not many teams have that kind of experience at that position.

Seniors Kevin Goudie (5-9, 165) and Chris Ammiano (6-1, 170) are the cornerbacks.

Russo returns to the safety slot, where he earned All-SEC and All-Essex County honors a year ago, tying for the state lead in interceptions with eight. Incredibly, Russo made six of those interceptions in two late-season games.

Andrew Aiello (5-9, 170) is a senior who starts at the other safety slot.

The Maroon Raiders open the 2014 season against neighboring rival Belleville at Belleville on Sept. 12.

Basile really likes the makeup of his team.

“They have formed a little bit of a bond,” Basile said. “They really worked hard together in the offseason. We have a great group of leaders, a group of kids who do everything together. They hang out together off the field. They really are buddies. We profess that we’re not a team, that we’re the Nutley football family.

But that’s for real with these kids. They really are a family.” And if they can figure out a way to close out games this season, maybe they will return to the state playoffs.

“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Basile said. “We wanted to establish a tradition of contending for a state title every year.”

This could be the year that the Maroon Raiders make a return to glory.

Harrison boys’ soccer team looks to continue winning ways

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The newest member of the First Family of West Hudson soccer arrived last Monday.

Christian Michael Rusek was born on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, weighing in at eight pounds, six ounces. He’s the first child for Harrison High School head coach Mike Rusek, who had a reason to miss the Blue Tide practice session the next day, leaving the duties for the newborn’s grandfather and uncle to carry on.

Mike Rusek begins his 15th season as the head coach at Harrison, where he now coaches with not only his brother, John, but with his father, Mickey.

This year, things will be a little different for the head coach in the family, because of his new family obligations.

“I find myself running home after practice now,” Rusek said. “I tell everyone, ‘It’s time to go. I have to go home and be with my son.”

But in most aspects, things won’t change one iota with the Blue Tide’s immensely successful boys’ soccer program. The Blue Tide should once again contend for top honors in the Hudson County Tournament, which they won last year, and in the NJSIAA Group I ranks, where they lost in the overall state title to Newton last November.

In fact, the 2-1 loss in the state championship was the lone blemish in what had been a perfect 22-0-1 record up until that cold, dreary day at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. The Blue Tide won 19 of their 22 games via shutout last year. They featured the state player of the year in senior defender/ do-everything Modou Sowe. It was definitely a year to remember, culminating in county and state sectional titles.

But the Blue Tide graduated a lot of key members to last year’s 22-1-1 team, including the immensely talented Sowe, now at Ramapo College after amassing an astounding 19 goals as a defender last season.

“I was looking at our stats from last year and we lost a total of 75 goals to graduation,” Rusek said. “That’s a lot. You always believe and hope that the seniors who are left can carry on and hope that others now get the opportunity to play where they might have been held back.”

Rusek likes the makeup of his team.

“We do have a good number of seniors this year,” Rusek said. “We do have about half of last year’s team back. I just hope this is a group that can carry us a very long way.”

Leading the returning players is senior goalkeeper Nick Araujo, who was the one to record those 19 shutouts a year ago.

“I feel very good about that position,” Rusek said. “Nick is a solid keeper.”

The Blue Tide utilizes what Rusek dubbed “a flat back four,” instead of the traditional sweeper/stopper formation on defense.

The center defenders are seniors Rodrigo Esquivel and Ali Lathgar, both of whom are capable and experienced. The other two backs are senior Marcelo Esquivel (Rodrigo’s identical twin brother and good luck trying to determine which one is which) and senior Alexis Burga.

So the Blue Tide have some experience and strength along their back line.

One midfielder slot belongs to senior Jorge Castro, who compiled seven goals and had 10 assists last year.

“He’s a good distributor,” Rusek said. “He’s also a good defensive midfielder.”

The other midfielder is junior Cristian Marquez, who had six goals in limited action last year, but five of those scores came in the NJSIAA state tournament.

“He really came on at the end of the season,” Rusek said of Marquez.

The center midfielder is returning senior starter Leandro Gonzales, who is a three-year starter in the Harrison midfield. Gonzales had 10 goals and 10 assists last season.

“We’re hoping that Leandro can lead us if we’re going to get things done this year,” Rusek said. “If we’re scoring goals, he’s the one who will be behind a lot of it.”

Junior David Inahuazo is another key contributor in the midfield.

Up front, the Blue Tide welcomes back senior Ali Lakhrif, who had 12 goals last year, including the big lone goal in Harrison’s 1-0 victory over Kearny in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals.

“He’s definitely going to get his chance to score,” Rusek said of Lakhrif, whose family is originally from Morocco. “He has a good, strong leg.”

The other forward is senior Christian Restrepo, who gets a chance to crack the lineup this fall.

“He’s finally going to get a chance to play,” Rusek said of Restrepo.

The Blue Tide begins their season Monday, Sept. 8 against New Milford.

There is something else to be excited about. The Blue Tide will, indeed, face Kearny in the regular season at Red Bull Arena in Harrison on Saturday, Sept. 27 as part of a girls’-boys’ doubleheader on that day. No need for waiting and hoping for a county tourney showdown. The two will meet in a regular contest in late September in the state’s premier soccer palace.

“It should be a great day of soccer,” Rusek said. “I know our kids are very excited about it. As long as it’s a good day weather-wise, it should be a great crowd.”

Needless to say, the Blue Tide should be in the thick of county and state playoff runs as well – like they always are.

“I like to hope so,” Rusek said.

However, this time around, Rusek does it as a father. And there can’t be any more rewarding feeling than that.

Buccaneers look to gain respectability under Fischer

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

Joe Fischer knows exactly what the new head football coach at Belleville High School has to do – because he’s done it.

In 2004, Fischer inherited a Belleville football program that was in the midst of the state’s longest losing streak. At first, it didn’t get better for the Buccaneers, as they lost all 10 games during Fischer’s first season.

But in 2005, the 33-game losing streak ended with a dramatic win over Paterson Eastside. Two years later, the Buccaneers did the unthinkable and qualified for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state playoffs for the first time since 1984.

Fischer then stepped aside to take care of his young family.

The Buccaneers were 1-9 last season and struggled to make it to the end of the year, so Fischer can relate to what the new coach has to tackle as he takes over.

The new coach? None other than Joe Fischer.

The former coach of the Buccaneers is now the current head coach of the Buccaneers, returning after a seven-year respite.

And Fischer inherits a lot of the same headaches he incurred when he came to Belleville from Immaculate Conception of Montclair a decade ago.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge,” Fischer said after a spirited practice last week. “But when I came the first time, we didn’t even have a field.”

The Buccaneers were forced to play all their games on the road that season due to troubles at Doc Ellis Field, which has since been totally restored and renovated to make it a beautiful facility.

“We have 64 kids now in the program, including 22 freshmen,” Fischer said. “We have kids who want to play football. Things are definitely looking up. We’re definitely moving up.”

Fischer said that the first obstacle was instilling a sense of decorum and pride.

“The attitude was the first challenge,” said Fischer, who posted a 10-30 record during his first tenure as head coach. “We’re working on changing the attitude every day. It starts with the kids having to show up every day, ready to work. They have to be accountable. I think at least 95% of the kids bought into that idea and the others are no longer here.”

Fischer has faith in restoring the Belleville program and giving it a sense of pride.

“I can see the potential,” Fischer said. “We’ve put in a system on offense and a system on defense. We’re not asking kids to do things that they cannot do. So we can improve right away. We will do what we do well and keep on moving forward.”

Fischer said that he wants to get all of his players involved.

“Our goal is to go two-platoon (meaning different players on offense and defense, like what’s done in college and the NFL),” Fischer said. “Right now, we maybe have three kids who go both ways and that’s out of necessity. We want to have our players play.”

Fischer will run a multiple set on offense, with its basis being the Delaware Wing-T.

Leading the returnees is junior quarterback Joey Rivera (5-10, 170).

“He’s very athletic,” Fischer said of Rivera. “He’s very fast and runs the offense well. He’s probably going to be our leading rusher this year. He’s our best runner and has a great first step.”

Sophomore Brian Rivera (5- 11, 150 and no relation to Joey) is the team’s starting running back.

“He started last year as a freshman,” Fischer said. “He’s a good athlete.”

The fullback is another sophomore in Terrence Best (5-10, 180).

“He’s blocking well,” Fischer said. “He’s an intelligent kid who knows the offense and knows how to block.”

Senior Manny Lascarro (5- 9, 170) is the team’s resident wingback/wide receiver.

“He’s the fastest kid on the team,” Fischer said. “He’s very athletic.”

Lascarro is also a champion in tae kwon do, so Fischer likes his hands.

Senior Michael Ramirez (6- 0, 190) is a four-year varsity player at wide receiver.

“He goes up and gets the ball,” Fischer said. “He has good hands.”

Junior Jared Collazo (5-11, 170) is another wide receiver. Collazo has just joined the program for the first time.

The tackles are senior Victor Samaniego (6-0, 270) and junior Jeremy Jones (6-3, 280), so the Bucs have good size at the bookends.

Senior Nick Nardachone (6-2, 230) is at guard. He’s another four-year player and a returning starter from last year. Nardachone, who is also a standout wrestler, is a player to watch on both sides of the ball.

Senior Michael Baylock (5- 10, 250) is another returning player at guard.

Sophomore Craig Jackowski (6-0, 180) is the starting center.

Nardachone has been moved outside to defensive end to key the Buccaneers’ 4-4 defensive formation. Senior Ibn Whitfield (6-0, 200) is the other defensive end.

Sophomore Andre Vasquez (5-10, 175) will get time also at defensive end. “He’s lightning quick,” Fischer said of Vasquez.

Samaniego and Baylock are the defensive tackles.

Lascarro and Ramirez are players to watch at linebacker.

Senior Anthony Jett (5-11, 150) is a fixture at cornerback, along with Brian Rivera. Joey Rivera is the team’s free safety.

The Buccaneers open their season early, facing Snyder on Friday, Sept. 5 at Doc Ellis Field. They then face Nutley Sept. 12, also at home.

In fact, Belleville will play seven of their nine scheduled games this season at home, so that gives the Buccaneers an advantage over their opponents.

“Seven home games, seven Friday night games,” Fischer said.

Fischer likes the makeup of his team.

“I like the attitude,” Fischer said. “We weeded out the kids who were negative.”

Fischer also likes his coaching staff.

“They all played college football, so they know what it takes,” Fischer said. “That’s important to me. They’re all positive people. We put together a nice coaching staff.”

Fischer also thinks that the Buccaneers will be better this year.

“We should improve,” Fischer said. “We should be competitive.”

It’s definitely a new era for Belleville football.

“That’s right,” Fischer said.

He should know.

Kardinals have chance to be good soccer squad

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

The Kearny High School boys’ soccer team enjoyed a highly successful season in 2013, winning 15 games and advancing to the Hudson County Tournament semifinals and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV quarterfinals, defeating Roxbury and Clifton before losing to Bergen Tech.

But that wasn’t good enough for a typical Kearny boys’ soccer season.

“Especially since we came up empty and didn’t win anything,” said veteran head coach Bill Galka. “We have a bunch of kids back who remember what that felt like. They don’t want to have another year like that.”

Galka said that he is counting on a veteran team to lead the way in 2014.

“You’re always looking for the returning players to be leaders,” Galka said. “They want to avenge what happened last year and go after championships and challenge for them.”

The Kardinals began practice in earnest last week to prepare for the season opener Sept. 5.

“Every year, we have returning players and that’s good,” Galka said. “But you have to remind yourself that you haven’t played a game in nine months. So we’re still forming training habits and getting chemistry. That’s what you do in the preseason. You can teach good ideas of the game, but we have to find the right positions for the players again and who is going to be taking those spots.”

Galka has had to endure yet another obstacle before the Kardinals have even begun training. Three of his projected players have decided to sign on to local soccer academies, forgoing their year with the Kardinals. One of those players made the decision only minutes before the team’s first workout. That’s not easy to overcome.

“We face that every year,” Galka said. “They were some good players.”

One of the key players returning is one of the top soccer players in the state in senior goalkeeper Sebastian Ferreira.

Ferreira was injured at the end of last season and it was evident how much it hurt the Kards not having him in goal.

“We’re lucky enough to have a top keeper,” Galka said.

 

Photo by Jim Hague Senior Alexi Velaszquez is Kearny’s top returning scorer. Velazquez scored 10 goals last season before getting injured.

Photo by Jim Hague
Senior Alexi Velaszquez is Kearny’s top returning scorer. Velazquez scored 10
goals last season before getting injured.

“And he’s this team’s leader. He’s the guy. He’s the one leading everyone in fitness drills. He’s the first one on the field. He’s a natural leader. I don’t think we’ve had a great leader like this since (former Observer Male Athlete of the Year) Hughie MacDonald (in 2002). That’s how important Seba is.”

The Kardinals do have some veterans returning along the back line to help Ferreira protect the net.

Senior Andrew Quintos returns to his position at center back and is joined along the back line by senior Michael Almeida and junior Cort Montanino. Sophomore Adrian Velazquez, who saw considerable action last year as a freshman, also returns.

Junior Damien Kolodiej is another solid defender who will see considerable action, along with seniors Daniel Villalta and Christopher Smith.

“We have some good returning kids back there,” Galka said. “Our defense should be the strength of the team.”

Junior Marcelo Matta is one of the top returning players in the midfield. Matta had a handful of goals last year and should see that number increase due to the graduation of other top scorers.

“He’s a good distributor,” Galka said. “I’m looking for him to be more of a leader, both on and off the field.”

Senior Danny Vicente returns to the Kardinal lineup. Vicente was a solid player as a freshman and sophomore, then went off to play with a soccer academy last year, only to return now for his senior campaign.

Junior Christian Sieira is another midfielder to watch, along with Calvin Carbajol, as well as the aforementioned Smith.

Senior Alexi Velazquez is a force to be reckoned with at forward. Velazquez scored 10 goals last year before becoming injured toward the end of last season.

“We’re looking for him to have a great senior year,” Galka said.

Senior Arturo Sanchez is another Kardinal forward with a strong leg and a knack for the net.

So it shapes up to be a solid season for the Kardinals in the weeks prior to the season opener.

“We definitely think we have promise,” Galka said. “At least, from what I see so far. We’re good to go and we’re looking forward to our scrimmages and then the start of the season.”

There’s another reason to be excited. It looks as if the Kardinals will get the chance to face neighboring rival Harrison at Red Bull Arena the last weekend in September. The finishing touches are being made to a soccer doubleheader (boys and girls) at the local soccer palace, featuring the neighboring rivals.

The two schools met in a doubleheader in 2012 and it was a day to remember.

“It’s just about definite,” Galka said. “We’re excited about that.”

As well as excited about starting a new season. It should be a great one for the Kardinals, one that definitely has championship aspirations – like it always should have.

So much for summer, it’s time for fall sports

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Well, you think there’s still time to get out the suntan lotion, hit the beach and ride the waves, right?

Sorry to say, but if you’re a high school athlete, those days are done. Summer is officially over. It’s time to lace up the cleats, put on the helmets and pads, kick the balls and get running. The fall sports season is upon us.

Practices for the fall sports teams officially began last week. Everywhere you go in the area, you’ll find kids carrying their football equipment to their respective fields of play or others kicking soccer balls at goals.

It’s time to get ready for the fall scholastic sports season, which will begin the weekend of Sept. 5. That’s just two weeks from now. It’s astounding how the summer has flown by.

Soon, the work will be completed at Rip Collins Field in North Arlington and the athletes at North Arlington High will have a brand new place to play, complete with new locker rooms and a state-of-the-art FieldTurf playing surface. In the spring, there will be track meets there. No longer will North Arlington mothers have to worry about getting goose poop stains out of the respective uniforms.

The Vikings’ soccer team will certainly miss Observer Male Athlete of the Year Danny Cordeiro, but coach Jesse Dembowski will always find a way to win. The NA girls’ program has a new coach in Dan Farinola, who was successful as the boys’ coach at Secaucus. Farinola will do a good job as the Viking girls’ head coach.

The Vikings’ football coach is veteran Anthony Marck and we know he’s excited about the new field, maybe more than his team’s prospects.

There are new soccer coaches at Queen of Peace, both on the boys’ and girls’ sides. There’s also a new athletic director in former All-State tight end Joe Torchia, who almost made the Washington Redskins’ roster a few years ago. We would like to know who the new soccer coaches are, but Torchia has not returned several phone calls. Maybe Torchia doesn’t regularly check his school voicemail, but we’re still waiting to hear from the coaches. So if either of you ––namely the boys’ or girls’ soccer coach at QP – read this column, please take the time to write me via e-mail (at the address listed above) and tell me what’s the best time to reach you by phone.

The football team at QP is in capable hands with veteran Bob Kearns, but the Golden Griffins are certainly going to miss the 2,000 yards and 30- plus touchdowns that standout Kevin Momnohin brought to the table last fall. That’s not easy to replace.

The Harrison boys’ soccer team is returning several players from last year’s team that won the championship in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II bracket.

It should be interesting to see how the Blue Tide and veteran coach Mike Rusek will move on after losing such talented players like All-State defender and do-everything Modou Sowe, clearly one of the best soccer players to ever grace Harrison High _ and there certainly have been plenty of dandies over the years.

The boys’ soccer program at Harrison never rebuilds. It’s always a case of reloading. That should be the case again this season.

The Harrison girls’ program is now headed by former boys’ standout goalie Raphael Viana. There was never a nicer kid to ever come through the halls of Harrison High than Raphael when he was a player. Let’s see how that personality transcends into being a high school coach at his alma mater, working with the girls.

The Blue Tide football program will begin the second season under coach Matt Gallo, who made strides a year ago making the Blue Tide much more respected and competitive. That’s all a coach could ask for in his first year at the helm. Now that he’s in his second year, it’s safe to say that Gallo wants to raise the bar just a little bit.

Lyndhurst has a new football coach in Rich Tuero, who is another guy taking over a program at his alma mater. Tuero was a standout lineman during his playing days, so he’s going to demand solid play up front from the Golden Bears.

The boys’ soccer program is in the capable hands of Rob Kost, who has worked diligently in trying to make the Golden Bears more competitive each year.

The Lyndhurst girls’ soccer team is perennially one of the best around and this year should be no exception for head coach Kim Hykey. The Golden Bears might have lost a lot of firepower with the graduations of Amanda Nowak and Grace Tomko, but center midfielder Giana DiTonto, who had 20-plus assists last fall, should be able to carry the slack and emerge as one of the players to watch in the NJIC.

Speaking of girls’ soccer, there should be no local team better than the Maroon Raiders of Nutley.

Coach Mike DiPiano has worked wonders, turning a destitute program that could barely win a single game into a state-ranked power. The Maroon Raiders went 18-2- 1 and won their division of the Super Essex Conference last year and should do more damage again this year, thanks to the efforts of 30-goal scorers like Victoria Kealy and Zoe Steck.

Kealy had an astounding 31 goals and 14 assists last season. Most soccer players don’t reach that number in a career.

The Maroon Raiders’ boys program is under the careful guidance of veteran head coach Marcelino Marra, who is one of the best tactical coaches around.

The Nutley football program begins its second season under coach Tom Basile, who has paid his dues in the coaching ranks for almost three decades and will look to lead the Maroon Raiders back to state playoff contender.

Jim Damiano has taken over the soccer program at his alma mater Belleville.

Joe Fischer has returned as the head football coach at Belleville and should lead the Buccaneers back to respectability.

All in all, it shapes up to be an interesting scholastic sports year. Sorry to say, but the summer is gone. Put away the beach chair until next Memorial Day. The summer sure flew by, didn’t it?