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Nutley wins SEC XC championship

10-15 Nutley_web

First league championship for cross country program in 32 years

 

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Before the current cross country season began, Nutley head coach Gerald Ryan believed he had the makings of a special team.

“I had an inkling that if we stayed healthy and if we could stumble across one or two freshmen who would become pieces to the puzzle, then we could contend for a league championship,” Ryan said.

Well, that’s exactly what happened last week, when the Maroon Raiders won the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division championship at Branch Brook Park in Newark.

The Maroon Raiders won by nine points over runner-up West Essex with Glen Ridge third.

It marked the first time that Nutley had captured a league championship in boys’ cross country since 1982, when the Maroon Raiders won the old NNJIL crown.

Ryan, a proud Nutley alum, was 10 years old the last time Nutley won a league championship.

“I was in fourth grade,” Ryan said. “It’s been a while. It’s really great for the kids. The sense of determination grows every day in these kids.”

Leading the way is junior Luke Michels, who won the overall individual title in 17:12.

“Luke pulls everyone along together,” Ryan said. “He has a disciplined work ethic. He’s always pushing himself and wants to be able to pull the rest along.”

Michels believed that the Maroon Raiders would be successful at the league meet.

“I really thought we could do this,” Michels said. “We prepared all summer for this and we just went all out. We’re all one big unit. We have pasta parties together all the time. We feel connected to each other and we’re willing to help each other out.”

“Luke understands the team concept,” Ryan said. “He’s not concerned about himself as much as he is with the others on the team. He was in a tough spot, being out there all by himself.”

Michels won the race by a full 47 seconds. “When you’re running by yourself, it’s hard to push yourself,” Ryan said. “At the mile mark, he was already in the lead by 15-to-20 seconds.

There was no one there with him. At that point, you can’t even hear footsteps. But he’s running well.”

Ryan believes that Michels should be in the hunt for an NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III title at Greystone Park in Morris Plans in a few weeks.

“He’s run Greystone already (at the Greystone Invitational last Friday) and finished fifth overall in 16:37,” Ryan said. “So he should be in the mix there.”

“It’s been a real confidence booster,” Michels said. “I’m looking forward to the sectionals and hopefully moving on to the Groups (at Holmdel Park). That’s my goal and I feel like I can do it.”

Sophomore Eric Vogler was next for the Maroon Raiders at the SEC meet. Vogler finished fifth overall in 18:08.

“He ran track for us last spring, but didn’t run cross country last year,” Ryan said. “His attitude has really impressed me. He’s a hard worker who is willing to do anything for the team. He really has emerged as a runner and has been very consistent.”

Freshman Jimmy Quinn was next for the Maroon Raiders, placing 13th overall in 18:41.

“I went to high school with his dad, Jim,” Ryan said of the younger Quinn. “I’ve known Jimmy growing up, but I definitely never expected what we’re getting from him. He’s been a pleasant surprise. I think he feeds off Luke a little and pushes himself to be like Luke.”

Senior Steve La was right behind Quinn, finishing in 14th place in 18:47.

“He’s always working,” Ryan said of La. “I think that’s the MO of the entire team. Steve has been around the program for a few years and is a great kid. I’m glad to see that the hard work he’s put into the sport is beginning to pay off.”

Junior Michael Conca was next in line, finishing 15th , right behind teammates Quinn and La.

“The Conca family name has been running for Nutley since the 1970s,” Ryan said. “Michael just falls in line with the rest of his family. Mike started late this year, but has worked himself back into running shape and is now making a contribution.”

Junior Anthony Castronova was 26th overall.

“He’s the vocal leader on the team,” Ryan said. “He has a great attitude and gives 100% every race.”

Freshman Gerard Dimayuga was 28th overall.

“He’s been a big surprise,” Ryan said. “From the first day of practice, he’s shown a lot. He learned how to push himself and has matured fast. He’s making big contributions to the program.”

Ryan is soaking up the team’s success. He’s been the head coach for eight years and coaching track in the district for 18 years.

“This definitely gives me a little sense of accomplishment,” Ryan said. “It’s something that can never be taken away. Records come and go, but there will be a banner up in the rafters. It will be on T-shirts and jackets that we won the league. It’s great for the kids and a great accomplishment for our program. Nutley is not one of the better known spots for runners.”

Michels is also pleased that the team will be forever remembered.

“It’s really amazing being put next to the 1982 team,” Michels said. “It’s really awesome.”

It’s also pretty awesome to make a little history in the process.

 

Lyndhurst girls’ volleyball: Making strides toward respectability

10-15View_web

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

 

Alan Clements enjoyed an excellent career as a volleyball coach, first at Fair Lawn High School, where he still teaches, then on the college ranks at Bergen County Community College, then Felician College and finally Mercy College in New York, where he spent three years.

But then Clements walked away from coaching the sport he loved – because of two other people he loved more.

You see, Clements is a single father, raising his son and daughter on his own.

“They were a junior and senior in high school and they were starting to search for colleges,” Clements said. “So I had to get away from coaching for a while.”

But after both of his children had settled into college, they pleaded with their father to do one thing.

“They said, ‘Dad, you have to get back into it,’” Clements said. “So I started looking.”

A little more than a year ago, Clements made a few phone calls to friends in the volleyball ranks. He found out that Lyndhurst needed a new head coach.

“I knew that Lyndhurst was rebuilding,” Clements said. “But I like building things. It’s not the place most coaches would go, but I thought I could blend in and build something.”

When Clements arrived last year, the Lyndhurst girls’ volleyball program was in transition.

“But I never had a group of girls who worked harder,” Clements said. “We were basically starting from scratch. These girls bought in and had a summer program. They went to camp together.”

The Golden Bears won a total of nine matches last season, but had almost a complete turnover from last year. Most of the starters on last year’s team graduated.

Clements knew that this year’s team was ready to work.

“We scheduled the first practice at 3:30 p.m. because I still work in Fair Lawn,” Clements said. “We got out early that day and I went straight to Lyndhurst. When I got there at 2:15, I found 29 girls sitting outside in the heat, waiting to practice. That showed me they were eager. Then, after practice was over, they asked if they could stay and keep going. They’re not great volleyball players, but they’re dedicated athletes.”

Most of Clements’ roster never even played the sport of volleyball before they enrolled at Lyndhurst.

“I joined the sport because I wanted to do something new,” said senior outside hitter Rachel Martin. “I always played soccer before high school. But I wanted to do something different.” Michael Rizzo, currently a vice-principal and a former assistant volleyball coach as well as the school’s bowling coach, taught a lot of the current members of the Golden Bears when they were in eighth grade. Rizzo encouraged many of them to consider playing volleyball – and they did.

“I really thought it would be fun,” said Kathleen Totaro, a senior defensive specialist. “Rizzo was the one who brought me in, because he sounded like he knew what he was doing.”

“I wanted to try something new things in high school,” said senior Jessica Shortino. “Volleyball just seemed so intense. Coach Rizzo was so enthusiastic about me playing.”

Others liked what the sport offered.

“I liked the intensity of it,” said senior settler Samantha DaSilva. “I loved diving on the floor after the ball. The game is real quick. I loved the pace of the game.”

“I just like being involved,” said senior setter Emily Young. “My sister played volleyball, so I knew about the sport. Rizzo helped by putting the bug in my ear.”

But there was no guarantee that the newcomers would be successful.

“We knew it was going to be tough, because none of us had experience,” Young said. “We were all starting from scratch. We were building a team.”

So the new coach was inheriting new players who all had the same goal.

“We wanted to do something special,” Shortino said.

As they all entered their senior year, the Golden Bears wanted to make their final season their best.

“I always feel like we’re going to have a successful season,” Clements said. “That’s just the way I feel. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make the state playoffs and the county playoffs.”

Seemed like a lofty goal for a team that won only nine matches last year. But the Golden Bears have defied the odds and have already won 10 times this year.

“I think we have a group of overachievers,” Clements said. “They work so hard all the time. They are good role models. The freshmen actually look up to them. It’s all good. They want to learn the right way to play and are doing some really nice things. Other coaches are amazed with what we’re doing, but I always had faith. I think we’re where I thought we would be.”

The players are enthused about their prospects.

“It feels great,” Martin said. “We never had a winning season before. I think we’re setting an example for those younger than us. “

“It’s almost surreal,” Totaro said. “As a senior, it’s great that we’re finally able to win. I’m excited for the entire program, because I know the program will succeed after we leave.”

DaSilva agreed.

“No one expected us to do well,” DaSilva said. “This is such a change from years past.”

“Every senior wants to go out with a bang,” Young said. “We’re proving everyone wrong.”

Led by a coach who always believed in his team.

“I get up every morning and can’t wait to get here,” Clements said. “I love my job in Fair Lawn, but these girls are like my second family. They all have great attitudes and want to play. I never have a discipline problem with them. It’s been great.”

So have been the results. The Golden Bears have a winning volleyball season. That says it all.

Kearny’s Paiva enjoying epic scoring season

10-15 AOW_web

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Barbara Paiva was born in Brazil, entering a family that had a strong background in the sport of soccer. Her father, Adao, was a premier soccer player there. Her uncle, the late Achilles Reis, was a professional player who had a stint with the Brazilian National team.

One would think that Paiva would naturally gravitate toward the sport as well.

But that wasn’t the case.

“I was into karate,” said Paiva, who came to Kearny when she was seven years old and started playing soccer two years later.

“I thought I should give soccer a try,” Paiva said. “I always watched the sport. My dad always played. I figured, ‘Why not? I should try it.’”

Paiva tried out for the famed Kearny Thistle youth soccer program and didn’t exactly enjoy instant success.

“When I first started with it, I never expected to actually play,” Paiva said.

But Paiva became dedicated to the sport and used her father as a powerful instructor.

“I worked on the game with my dad,” Paiva said. “I always used to practice with him. He told me that I had to run more, that I had to be fast to play, so he would make me run sprints. He always made me run and I thank him every day for it.”

Adao Paiva also taught his daughter incredible ball skills.

“We used to watch Ronaldinho videos and my dad used to bring me to the park to work with the ball,” Paiva said.

It was that dribbling skill and ability to use both feet that caught the attention of Kearny High School girls’ soccer head coach Vin Almeida.

“I remember Barbara being in sixth grade and she would hang out at Harvey Field (the home field for both the Kearny boys’ and girls’ soccer teams),” Almeida said.“I used to see her juggling the ball on the side and she had such outstanding touch with the ball. I had to make sure that she came to Kearny High School. We’re very fortunate that she came.”

Incredibly, Paiva wasn’t sure she would be able to play varsity soccer.

“When I first tried out, I thought I had no chance to play,” Paiva said. “But (former assistant coach Lauren) Roemer told me that I could do it and she gave me a lot of confidence. I just started picking it up and after a while, I realized that, hey, I could play.”

Paiva has been a mainstay on the Kearny girls’ soccer program since she arrived a little more than three years ago.

As a sophomore, Paiva helped the Kardinals win the Hudson County Tournament championship, scoring four goals in the title game against Bayonne.

But that was nothing compared to what Paiva has produced this season as a senior.

Paiva has been a goal-scoring machine this year. In one game against Peddie a few weeks ago, she tallied five goals in one game.

Last week, Paiva scored nine goals, including three in a game twice against Harrison at Red Bull Arena and again against Union City in the quarterfinals of the Hudson County Tournament, taking the first step toward leading the Kardinals to their sixth straight county crown.

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

On the season, Paiva has now tallied 24 goals and seven assists in 13 games, leading the Kardinals to an impressive 11-2 record thus far. She scored 25 goals all of last season and she’s within reach of the school’s single season goal record set by Stefanie Gomes three years ago.

“Yeah, I’m pretty amazed at what I’ve done this year,” Paiva said. “But I’m not worried about any record. It’s not about me. It’s for the team. I’ll do anything to help the team. But I’m not even thinking about that (a record). I kind of just go with the flow and don’t let anything get to me.”

Almeida said that he is not surprised at all by Paiva’s scoring explosion this season.

“To be honest, I expected a lot from Barbara this season,” Almeida said. “I always knew that she was really skilled. She has a lot of speed and with her ability with both feet, she is able to put it all together. I thought she could take it to another level this year. With her speed and she’s super skillful, she brings a lot to the table. When she’s clicking on all cylinders, we’re a pretty good team.”

Almeida is impressed with Paiva’s ability to shoot with both feet, a rarity in girls’ soccer.

“She’s amazing,” Almeida said. “Her right foot has always been strong, but her left foot has become very good. She can punish you with both feet. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”

Paiva said that she also worked hard to be able to shoot with both feet.

“Every day, I work on shooting with my left foot,” Paiva said. “I work on that in my yard, so whenever I score a goal with my left foot, I say, ‘Yeah, Dad, look at that.’ He worked on that with me, too.”

It’s safe to say that Paiva was born to play the sport.

“Yeah, it’s in my blood,” Paiva said. “It just took me a little while to realize it. Everyone else around here started playing before I did.”

Paiva has aspirations to play soccer in college. She has interest in Rutgers (coached by Kearny native Mike O’Neill), as well as Monmouth and the University of Delaware. St. Peter’s University has expressed interest in her.

“That would really make my day,” Paiva said about her chances of playing on the next level.

Paiva is already a well respected player around the state. She spent a few years playing club soccer for US Parma and now plays for the storied STA program in Morristown.

For now, her focus is solely on the Kardinals and a pursuit of both a Hudson County and NJSIAA state title.

“I just hope she’s able to keep it going,” Almeida said. “She has it all, speed, strength, technical ability. She’s definitely a better player than she was last year, in terms of her mentality and maturity. She’s also better physically. She’s just having a great season.”

One that Paiva and Almeida hope that continues straight through the rest of this month and into November.

Good weekend of football for Lyndhurst, Kearny

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Tuero earns first coaching win; Kardinals now 3-1

 

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

The first three weeks of the high school football season weren’t as trying as one might think, as Lyndhurst lost all three times.

“The spirits were high,” said Lyndhurst first-year head coach Rich Tuero. “We were always moving forward. The kids were all about getting Coach Tuero’s first win, but it wasn’t about me. We just had to keep trying, because we were so close.”

The Golden Bears gave undefeated powerhouse Waldwick- Midland Park all it could handle, before falling short in the fourth quarter.

“That was the frustrating part,” Tuero said. “There wasn’t one bit of letdown or giving up. They were always so great.”

At Kearny, the spirits were a little different. The Kardinals were enjoying a fine start to the 2014 season and wanted to continue that positive vibe.

“We have tough kids who want to win,” said Kearny second-year head coach Nick Edwards. “They want to compete and be football players. They fight and do the best that they can.”

So the 0-3 Golden Bears took on Harrison and the 2-1 Kardinals faced Newark Collegiate last weekend. And both local teams emerged victorious.

The Golden Bears were finally able to get new coach Tuero his first win, defeating Harrison, 49-21.

The Kardinals won a tough one, taking a 10-6 decision to improve to 3-1, which are completely unchartered waters for the Kards in recent years. It’s been more than 20 years since Kearny had three wins by the first week of October.

Needless to say, it was a great weekend of football for the Golden Bears and the Kardinals.

Lyndhurst saw its quarterback Pete Guerriero enjoy  a game of a lifetime. Guerriero had 200 yards rushing on 14 carries and three touchdowns and passed for 140 yards and another touchdown. On defense, Guerriero had six tackles, two passes defended and an interception.

“He ran the quarterback trap and was gone in five seconds,” Tuero said of Guerriero. “We knew he had the talent. We just didn’t know what his role was going to be with us.”

Guerriero is a transfer from St. Mary’s of Rutherford, where he only played defense.

Tuero said that Guerriero reminds him of Brian Kapp, the former Observer Athlete of the Year from 2004-2005.

“This kid is a stud,” Tuero said of Guerriero. “(Former Lyndhurst head coach Jim) Vuono told me that he’s the fastest kid he’s ever seen at Lyndhurst. That says a lot.”

The Golden Bears wanted to win for junior captain Matt DeMarco, who suffered a thumb injury and is now lost for the season.

“Matt has been all in and is all about the team,” Tuero said. “He had 90 yards rushing and a touchdown and made 12 tackles before he left. The kid was possessed.”

Tuero said that the victory was big, not only because it was his first ever, but because an 0-4 football team hardly ever recovers for the rest of what becomes a losing season.

“The one thing the win does is give the kids confidence that they can win,” Tuero said. “They now can’t wait to get back into the weight room, get back to practice. They all have their heads held high as they walk around the school and hear all the good stuff.”

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny quarterback David Nash passed for 200 yards in Kearny’s 10-6 win over Newark Collegiate last weekend, pushing the Kardinals’ record to 3-1, the best mark for a Kearny football team since 1994.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny quarterback David Nash passed for 200 yards in Kearny’s 10-6 win
over Newark Collegiate last weekend, pushing the Kardinals’ record to 3-1, the
best mark for a Kearny football team since 1994.

 

Tuero also credited Jordan Stewart, who scored a defensive touchdown for the second game in a row. Stewart, the Bears’ outside linebacker, had a 57-yard fumble recovery for a score after having a 38-yard interception return the week before.

“He’s playing very well,” Tuero said.

The Kardinals are sitting pretty, as they try hard to gain the program’s first-ever NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group IV playoff berth. They’re not there yet, but it’s not too early to dream.

“The defense has definitely stepped up,” Edwards said. “They (Newark Collegiate) had fourth and goal and we stripped the ball. We got lucky there. It’s a big win. All the kids want to do is win.”

Sophomore Niko Yamba Mamba (yes, that is his real name) was all over the field at his middle linebacker slot.

“He’s a special kid,” Edwards said of Yamba Mamba. “He works hard in practice and in the classroom. He’s just a great kid to coach. You want 11 kids like him.”

Thiago Teixiera scored the Kards’ lone touchdown. David Nash, the savvy quarterback, threw for 200 yards and Sammy Sanchez had five receptions for 85 yards.

The Benavides twins, Mike and Chris, keyed a defensive effort which did not allow a single pass completion the entire game.

“They were awesome back there,” Edwards said.

Both teams have tough opponents this weekend. The Golden Bears have to face Garfield, while the Kardinals take on former head coach Oscar Guerrero and the Tigers of Memorial of West New York.

But there’s joy and hope this week on the two local gridirons.

“Our kids aren’t happy about being 3-1,” Edwards said. “We think we should be better. But I’m happy. We’re going forward. We have a good football team.”

When is the last time a Kearny coach said those words?

New coach Jelcic leads Lyndhurst boys’ soccer through tough times

LyndSoccer_web

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Dennis Jelcic did a fantastic job building the Lyndhurst-Paramus hockey cooperative program, so he believed he could weave some magic in turning the boys’ soccer around at Lyndhurst High School.

It certainly made Jelcic one of the most unique coaches in New Jersey. There aren’t many – if any others at all – that coach soccer in the fall and hockey in the winter. It’s definitely a different mix.

“I don’t know of any others,” Jelcic said.

Jelcic was eager to take on the challenge.

“I’m very excited,” Jelcic said before the start of the season last month. “We have a lot of young players who are doing whatever I ask of them. They’re staying late after practice.”

Jelcic also brought on veteran Ken Van Rye as an assistant coach.

“He’s been nothing short of excellent as an assistant,” Jelcic said. “I’m excited to have a young team that will be competitive for many years to come.”

Jelcic is also optimistic about the plethora of young players participating in soccer in town.

“We have a lot of young talented players coming up,” Jelcic said. “The program is looking up.”

So there’s no way that Jelcic will look at the Golden Bears’ current 3-7 record as a setback.

The Golden Bears showed some promise when they defeated Bergen Charter, 7-4, two weeks ago. But they have lost four of their last five games.

Jelcic has a lot of faith in his goalkeepers, namely senior Thomas Hooper and sophomore Milton Rua.

Hooper is a former cross country runner who decided to switch to play soccer this season. He has collected 41 saves in seven games. Rua has made 19 saves in three games.

“Hooper has been like a fish in water,” Jelcic said. “But he’s tall and athletic and learning as he goes along. Milton is a quality keeper.”

The Golden Bears will continue to use both net minders.

Junior Ryan Brown has returned to Lyndhrrst after a year away. He’s been an anchor to the Golden Bears’ defense and has collected a team-high six assists.

Junior Motana Thungason is a returning starter and is a member of the defender contingent.

Senior Edgar Bravo is another veteran member of the Lyndhurst defensive unit.

Junior Giovanni Arcentales is the key playmaker in the Golden Bears’ midfield. Arcentales scored 10 goals last year and has tallied three goals and added three assists thus far this season. He’s a dangerous offensive threat for the Golden Bears.

Sophomore Nick Pacheco and sophomore Doug DaSilva are also promising members in the midfield, along with returning senior starter Christian Formoso. DaSilva has collected three assists this season.

Sophomore Raymond Valenzuela is the Golden Bears’ leading goal scorer thus far, tallying four goals this season.

Notice the names and the respective years in school. The Golden Bears have a host of sophomores. One after another, they’re all young.

“We’re going through a lot of growing pains,” Jelcic said. “We’re a little inexperienced and rough to start.”

The forward line is also young, with Marildo Mera and Luis Yolinares as sophomores and Adrian Baronowski and Vincent DiTonto as freshmen.

So the Golden Bears’ record might be under .500, but the promise is there for a bright future.

“We’re going to be fine,” Jelcic said. “We definitely have a lot of kids who are interested in playing and who want to play. They practice hard all the time and play hard.”

That attitude will certainly lead to better results in the future. For now, the Golden Bears have to build on the wins they enjoyed against Bergen Charter, Ridgefield and local rival Queen of Peace.

“I like the direction of the program,” Jelcic said. “We’re moving forward.”

North Arlington’s Seca enjoys goal scoring outburst

Seca_web

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

North Arlington’s Joanna Seca will be away from the Vikings’ girls’ soccer team for the next two weeks. She’s off to play at a higher level, joining the Portugal national 17-and-under team play.

“It’s a huge step and a golden opportunity for me,” Seca said. “Hopefully, it will lead to bigger and better things.”

It’s going to be a big loss for the Vikings, who are enjoying a fine 8-3 record thus far. But first-year head coach Dan Farinola realizes that he has to allow Seca to get the chance to play at such a prestigious level.

“It’s unbelievable,” Farinola said. “I can’t even imagine what that must be like for her. We have to change our game plan a little without her and in these five games, we’re certainly going to miss her.”

That’s an understatement, because Seca was in the middle of an incredible season.

In just 11 games, Seca had scored 20 goals and added 18 assists. In the week prior to her departure across the Atlantic, Seca scored nine goals and added six assists.

Seca had an incredible five goals and two assists against Weehawken, added two goals and two assists against Immaculate Conception of Lodi and had two goals and two assists against St. Mary’s of Rutherford.

That’s some offensive explosion and certainly a tremendous sendoff.

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

“It feels awesome,” Seca said. “It shows that my hard work pays off. I had the right hungry mentality to get those five goals. I’m very happy with the way the season is going.”

Seca said that she had a lot of confidence coming into her senior year because she played with the top club soccer team in New Jersey, namely the Player Development Association (PDA).

“It helped with my skills and helped me improve tremendously,” Seca said. “It gave me a tremendous amount of confidence. I was really excited coming into the season, but I didn’t know what to expect. We lost a lot of seniors from last year. I knew I had to step up a little.”

Seca said that she has been holding control of the ball more and finding teammates like Taylor Barth, who has also scored 20 goals thus far.

“I bring the ball up myself,” Seca said. “That takes a little getting used to. I used to pass the ball a lot, but now, I look to take the ball and shoot as well. After a while, that gets natural.”

Seca said that she will miss playing with her team for the next two weeks.

“It’s tough, because we’ve all been working so hard,” Seca said. “I hate to leave. I want to be able to help the team. It stinks that this is taking place now and I can’t be a part of what my team is doing. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime dream.”

Farinola is happy having inherited a talented player like Seca.

“She’s really been like having another coach on the field,” Farinola said. “She has helped me tremendously. It’s a nice gift to have as a new coach. She’s fabulous. She worked so hard in the offseason.”

Farinola said that Seca’s work ethic in the offseason served as an inspiration for the other members of the Vikings.

“She got her fitness level up,” Farinola said. “She worked on her speed. She worked on her feet with the ball. She moves the ball effortlessly. And she can use both feet and can shoot from 30 yards out with either foot. It’s hard to see anyone else with that ability and it’s really cool to watch.”

Farinola heard some good things about Seca when he took the head coaching position.

“But she’s better than I thought,” Farinola said. “I knew she was going to be the center midfielder, but she’s outdone my expectations.”

Farinola said that the attention Seca commands has made her other players, like Barth, better performers.

“Other teams can’t help but to give all the attention to her, so she’s helped the others,” Farinola said. “It wasn’t her team at the beginning of the year, but it is now. And now she knows it’s her team.”

Remarkably, Seca has not received any offers from colleges, despite her soccer prowess and her academic status. Seca is currently ranked second in the North Arlington Class of 2015.

“I’m sure she’ll get some attention soon,” Farinola said. “I think she’s a Division 1 player. If she played any sport, she’d be an All-League player. That’s how good of an athlete she is. She’s a special girl. Someone has to give her a look now.”

“That’s the ultimate dream,” Seca said. “My goal has always been to play at the college level.”

Seca was asked if her 5-foot- 2 stature hurt her chances of getting recognized by colleges.

“No, not at all,” Seca said. “I don’t really think about that. Whenever I hear that I’m too short, I use that for motivation.”

Needless to say, Seca is sitting atop the world. She’s scored five goals in a game, knocked in 20 goals in 11 games and is now headed to Portugal to play for that nation’s top U-17 program. Life is good for Joanna Seca.

“It’s really been a fun year,” Seca said.

Former goalie Najarro leads Kearny over Harrison

Eduardo Najarro_web

Scores crucial goal in 3-1 win at Red Bull Arena

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

When the high school soccer season began in early August, Edgar Najarro was simply a backup goalkeeper to Kearny High School’s celebrated net minder Sebastian Ferreira, one of the best goalies in the entire state.

Najarro knew that there wasn’t going to be much playing time in net with the Kardinals.

“I was a goalie on the club level this summer, but I’ve always been a field player,” Najarro explained. “I was the leading goal scorer on the JV (junior varsity) team the last two years. I just wanted to get a chance to play.”

Two weeks ago, Najarro got a chance to play on the forward line as a reserve.

Last week, Najarro scored a huge goal in overtime, giving the Kardinals a tough 3-2 victory over North Bergen. Last Saturday, the Kardinals faced neighboring rival Harrison at Red Bull Arena, with approximately 5,000 avid soccer fans in attendance.

Najarro was hoping to make his mark.

“I woke up in the morning and realized that I had to go out there and prove myself, if I got a chance to play,” Najarro said.

Najarro did just that. Inserted into the game after halftime, Najarro got himself in perfect position to score a gigantic goal.

“I just put him in the game,” Kearny head coach Bill Galka said. “And he made a beautiful chip to the goal from 20 yards out. It was as beautiful of a goal as you’re going to see.”

On his first touch of the game, Najarro got his foot on the ball and fired it.

“Matthew Neto had the ball, but he just ran out of space, so I got it,” Najarro said. “I hit it well and it went to the top left corner of the net.”

Najarro’s goal in the 53rd minute snapped a 1-1 tie and propelled Kearny to a 3-1 victory in the showdown of the area’s top two clubs.

It was the first time that the two teams had played in Red Bull Arena in three years. Kearny won that game as well by a 2-1 score.

Galka was not pleased with his team at halftime with the game deadlocked.

“I came off a little upset at half,” Galka said. “We were a little outnumbered in the midfield and they had too much possession of the ball. So we talked about it and made some adjustments. We were able to defend better and counter their play. We were able to get more control of the ball. We picked our game up in the second half.”

Ferreira was outstanding in net for the Kards. He made nine saves, several of which were sprawling stops.

Photo by Jim Hague Daniel Vicente scored Kearny’s first goal two minutes into the showdown with Harrison, won by Kearny at Red Bull Arena, 3-1.

Photo by Jim Hague
Daniel Vicente scored Kearny’s first goal two minutes into the showdown with
Harrison, won by Kearny at Red Bull Arena, 3-1.

 

“He was big all game for us, stopping shots from a long distance,” Galka said. “He made some tremendous saves to keep us in it. He showed good poise, because it was a back and forth game.”

Daniel Vicente, who returned to the Kearny program this season, got the Kardinals going with an early goal in just the second minute of the game. It looked like Kearny was ready to run the Blue Tide right out of Red Bull Arena.

But Christian Restrepo’s header in the 20th minute tied the game for Harrison, which is the way the game stayed through halftime.

It was soon to be Najarro time.

“It meant a lot to me that my mom (Diane) and dad (Rolando) were there to see it,” Najarro said. “I also have the game on tape, too. I’ve scored some big goals, like the North Bergen one, but not quite as big as this one. Especially on that stage, in front of all those people.” And against the dreaded rival, who had a tough week. Everyone in Harrison was concerned about the health and well being of former Harrison All-State great Modou Sowe, who collapsed during a Ramapo College game last week and was rushed to a hospital. Sowe was later released after it was learned he was suffering from the ill effects of a concussion, but there was a ton of concern for Sowe, even at the game Saturday.

Najarro made sure that it was going to be a frightful Saturday afternoon for the Blue Tide.

“It was definitely the experience of a lifetime,” Najarro said. “From the minute we got off the bus to the minute we went back home, everything was professional. I’m absolutely going to remember it for the rest of my life.”

Arturo Sanchez capped the scoring with a goal with about seven minutes left to play, giving Kearny the twogoal advantage.

“Anytime you play at Red Bull Arena, it’s a thrill,” Galka said. “I know both teams like playing there and the towns like it as well. There was great fan support for both teams. The faculty, administration, students, local fans, you name it, they were there. It was a great atmosphere and a great experience for the kids.”

Galka’s team now owns a state ranking (No. 16 overall) and an undefeated mark at 6-0-2, with ties against St. Peter’s Prep and Union.

“We’re playing well,” Galka said. “We just got some players back. (Marcelo) Matta just got back from a concussion. He was big for us in the second half. He only had two days of practice. Alexi Velasquez was also injured and couldn’t practice all week, but he played well. I think we’re finding our way.”

Just like the former goalie found the net – and created a memory of a lifetime.

The Kearny girls completed the sweep of the doubleheader, handling the Harrison girls in easy fashion, 6-0.

Call Krychkowski the impromptu NJCU goalie

Krychkowski_web

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When the New Jersey City University men’s soccer team prepared to begin the 2014 season, the Gothic Knights were missing a very important ingredient. They needed a goalkeeper.

NJCU head men’s soccer coach Patrick Snyder thought he had two recruits entering the program this fall.

“We had some options, but one kid just didn’t fit our profile,” Snyder said. “Both of our goalkeepers from last year didn’t return – one chose to leave and the other didn’t have the academics down.”

So Snyder made one phone call – to former Observer Male Athlete of the Year Tyler Krychkowski.

The celebrated North Arlington High School graduate, the recipient of The Observer’s top award in 2012, had been a midfielder with the Gothic Knights for the first two years of his college career.

Krychkowski was always asked to be the emergency fill-in at goalie – even though he never played the position at all.

“I told Tyler that he had to be ready to help if we needed him,” Snyder said. “I really thought we had at least one goalie, but that didn’t work out. I know I should have asked Tyler if he wanted to be the goalie, but I guess I basically told him.

” The response was typical Tyler.

“I just told him I would do it for the team,” Krychkowski said. “There was no one else around to step up and take over. I wanted to have a good season, so I decided to do it.”

With no formal goaltending training at all, Krychkowski donned the gloves, got a new uniform to wear and headed toward manning the goal.

“I worked hard with our goalie coach Mike Coughlin,” Krychkowski said. “I guess my athleticism helped me. I worked really hard with Mike to get ready to play.”

Krychkowski’s natural athletic ability carried him. After all, Krychkowski was a three-sport standout at North Arlington – a goal-scoring machine in soccer, a 1,000-point scorer in basketball and a track and field expert. It was a no-brainer the year he was selected as Observer Male Athlete of the Year.

“I didn’t have any doubts in myself handling it, because I worked so hard at it,” Krychkowski said. “The key was not making too many mistakes.”

“He really took to it,” Snyder said. “We just didn’t know if he could handle it, but after training a little, Tyler got better and better and felt pretty comfortable with it. He’s just a selfless kid. I just hoped that his athleticism and dedication would carry him.”

Snyder likes what Krychkowski has done in the new position.

“He’s a roaming goalie,” Snyder said. “He likes to come outside of the box and go after the ball. He can jump well and knows how to use his body.”

The results have been staggering. Krychkowski, thrust into a new position that he never played before, has become one of the best net minders in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.

Krychkowski collected a shutout in one of his first games as a goalie. In 11 games, he’s surrendered just 17 goals, a 1.44 goals against average, and he’s collected 68 saves.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed, as Krychkowski was named the NJAC Player of the Week, the league’s defensive player of the week and was honored by the ECAC as its Defensive Player of the Week. Krychkowski was also honored as the Disney Soccer/ NCAA Division III National Player of the Week.

Let’s go one step even further. In the Sept. 15 editions of Sports Illustrated, Krychkowski was featured as one of the prestigious magazine’s Faces in the Crowd.

Yes, the impromptu goalie getting national recognition. Not a bad gig at all.

“I was really nervous before the first game, but I got the shutout,” Krychkowski said. “Then, I realized I can be pretty good at this. I am definitely surprised by it. The defense has played very well in front of me. If the guys in front of me are playing hard, we have a good chance of not allowing a goal.” Krychkowski said that his experience as a field player has helped him as a collegiate soccer goalkeeper.

“Just knowing where the forward is playing has helped me in goal,” Krychkowski said. “I just reversed it all. I learned all the key words I have to say to my teammates. I’m still learning that. The athleticism I have definitely helps. I know where I have to be. I just know the game and I’ve learned a lot from my goalie coach. I know now I can be a goalie. The confidence level is high playing goalie. I just do what I have to do.”

Snyder said that he knew he had a winner when he told Tyler to change positions.

“Our whole team philosophy has changed in that we’re trying to defend more,” Snyder said. “Everyone on the team wants to defend. They knew what was good for our program. As soon as Mike and I made the decision to go with Tyler, we knew. Tyler just threw a pair of gloves on, had a few practices and was ready to go.”

Krychkowski had some tough moments in the last week, facing NJAC powers Montclair State and defending league champion Rutgers- Camden. But he’s still there, still in goal, still doing what’s best for the Gothic Knights.

“It is a little different,” Krychkowski said. “The attention and everything has started to settle down. I’m getting used to being in goal. I like where I am right now. It could have been far worse.”

But Krychkowski isn’t about to make playing goalkeeper a permanent slot.

“It’s definitely a one-year deal,” Krychkowski said. “Scoring goals, there’s no better feeling in the world. Okay, I won’t do it this year, but I will be back trying to score goals next year, no doubt.”

“I think it’s a testament to Tyler and the whole team,” Snyder said. “We are now going after good kids, good students. I know it can work.”

As long as Snyder finds diamonds in the rough like Tyler Krychkowski, a former goal scorer supreme now working his tail off to prevent goals from scoring. Such is life as a soccer player.

Nutley’s Merkle carries on rich family grid tradition

Merkle_web

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Craig Merkle didn’t have to go far to find inspiration in becoming a standout high school football player. The Nutley High School junior could have easily found that motivation in his own living room.

That’s because Craig Merkle has two older brothers who paved the way for him to become a Maroon Raider.

First, Chris Merkle went from being a fine two-way performer with the Maroon Raiders to a great career at Montclair State and eventually became a professional football player, toiling for a few years in the Arena Football League.

Then, middle brother Kevin came along and played for the Maroon Raiders before heading off to Union College two years ago.

“They definitely motivated me a lot,” Craig Merkle said. “I used to always go to Chris’ games when he played and I always followed Kevin. I always wanted to be a good football player like my older brothers. It was definitely a little tough, knowing all that Chris did and how far he got. They were some huge shoes to fill.”

Merkle definitely showed that he was ready to become the next in line last year, when he went from being a sophomore reserve to a prime-time performer.

“We tried to break him in slowly last year, because he was a sophomore,” Nutley head coach Tom Basile said. “But he ended up scoring 11 touchdowns every way imaginable, running, catching, kick returns, defense. He ended up leading the team in tackles. We worked him in as the season went on. He became a starter and wasn’t coming out.”

In fact, the youngest Merkle brother was so impressive that he earned a remarkable distinction as a sophomore.

“We gave him the Most Outstanding Player award at the season end banquet,” Basile said. “It’s virtually unheard of to give it to a sophomore, but that was the way to show everyone how talented he is. Obviously, he was our best player. He’s a good all-around football player.”

Merkle said that he was shocked that he earned the MVP trophy.

“I was pretty surprised,” Merkle said. “I didn’t think I had a chance to get it. It was a great accomplishment.”

But Merkle knew that he couldn’t rest on the laurels he gained a year ago.

“I knew I had to keep working hard,” Merkle said. “I knew that I would be the main running back this year, so that made me work a little harder. I loved the idea that I would be getting the ball more.”

In Basile’s eyes, it was a nobrainer.

“I did expect Craig to be the workhorse back this year, somewhere in the 20-to-25 times per game,” Basile said. “We do have other weapons, but Craig is our go-to guy. He’s the one who can get the tough extra yard, but he’s also the one who could break one. He’s that kind of kid.”

Merkle proved to be that kind of player – and then some – Saturday afternoon against West Orange. He carried the ball 29 times for 192 yards and scored touchdowns on runs of 13 and 51 yards. Merkle also gathered an interception and returned it 77 yards for another touchdown, leading the Maroon Raiders to a 49-27 victory, a win that pushed Nutley’s record to an impressive 3-0 in the early stages of the 2014 season.

For his efforts, Merkle has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. Merkle is the first honoree for the 2014-2015 scholastic sports season. The weekly feature will culminate with the presentation of the Observer Male and Female Athletes of the Year sometime in June and July of 2015.

Basile said that Craig Merkle is a combination of his older two brothers.

“Craig is the best of both worlds,” Basile said. “He has the personality of Kevin and the intensity and physical level that Chris had. Kevin was more cerebral, but Craig has the best of both brothers. It’s a great football family. They’re all supportive of the program.”

Basile said that he loves Craig’s work ethic.

“He’s the one who is working all year round,” Basile said. “He never misses a day in the weight room and he also runs track in the spring, so he’s training all the time.”

Basile said that Merkle is also a great student and product of the Nutley community.

“He’s a solid B-plus student,” Basile said. “He does his job in the classroom. He’s also involved in the community. He’s the total package. He’s just a well rounded guy.”

Basile also feels that Merkle is a college football prospect.

“I think he’s still going to grow some,” said Basile of Merkle, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 220 pounds. “He’s basically still a baby. I obviously think he can play in college. He has the size and the strength to do it.”

But Merkle is just a junior. He has another year of high school football to worry about.

But Merkle has that goal in his sights already.

“That’s what I hope for every day,” Merkle said. “I want to play in college. That’s my dream.”

Merkle said that he doesn’t have a preference for which way he would want to play, either running back or linebacker.

“As a kid, I always played defense and it was my favorite,” Merkle said. “But when I got to high school, I liked running the ball, so now, I really don’t know. I like to play both.”

The Maroon Raiders will now get challenged in their schedule, facing Montclair this week.

“It’s a reality check now,” Basile said. “Our schedule gets solid now. We’re going to see what Nutley is all about.”

“We’re going good right now,” Merkle said. “We have a tough schedule coming up, beginning with Montclair, so we have to go in with a good mind. But right now, this feels great. Everyone is looking good.”

Just not as good as the Maroon Raiders’ best player, the one from the strong football family.

Lucas tells all in poignant book ‘Under Pressure’

Lucas_web

Harrison’s favorite son writes about battles with painkillers

 

By Jim Hague

 Observer Sports Writer 

Ray Lucas makes no bones about where he’s from. He’s Harrison through and through.

If you have a lengthy conversation with the former Jets quarterback and current television and radio football analyst, Lucas is bound to mention his hometown a dozen times.

“Growing up in Harrison, playing sports was everything,” said Lucas, who just released a poignant and powerful memoir, entitled “Under Pressure: How Playing Football Almost Cost Me Everything and Why I’d Do It Again.”

“The way Harrison sports were, if you weren’t tough, you didn’t survive,” Lucas said. “Sports were the equalizer in Harrison. Harrison football was the right of passage. You got the right to wear your jersey to school on Friday before the game. That was huge. I got to do it as a freshman. That’s what shaped me.”

Lucas, who went from Harrison High School to Rutgers to the NFL and stints with the Jets, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, now works as an announcer on the Rutgers radio network and on SNY covering the Jets, was talked into writing a book about his life by his agent, Mark Lepsetter.

“He said it like three years ago that I should write a book,” said Lucas, who worked on the book with author David Seigerman. “After everything I went through and where I came from, I started thinking about it. I talked to my wife (Cecy) and we decided to do it.”

The book, released recently by Triumph Books and found in bookstores and on line at Amazon.com, enables Lucas to tell his remarkable tale from growing up in Harrison, coming from a controversial family background to eventually tackling the demons of severe drug addiction to prescription pain medications.

Lucas was born in 1972 out of wedlock. His father was serving in Vietnam when his mother became pregnant by another man, an African-American.

“Out popped the chocolate boy wonder,” Lucas writes in his book.

When Tom Lucas came home from Vietnam, he married Ray’s mother and raised Ray as his own.

“My Dad is the greatest man I’ve ever known,” Lucas said. “I still try to be half the man he is.”

As Lucas got older, he heard the talk from people in town.

“I was in the sixth or seventh grade and I used to get beat up in school,” Lucas said. “I was the only black kid around. I didn’t know any better. He was my father and my mother was my mother. My sister was my sister and she’s white. I never had the guts to ask my Dad what happened. The man’s not my biological father, but he’s my Dad. He told me that he loved my mother too much to leave her be alone.”

Lucas became an All-State football and basketball player at Harrison High, eventually earning a scholarship to Rutgers to play football. At Rutgers, under head coach Doug Graber, Lucas flourished as the quarterback in one of the best offenses in the East. It led to a tryout with the New England Patriots, earning the respect of head coach Bill Parcells, who wrote the forward to Lucas’ book. Parcells took a major liking to Lucas and gave him a spot on the Patriots’ roster, even if it meant Lucas had to play special teams.

It opened the door for Lucas’ six-year career in the NFL, but it also led to more serious problems. Lucas had neck and back injuries that led to a host of surgeries and forced him to take any and all kinds of painkillers.

“I have a four-inch plate and eight screws in my neck,” Lucas said. “I’ve had three neck surgeries, two back surgeries, three right shoulder surgeries and one right elbow surgery. I’ve also had four right knee and three left knee surgeries.”

Four years ago, Lucas’ addiction to painkillers became totally out of control.

“I couldn’t look in the mirror anymore,” Lucas said. “I didn’t know who I was. I was taking 1,400 pills a month. Oxycontin, Percocet, you name it, I’d take it. I made sure I always had enough. I was down to 168 pounds. I was sick, really sick.”

Lucas was getting assistance from P.A.S.T. Retired Athletes Medical Resource Group after he had another surgery.

“They asked me to tell my story in Dallas,” Lucas said. “I didn’t want anyone to know my story and to know I was an addict. I made the decision to go to Dallas and when I got there, I knew I wasn’t alone.”

Lucas went straight to a drug rehabilitation facility in West Palm Beach for six weeks.

“I don’t even remember the first three days,” Lucas said. “I took 30 pills right off the plane and another 20 before I got to the place. The first day, I went through withdrawal and I wouldn’t ask that on anyone. It was extremely difficult.”

Lucas said that he went to rehab very defensive.

“I couldn’t trust anyone,” Lucas said. “I was extremely guarded. I didn’t have any of my friends around. I didn’t see my wife for four weeks. Once she came to see me and opened up to me, it was so good to see her. It was like seeing her for the very first time.”

Lucas’ courage in writing the book is incredible. It can’t be easy being a public figure, especially a beloved sports hero in his hometown, where he lives once again with his wife and three daughters, and opening up his private life in print.

“I feel blessed,” Lucas said. “When you screw something up so badly, you want to know how to fix it. I wanted to be a great father, a great husband, a great son, a great friend. I worked my tail off to get better. Now, everything tastes better and looks better. I love what I’m able to do now.”

Lucas realizes that he will never be pain free ever again. But he won’t go back to pharmaceuticals to cure the ills.

“My knees hurt, my back hurts, my neck hurts,” Lucas said. “But I’m choosing to deal with it. None of the pain is bad enough that I have to reach for something. I’m not afraid of a gun or a knife, but I am afraid of a little white thing. I know I don’t take my wife and kids for granted anymore.”

Lucas, now 42 years old, discussed the motivation for writing the book.

“I think it was something for me to do to reach someone who is suffering in silence,” Lucas said. “When you go through everything I went through, you want people to know that everything gets better. I never thought in a million years that I would become an author. It’s insane. When I started this, I wanted to make sure it was in my voice. That meant everything to me. It’s just another way for me to reach people.

Added Lucas, “The book has something for everyone. There’s a football aspect to it. There’s a life aspect to it.”

Lucas also spoke about getting Parcells involved in the book.

“Bill Parcells is the second greatest man I’ve ever met, next to my Dad,” Lucas said. “We’ve had some good times together and some tough times. I love the guy. He had no problems with me coming in and playing special teams for him. We talk still all the time. He always calls my wife the wrong name. But he truly cares about me. I knew that early on. I guess it was the Jersey Boy connection. We had mutual respect for each other from the very first day.”

Just like Ray Lucas has respect for himself nowadays, after all he endured, as written in his excellent book.

“Under Pressure: How Playing Football Almost Cost Me Everything and Why I’d Do It All Again,” by Ray Lucas and David Seigerman, is out in book stores and on Amazon.com.