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Kearny’s Sroczynski signs with University of Tampa

Photo courtesy the Sroczynski family Kearny High School senior Aislinn Sroczynski is all smiles after signing her national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa on a track scholarship.

Photo courtesy the Sroczynski family
Kearny High School senior Aislinn Sroczynski is all smiles after signing her national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa on a track scholarship.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It’s a success story with an extremely happy ending, one that finishes with a college scholarship.

Aislinn Sroczynski is a Kearny High School senior, someone who began running cross country on a whim two years ago after being a soccer player.

As it turns out, Sroczynski becomes a good runner, much like her father, Steve, her mother Heather and her uncle Frank were at Kearny during their scholastic heyday.

“I had just quit playing soccer and started to run and Coach (Jim) Cifelli told me that my times were pretty good,” Sroczynski said. “And he told me that I could run in college.”

So Srocyznski, who finished 10th at the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV cross country championships last fall and earned First Team All-Hudson County honors from the county’s coaches association, decided to send out questionnaires to colleges in Florida.

The reason for Florida? “I wanted to go south,” Sroczynski said. “I just hate the cold weather. All the snow we’ve had recently? I hate it.”

So Sroczynski started to think about going to her first choice, Florida State.

“But I wasn’t sure I could run there,” Sroczynski said.

So then Cifelli put the idea of the University of Tampa in Sroczynski’s mind. As it turned out, Cifelli had a contact at the University of Tampa and he made a call.

“It worked out for her,” Cifelli said.

Last Wednesday, Sroczynski signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa on a scholarship.

“I went for a visit and I really liked it,” Sroczynski said. “The coaches paid me a lot of attention and the girls on the team were very nice and they accepted me. As it turns out, Tampa races against schools like Florida State, Miami and the University of Florida. It’s the kind of competition I wanted, just in a smaller pond.”

Sroczynski said that her grandfather lives in the Tampa area.

“So I have someone there if I need him,” Sroczynski said. “It really is perfect.”

Sroczynski said that she had Cifelli to thank for her scholarship package.

“He’s the one who pushed me along,” Sroczynski said. “He told me what schools would be interested in me and made me fill out the questionnaires. I gave him a new list of schools every week and he called every coach for me. He got the best response for me and stayed on me. He convinced me I had the ability to be a runner in college. He took all the negative thoughts out of my head. It’s pretty awesome. I’m so excited.”

Photo courtesy the Sroczynski family The entire Kearny girls’ track team with coach Jim Cifelli (center) celebrates Aislinn Sroczynski signing a national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa.

Photo courtesy the Sroczynski family
The entire Kearny girls’ track team with coach Jim Cifelli (center) celebrates Aislinn Sroczynski signing a national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa.

 

Cifelli, who is retiring as a coach this year after a storied 40-plus year career, said that he was glad to help.

“She’s a great kid,” Cifelli said. “Not everyone can become a professional athlete, but you can find a kid a scholarship to college. It’s great that schools give kids the chance to open the world for them. She tugs at my heartstrings a little. My wife taught her in fifth grade. She’s a tough, little kid with a great heart.

Added Cifelli, “She loved the place and she’s very happy, both academically and athletically.”

Cifelli has helped other Kearny track athletes like Cayleigh Solano (LaSalle) and Brian Mendes and Esther Alfaro (NJIT).

“This is a great way for them to end their Kearny career,” Cifelli said. “It’s nice to see kids excel.”

Sroczynski said that she will major in political science at Tampa.

“I like politics,” Sroczynski said. “I hope I can eventually get into law school. My dream is to someday get involved in government.”

Sroczynski is still walking on Cloud Nine.

“I didn’t think I’d ever be running in college,” Sroczynski said. “I never thought I’d be a college athlete. There’s no way I thought this was possible. Thank God I had Cifelli. He guided me the whole way. I can’t believe I’m signing a letter on signing day like other athletes. It’s a little surreal. Now, I’m just counting the days until I can go to Tampa.”

Montclair State women roll along with Aquino & Lucas

Photo by Jim Hague Harrison’s Rayven Lucas (l.) and Kearny’s Janitza Aquino have helped the Montclair State University women’s basketball team to a national ranking among Division III schools.

Photo by Jim Hague
Harrison’s Rayven Lucas (l.) and Kearny’s Janitza Aquino have helped the Montclair State University women’s basketball team to a national ranking among Division III schools.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Montclair State University women’s basketball team is rolling along, posting a record of 19-2. The Red Hawks are currently ranked 11th among NCAA Division III programs in the entire nation.

The Red Hawks have two local players on their roster, namely Kearny’s Janitza Aquino and Harrison’s Rayven Lucas.

Aquino is a junior guard who has been on fire of late as the team’s starting shooting guard. Lucas is just a freshman, vying for playing time, while learning the ropes watching her friend and neighbor perform.

Together, they give the Red Hawks a strong local flavor, as they continue to move their way toward a possible national championship.

Head coach Karin Harvey is pleased with the performance of both players, especially Aquino, the former Observer Female Athlete of the Year.

Aquino nailed eight 3-point field goals en route to tying a career-high 26 points in the Red Hawks’ 81-60 victory over William Paterson recently. The eight 3-point field goals set a new school record. Aquino was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference Player of the Week for her efforts.

Harvey was happy to move Aquino back to the shooting guard slot, after she played primarily as a point guard last season.

“Janitza became the point guard because of an injury to our starter,” Harvey said. “But she moved back to the off-guard and has done a fabulous job. She is able to take the ball to the basket, but she’s also worked on her perimeter game and can now regularly make the 3-pointers.”

Aquino is averaging 16.2 points per game this season, improving from 10.2 points per game last year.

Lucas has seen limited time, scoring 11 points in six games played, but Harvey likes her potential.

“Rayven is a hard worker who wants to learn,” Harvey said. “She has embraced her role and has really come a long way. She definitely has a bright future with us and I’m looking forward to her improvement.”

Lucas has enjoyed herself with the Red Hawks.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Lucas, the daughter of Harrison athletic legend Ray, the former New York Jets quarterback who is currently an analyst on the SNY network and does color commentary for Rutgers football radio broadcasts.

“It’s a great experience to be a part of something so big and exciting,” Lucas said. “I’ve been able to overcome bigger challenges as a basketball player. I’m learning to work with new people and it’s changed my entire mindset as a player.”

Lucas said that she has had to deal with one major change from high school to college basketball.

“The speed of everything is so different,” Lucas said. “Everything is so fast. We had a scrimmage game and everything was flying by me. It was going way too fast for me. But I eventually got used to it.”

Lucas said that she also had to adapt from being the main scorer in high school to a bench player in college.

“For me, that has been the biggest transition,” Lucas said. “I’m just trying to get better. It’s weird, going from playing all the time and scoring to now being on the bench. But I realize that I have a lot of work to do.”

Lucas said that she has leaned on Aquino in getting accustomed to college life.

“We have a good relationship,” Lucas said. “Janitza has always been there for me. She helps me when I need it.”

And as for Aquino’s play?

“She is absolutely amazing,” Lucas said. “I always ask her to help me with my shooting, because she is such a good shooter. When she is going like she did the other day, it’s absolutely crazy.”

Harvey likes the relationship between Aquino and Lucas.

“Janitza is really good with the younger players, especially Rayven,” Harvey said. “The two of them get along so well. Janitza takes the time to be with Rayven and shows her what she’s doing right and wrong. I really like the way the two interact. They get along very well.”

Aquino was unavailable for comment for this article.

Lucas can’t believe how much she loves living at Montclair State.

“I love the college life,” Lucas said. “I’m away from home, but I’m close enough to have my mother do my laundry. But it’s so much easier for me to be here.”

And it’s great to see two local standouts doing so well on the next level.

NA’s Cordeiro signs letter with NJIT

Photo by Jim Hague North Arlington senior Danny Cordeiro (seated l.), flanked by his dad, Carlos Cordeiro, signs his national letter of intent to attend the New Jersey Institute of Technology and play soccer at the Newark school in the fall. Standing, from l., are: Vice Principal Dennis Kenny, Head Soccer Coach Jesse Dombowski, Principal Lou Manuppelli, Athletic Director Dave Hutchinson and Track and Field Coach Joe Cioffi.

Photo by Jim Hague
North Arlington senior Danny Cordeiro (seated l.), flanked by his dad, Carlos Cordeiro, signs his national letter of intent to attend the New Jersey Institute of Technology and play soccer at the Newark school in the fall. Standing, from l., are: Vice Principal Dennis Kenny, Head Soccer Coach Jesse Dombowski, Principal Lou Manuppelli, Athletic Director Dave Hutchinson and Track and Field Coach Joe Cioffi.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Danny Cordeiro had given a verbal commitment to attend the New Jersey Institute of Technology in November, but it wasn’t really official until the talented North Arlington High School senior put his signature on a national letter of intent.

Cordeiro will play soccer at NJIT in the fall.

The letter signing took place last Thursday afternoon at North Arlington, with school officials, Cordeiro’s coaches and his father, Carlos, present.

“Once you put the pen to paper, it’s different,” Cordeiro said. “It’s the kind of thing that happens only once in a lifetime.”

That is certainly true when it comes to athletes from North Arlington. It’s not often that a student/athlete from a Group I school gets a chance to become a scholarship recipient.

Cordeiro was sent the letter of intent by the NJIT coaching staff last week. He was not able to officially sign until Wednesday. The signing took place Thursday, because school was closed Wednesday due to the snowstorm.

Some athletes change their mind after giving a verbal commitment. That was not the case with Cordeiro. He was sold on NJIT from the beginning.

“The coaches contacted me to make sure I got it,” Cordeiro said. “But I’m interested in studying engineering in college, so I wanted to go through with that.”

Cordeiro scored 30 goals and had 19 assists last fall for the Vikings. He is currently running indoor track for North Arlington.

Last weekend, Cordeiro won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championship in both the 800-meter and 1,600-meter runs. It’s the first year that North Arlington has featured an indoor track team and the school already has a two-time state sectional champion, thanks to Cordeiro’s efforts.

Cordeiro won the 800-meter run in 2:00.99 and the 1,600-meter run in 4:37.97.

Not a bad week, winning two gold medals at the state sectionals in his first-ever attempt and signing a college scholarship letter.

“Not a bad week at all,” Cordeiro said. “It’s pretty amazing and definitely memorable. I was pretty happy winning in the first year of indoor track. I liked running in Toms River (the Bennettt Center). I never ran in a dome like that before. It was pretty impressive.”

Cordeiro didn’t get caught up in the aura of a state championship.

“I just ran it like it was a regular race,” Cordeiro said. “I always have the same game plan. I try to win every time. I don’t get caught up in times. I was definitely surprised to go there and win both races. I was just trying to do my best.”

North Arlington head soccer coach Jesse Dombowski was present for the letter signing.

“It’s fantastic,” Dombowski said. “I think it opens up a lot of chances for other kids in our program to get Division I scholarships. Danny is one of the most determined athletes I’ve ever coached. He knows what it takes to get to the next level and I’m so glad he got the chance to go to a Division I school. By far, he’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached and that the school has had.”

To permanently honor Cordeiro, the school plans to put a plaque with his picture near the entrance of the school as a reminder of his accomplishments.

“It can only raise some school spirit,” Dembowski said of the plaque.

“I only heard about that today,” Cordeiro said. “That’s going to be awesome. I’d like to come back to the school and see that in the hallways. That’s pretty special.”

Just like Cordeiro, who is truly a special athlete in every sense of the word.

Belleville wrestling turns its hopes to all-time legend Nardone

Photo Jim Hague The Belleville wrestling program moves forward with new head coach Emilio “Junior” Nardone. From l. are Nick Nardachone, Jordan Greene, Nardone, Chris Bunay and Ronald Smith.

Photo Jim Hague
The Belleville wrestling program moves forward with new head coach Emilio “Junior” Nardone. From l. are Nick Nardachone, Jordan Greene, Nardone, Chris Bunay and Ronald Smith.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When legendary Belleville High School wrestling coach Joe Nisivoccia decided to retire at the end of last year, he thought of no one better to fill his shoes than perhaps his most talented pupil ever.

Emilio “Junior” Nardone is perhaps Belleville’s most successful wrestler, having won two NJSIAA state championships in 1991 and 1992. Nardone then went on to wrestle at Rutgers and later Seton Hall before moving on to become a New Jersey state trooper.

“When I left, I was a little angry at the sport,” said Nardone, who had to retire as a state trooper after getting injured on duty. “I then realized I had some unfinished business. The sport reminded me of the things I wanted to do. I had something to give back. I had so much to offer.”

Nardone had been working privately with wrestlers who attend The Edge training school in Kenilworth, then joined the coaching staff at his alma mater as a volunteer, as a favor to his former coach.

“I had the keys to success in wrestling and I had the keys to success in life,” Nardone said. “I’ve always been a student of the game. I’m still learning.”

Nisivoccia approached Nardone at the end of last year.

“He called me and said he was stepping down,” Nardone said. “He said that there was no one he would have trusted more in turning over the program to. He said, ‘You’re Belleville through and through.’”

Nardone was exactly that, embarking on a wrestling career that legends are made of.

During his junior year at Belleville, Nardone suffered a knee injury that required surgery.

But after undergoing that surgery, Nardone developed a serious staph infection that almost cost him his leg.

“I was in the hospital for Christmas through the New Year,” Nardone said. “Doctors told me that if the infection didn’t get better, then they were going to take my leg.”

Nardone somehow recovered in time to wrestle in the districts. He had only one match under his belt, but won the District 14 and Region 2 tournaments.

“It was quite a journey,” Nardone said. “Not even my closest friends thought it was possible, but I said anything was possible.”

In 1992, Nardone was undefeated, posting a 30-0 record in winning his second state championship at 125 pounds, leaving his mark forever as a Belleville High School immortal.

He’s so revered as a two-time state champ that his name actually appears on the mats at Belleville, along with the school’s other state champs.

It’s on the mat as Emilio Nardone, not Junior, so it confused some of the current Belleville wrestlers.

“They see that and say, `Is that you?’” Nardone said. “Then they react to it.”

Nardone didn’t hesitate when Nisivoccia turned over the keys to the Belleville wrestling room.

“I had to do it,” Nardone said. “I love the wresting community and I had some success. That translates into coaching here at Belleville. It’s important to me. I had to do whatever I could to help the program.”

Nardone knows that the Buccaneers can’t be successful overnight. But he’s optimistic.

“I want them to learn that every time they take the mat, they’re not only wrestling for themselves, but for their teammates, their school and their town,” Nardone said. “Every so often, I see little rays of sunshine. It’s not about wins and losses right now. I just want them to give their all. That’s important to me.” The Bucs’ 106-pounder is sophomore Tommy Graziano, whose father, Tom Sr., was a Belleville wrestler.

“Tommy knows what he’s doing technically,” Nardone said. “He’s just a little outmanned right now, wrestling kids who are bigger. But he’s a good kid and he’s working hard. He’s good to have on the team.”

Sophomore Luis Ovondo is the team’s 113-pounder. “The one thing this kid has is that nobody can beat his work ethic,” Nardone said. “He’s the most dedicated kid on the team. He’ll find success. It’s inevitable because he works so hard.”

Ovondo is part of a dedicated group that Nardone calls “the Breakfast Club.”

“They come to school every day at 6:30 in the morning to work out, lift, watch videos, whatever it is,” Nardone said.

Senior Kenny Nicosia, junior Anthony Jett and sophomore Joe Buonnano are sharing the duties at 120 pounds.

Junior Ronald Smith is perhaps the most improved Belleville wrestler. He won just three matches a year ago, but has already tripled that number this year. “

He embodies what we’re trying to do here,” Nardone said. “He’s intense. He hustles. He pushes himself the most. He’s given a true commitment to this program.”

Junior Michael Vergera and freshman John Centanni are the 132 pounders, with junior Carmine Centanni, senior Hugo Pando, freshman Adam Nguyen and senior Chris Nguyen sharing the time at 138 pounds.

Jefferson Renard, a sophomore, is the 145-pounder, with senior Peter Meggali at 152 pounds.

The team is hoping to get the services of senior Jose Vergera soon. Vergera has been out of action due to academic difficulties, but he was a competitor at Region 4 last year.

Junior Jordan Greene is perhaps the Buccaneers’ best wrestler. The 160-pounder worked diligently throughout the offseason and finished second in the recent Essex County Tournament.

“He’s come along leaps and bounds,” Nardone said of Greene. “He has such a great attitude. I think he’s just breaking out of his shell.”

The Bucs have three wrestlers vying for time at 170 pounds, namely juniors Tyler Lugo and Chris Rodriguez and sophomore Joe Nguyen.

“Lugo is just coming back from injury and Rodriguez is a transfer from Paterson Eastside,” Nardone said.

Senior Chris Bunay is the team’s 182-pounder.

“He’s solid there,” Nardone said.

Junior Nick Nardachone is the team’s most successful wrestler. Nardachone finished second in the District 14 tourney last year and recently took fifth in the ECT. Nardachone was also second at the Edison Tournament earlier in the season.

Junior Elijah Gaines is the 220-pounder. Gaines was second in the Edison Tournament and third in the Bloomfield tourney this season.

The heavyweight is junior Tien Le, who is new to the sport.

“We call him ‘Godzilla,’ because he’s very agile and pinning people,” Nardone said.

The Bucs have a 6-6 record after suffering a loss to rival Nutley Friday night.

“I’m pretty encouraged,” Nardone said. “We beat Union, so that was a good win and gave us a little slice of hope. We just have to keep up the intensity.”

With Nardone in charge, people in Belleville could not expect anything less than intense.

Nutley wrestling: Making most of tough season

Photo by Jim Hague The Nutley wrestling team is very young, but has a handful of championshipcaliber wrestlers. From l. are Steve Scuttaro, Robert Duxbury and Joe Ferinde. Head coach Frank DiPiano is in the rear.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Nutley wrestling team is very young, but has a handful of championship caliber wrestlers. From l. are Steve Scuttaro, Robert Duxbury and Joe Ferinde. Head coach Frank DiPiano is in the rear.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Nutley High School head wrestling coach Frank DiPiano knew that this was going to be a tough season, as he had to rebuild his program, losing a host of talented wrestlers to graduation. But then, DiPiano was hit with the unforeseen transfers, guys who DiPiano was counting on for the new season. “It’s been tough,” DiPiano said. “I was in a little bit of a shock when we lost the transfers. But I preach to our kids that we can only control what we can control. If kids want to leave, there’s nothing you can do about it. We just have to work on getting better every day and work with the kids who we had in the room.” Because DiPiano believed he was going to have a strong season, he scheduled the Maroon Raiders to face some of the toughest teams in the state. “It’s one of the toughest schedules we’ve had since I’ve been here,” DiPiano said. “I told the kids that’s not going to change. We’re still going to face the best.” So the Maroon Raiders have a 9-13 dual meet record after defeating neighboring rival Belleville Friday night, facing the Buccaneers for the first time in five years. It was a special night at Nutley, as former wrestlers from both schools were asked back for the festivities, were introduced during a prematch ceremony and got together for a postmatch celebration. “It was a great night,” DiPiano said. DiPiano said that the program has been fortunate to keep some wrestlers in the fold, some with strong familiar ties, guys like Steve Scuttaro and Joe Ferinde, who had older brothers who wrestled for DiPiano. “It helps to have these guys who had seen it and been around it as we started to change the perception of the program and decided to stay home,” DiPiano said. “The fact that they believe n the system means a lot to me. They know that we can compete with anyone.” Another key returnee is sophomore 106-pounder Robert Duxbury, who has already won 20 matches this season and recently won the Essex County Tournament championship. “He’s just a hard-nosed kid,” DiPiano said of Duxbury. “He’s a very hard worker who is on the verge of becoming a great leader. He’s already set some lofty goals.” DiPiano said that Duxbury reminds him a lot of former Maroon Raider great Bobby Trombetta, the school’s alltime victory leader who is now wrestling at Bloomsburg University. “That’s the type of kid Robert is,” DiPiano said. “He and Bobby share a good relationship and talk a lot.” Ferinde is the team’s 120-pounder. The younger brother of former Maroon Raider standout Michael, Joe Ferinde has an undefeated record (26-0) thus far and also won the Essex County tourney last week. “I’m not surprised with what Joe has done,” DiPiano said. “I’ve watched him improve. He was third in the Region (4) tourney last year and he’s spent so much time on the mat. He’s all business in the classroom and on the mat. He doesn’t let anything get in the way.” Ferinde is a junior with bright promise. Kenny Pena is a junior at 126 pounds. He’s also very improved, considering that he won only three matches last year and has nine wins this season. Sophomore Darwin Pena, Kenny’s cousin, is the team’s 132-pounder. Darwin has 13 wins this season. Freshman C.J. Haddock is the team’s 138-pounder. It’s a tough weight class for a freshman, but Haddock is hanging tough. “He has a lot of promise,” DiPiano said. “He’s in an extremely tough weight class.” Senior Scuttaro has a 22-4 mark after finishing second at the ECT last weekend. Scuttaro is the team’s 145-pounder. “I expect big things from him,” said DiPiano of Scuttaro, whose brother Vinnie was a Nutley standout wrestler. “Steve is a two-time District (14) champion and is a solid team leader. Hopefully, he’ll get to Atlantic City (for the state championships) this year.” Junior Andrew Aiello is the team’s 152-pounder. Junior Jason Castellanos was solid at 160 pounds, but he just recently broke his hip and is lost for the season. Sophomore Lou Long will move into that slot at 160. Sophomore Gerard D’Allessio has won 10 matches at 170 pounds. Senior Santino Gabriele is a first-year wrestler who is learning more about wrestling. “Santino is a soccer player who knew we had some holes in the lineup, so he came out,” DiPiano said. “He’s holding his own as someone who just came out for wrestling.” Freshman Sabino Coppola is another newcomer with a lot of promise, holding the fort at 195 pounds. Senior Rob Spagnuolo is the team’s 220-pounder who has had some varsity experience, while junior Adam Touah is a first-year wrestler at heavyweight who has won 12 matches as a rookie. Needless to say, DiPiano is hopeful that the Maroon Raiders continue to improve. “I’m definitely encouraged,” DiPiano said. “We have a great group of kids who work hard and understand their roles. We have some new kids who are going to take their lumps a little. But we’re just trying to get better every day. That’s the goal.”

Lyndhurst’s Estevez emerges as go-to scorer

Photo by Jim Hague Lyndhurst junior guard Marc Estevez.

Photo by Jim Hague
Lyndhurst junior guard Marc Estevez.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Marc Estevez looked at it as a perfect opportunity. The Lyndhurst High School junior welcomed a new head basketball coach in Paul Palek, so it meant a brand new start, which is what Estevez was hoping for throughout the offseason.

“I knew with the new coach coming in, there would be a chance to prove myself again,” Estevez said. “I knew he ran a guard-oriented system, so I hoped he would give me a shot to make things happen. Coach Palek said early on that he wasn’t looking for anyone to be the main scorer, so I thought I could get the chance to step up and help the team.”

Coming over from Wayne Hills, where he coached last season, Palek had no idea what kind of a player Estevez was.

“I knew that he played a little last year, but not much more,” Palek said. “I really didn’t have big expectations.”

Estevez saw considerable playing time last season for the Golden Bears, but didn’t have a high scoring average, perhaps scoring six points per game.

But Estevez was ready for the chance.

“To be completely honest, I’ve been a confident kid my whole life,” Estevez said. “I was confident I could make some noise this year.”

However, no one could have anticipated the volume of the noise that Estevez would create.

Estevez has been nothing short of brilliant for the surprising Golden Bears, who own a fine 8-7 record thus far in Palek’s first season. He’s been averaging better than 18 points per game, including some fine performances of late.

He had 23 points in an upset win over Dwight-Englewood last Saturday, including the game-winning shot with eight seconds remaining. Estevez also had 23 in a close loss to Midland Park. He had 17 points, including 10 straight free throws, most of which came in overtime, in a clutch win over Harrison and tossed in 13 in a tough loss to Secaucus.

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

Palek has been impressed with the way Estevez has taken charge of the offense late in close games.

“He’s been able to make the plays down the stretch in some big wins, like Rutherford, Harrison and Dwight- Englewood,” Palek said. “He’s been coming up big in the fourth quarter. What’s most impressive is that everyone knows that we’re going to give him the ball and he still finds a way to score. I wasn’t expecting him to be the go-to scorer like this.”

Estevez didn’t expect it either.

“I guess it’s a little surprising,” Estevez said. “To go from sophomore to junior year like this with such a scoring improvement. I guess I’ve been trying to be more aggressive with the ball, taking the ball to the basket, creating off the dribble. I’ve also been getting some calls and when I get to the free throw line, I make the foul shots.”

Estevez likes having the role of being the Golden Bears’ main scorer.

“Of course, with the game on the line, I want the ball to be in my hands,” Estevez said. “I count on my team getting me the ball. When it comes down to the final minutes, I’m able to grind it out and make plays.”

Estevez said that he spends a lot of time working on his free throw shooting.

“I shoot a lot of free throw shots in practice,” Estevez said. “I’ve done that all my life. I was taught early on that free throws and defense win games. So I do take more free throw shots than anything. I know how to get my points. When the crowd is roaring and the game is on the line, I’m in a zone, knowing I have to make those shots.”

Palek counts on Estevez to make the free throws.

“He’s a very good free throw shooter and he gets to the line quite a bit,” Palek said. “When we need a basket, he’s able to get them.”

Palek believes that Estevez has become more relaxed as the season moves on.

“He’s much more comfortable in the system,” Palek said. “He knows now that he’s going to be our best scorer and we’re going to him. He’s going to get the ball. When we need something, Marc’s going to have the opportunity to do it. He’s expecting it now. He’s grown with the role and become the lead guard we need.”

Palek also believes Estevez is improving.

“He’s been shooting from the perimeter, but he’s getting better driving to the basket first,” Palek said. “He has great body control and balance. And our guys know where we’re going to make a play at the end of a game. We’re getting the ball in his hands. I have confidence in him being able to get us a good shot at the end of games. As long as the ball is in his hands, I know we’re going to get a decent look.”

Palek believes that Estevez has just begun to become a complete player.

“We’re working with him defensively,” Palek said. “We’re working on him being more of a creator. He knows he has to set the other guys up. He’s a great kid. He’s extremely coachable. He wants to be very good. Every conversation we have, he lets me know that he wants to be held accountable. He’s a very good player.”

Estevez hasn’t stopped working on improving his game.

“I’m a one-sport athlete,” Estevez said. “I only play basketball, so I work all year round. I’m in the weight room a lot of the time. I take a fitness class during the season and do light lifting. I’m working on my ball handling and my 3-point shot.”

There’s a reason for the hard work.

“I want to play college basketball,” said Estevez, who has an older brother, Jake, who is on the team. “It’s something I have always wanted to do, something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little boy, so it’s a goal of mine, but that’s down the road a bit. Right now I’m pretty happy with the way I’m playing. I don’t want to get too over confident. I just want to keep it going.”

Estevez said that he enjoys playing with his brother, as well playing for new coach Palek.

“I think it’s awesome that I get the chance to play with Jake,” Estevez said. “It’s the last thing I’ll ever get to do with him. I do like playing for Coach Palek. He’s tough on me, but he wants me to become a better player and a better person in life. I appreciate that.”

Just like the way Palek and the rest of the Golden Bears appreciate the way Marc Estevez is playing these days.

Lyndhurst’s bowling team captures Bergen County championship

 

Photo courtesy of Brianna Balkin The Lyndhurst High School bowling team captured the overall Bergen County championship last weekend at Bowler City in Hackensack. Standing, from l., are Jordan Lopez, Richard Sawires, Mike Dul, Ryan Donohue, Massimo Sarracino, Emily Young and coach Brianna Balkin. Kneeling in front, from l., are Daijon Smith, Michael Hayes and Tyla D’Andrea.

Photo courtesy of Brianna Balkin
The Lyndhurst High School bowling team captured the overall Bergen County championship last weekend at Bowler City in Hackensack. Standing, from l., are Jordan Lopez, Richard Sawires, Mike Dul, Ryan Donohue, Massimo Sarracino, Emily Young and coach Brianna Balkin. Kneeling in front, from l., are Daijon Smith, Michael Hayes and Tyla D’Andrea.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Bowling has always been a part of Brianna Balkin’s life. From her high school days at Nutley, then on to college at Fairleigh Dickinson University and even now in local competitive leagues, Balkin has been a fixture at local bowling alleys.

Since she has had an affinity for the sport, Balkin wanted to find another way to get involved.

“I wanted to coach bowling for a long time,” Balkin said. “But the opportunity to coach doesn’t come up often.”

When Mike Rizzo had to resign his position as the head bowling coach at Lyndhurst High School after taking an administrative job within the Lyndhurst school district, Balkin applied for the spot.

“I saw this and I thought it was perfect,” Balkin said.

You see, Balkin works the same schedule as most teachers. She is a full-time nanny and actually works for some teachers.

“They come home after school and this allowed me to go to the school to coach when they came home,” Balkin said. “It was perfect.”

Balkin also already knew some of the Lyndhurst bowlers from the time she’s spent competing in local leagues.

“Some of their parents bowl in the same leagues that I play in,” Balkin said. “I actually went to watch Lyndhurst bowl last year.”

The 26-year-old Balkin knew that she was inheriting a solid program, developed over the years by former coach Rizzo. The Golden Bears won three NJSIAA state sectional championships over the last four years of Rizzo’s regime, so the cupboard wasn’t exactly bereft of talent.

“I knew that they were a good group of kids,” Balkin said. “I got lucky in that aspect.”

But Balkin never anticipated what has transpired since she took over as head coach in November.

“They’ve exceeded any expectations I might have had,” Balkin said. “I knew they were good, but I didn’t expect them to be this good.”

The Golden Bears have enjoyed an undefeated season in regular North Jersey Interscholastic Conference action, taking all 11 of their dual matches thus far.

However, the Golden Bears reached the pinnacle last weekend at Bowler City in Hackensack, when they captured the school’s first Bergen County Tournament championship in almost 40 years.

Not only did the Golden Bears win the county championship, but they broke the county record for pins in a game in the process.

“I knew that if the kids bowled like the way they had been recently, we had a good chance to win our group (Group I),” Balkin said. “I knew that Westwood and Indian Hills would be our toughest competition for the overall county championship, but I was really focused on winning our group. It was an added bonus winning the whole thing. I didn’t even know we had a chance for the county record and we were able to beat it by nine (pins). I don’t think the kids even realized what they were doing. It was pretty amazing.”

Four of the Golden Bears finished the tournament among the top 20 in the county. That in itself is an astounding accomplishment.

Balkin said that senior Mike Dul was the most impressive bowler in the tournament. Dul entered the tourney with a solid 189 average, but topped his own average by bowling to a 211 mark.

“He had the day of his life,” Balkin said. “The other kids called Mike the MVP (Most Valuable Player) of the tournament. He finished 11th overall. He was steady in the first spot and the others rallied around him. He was a huge catalyst as our lead-off bowler. I was happy for him that he bowled so well.”

Junior Jordan Lopez, who was the individual county champion a year ago, rolling a perfect game of 300 in the tourney, placed fifth this year.

“I think he was more concerned with winning for the team,” Balkin said of Lopez, who bowls unconventionally with two hands instead of one. “He didn’t make a big deal of winning last year. He just needed to be himself and not caught up in the moment.”

Junior Daijon Smith is a transfer to the program, coming from American History High in Newark. But he’s been an incredible addition, bowling this season to a 227 average. Smith is also a twohanded bowler, so it’s almost unbelievable to have two on the same team.

“He’s probably one of the best spare shooters I’ve ever seen,” Balkin said. “He’s very good and consistent in making his spares. I knew he was good, but until I saw him start bowling with us in competition, I didn’t realize how good. He changed the dynamics of the whole team.”

There’s also no need for worry about any animosity between Lopez and Smith.

Photo courtesy of Brianna Balkin The Lyndhurst bowling team celebrates after breaking the Bergen County record for pins in a game en route to winning the first county title for the school in more than 40 years. In back row, from l, are Emily Young, Michael Hayes, Mike Dul, Massimo Sarracino and Jordan Lopez. In front are Daijon Smith and Ryan Donohue.

Photo courtesy of Brianna Balkin
The Lyndhurst bowling team celebrates after breaking the Bergen County record for pins in a game en route to winning the first county title for the school in more than 40 years. In back row, from l, are Emily Young, Michael Hayes, Mike Dul, Massimo Sarracino and Jordan Lopez. In front are Daijon Smith and Ryan Donohue.

 

“They’re like best friends,” Balkin said. “The competition between the two of them is fun.”

Smith finished seventh overall at the Bergen County tourney.

Freshman Ryan Donohue has also been a godsend, coming onto the scene and adding instant credibility. Donohue, who rolled a perfect 300 game earlier this season, earning Observer Athlete of the Week honors, has close to 210 on an average, giving the Golden Bears three bowlers with averages of 210 and higher. Most high school teams are fortunate to have one with such a lofty average.

“Because we have other good bowlers, Ryan hasn’t had a lot of pressure on him,” Balkin said. “He knows he can bowl well on the high school level and has done well.”

Donohue finished 20th overall at the Bergen County tourney, cementing the Golden Bears’ status as the county’s best.

Junior Emily Young is in the Golden Bears’ main rotation. Lyndhurst has had other girls compete with the boys in the past, most notably, Lexus Lopez, who is currently bowling on a scholarship at FDU.

Young carries an average of 190 to the alley for every match.

“I don’t think it fazes her that she’s the only girl,” Balkin said. “She just wants to bowl. She never cares about anything else. She’s been used to being the only girl. She just goes out there and bowls.”

Next week, Young will get the chance to compete with strictly the girls at the state sectionals. Young is currently ranked No. 3 among girl bowlers in Bergen County.

Junior Michael Hayes and senior Massimo Sarracino are others who get the chance to bowl occasionally with the top varsity bowlers.

“It’s kind of unfortunate, because they would be starters on other teams,” Balkin said. “They understand their roles and are ready when they’re called upon to come off the bench.”

Needless to say, Balkin has been enjoying life, leading the Golden Bears to a county title in just her first two months on the job.

“This has definitely been a lot of fun,” Balkin said. “I came into a good situation and I didn’t want to mess things up. They’re a good group of kids who all want the others on their team to do well. They definitely have more fun than what I ever did bowling in high school.”

The Golden Bears are currently ranked fourth in the entire state. No Group distinction. This is top four in the entire state. That fact is also astounding.

“It’s definitely better than changing diapers, that’s for sure,” Balkin laughed.

If the Golden Bears continue their success through the upcoming NJSIAA state sectionals, then that would definitely make Balkin’s rookie campaign as head coach even more memorable.

NA’s Vikings remain undefeated under Corsetto’s watch

Photos by Jim Hague LEFT: Senior point guard Thai Scott has been a steady ball handler for the undefeated Vikings of North Arlington. RIGHT: Senior power forward Nick Martin is averaging double figures in points and rebounds for the undefeated 11-0 Vikings of North Arlington.

Photos by Jim Hague
LEFT: Senior point guard Thai Scott has been a steady ball handler for the undefeated Vikings of North Arlington. RIGHT: Senior power forward Nick Martin is averaging double figures in points and rebounds for the undefeated 11-0 Vikings of North Arlington.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Rich Corsetto had been away from coaching basketball for three years and it had been even longer since he coached on the high school level.

In a basketball sojourn that has spanned four decades, Corsetto has obviously seen a lot and experienced a lot more.

But there’s nothing that could have prepared basketball lifer Corsetto for the thrill ride he’s been on since taking over the boys’ head coaching position at North Arlington High School.

The Vikings are the toast of the town these days, owning a remarkable and almost unbelievable 11-0 record.

That’s right, North Arlington is undefeated and winners of 11 straight, both home and away, in the rough-and-tumble world of NJIC and Group I basketball.

“If you would have told me, or anyone would have told me, that we would start out 11-0, I would have said you were crazy,” Corsetto said. “I expected this team to be successful and having a winning record. But to be 11-0? There’s no way.”

Corsetto credits his hard-working group of kids, who haven’t exactly enjoyed winning over the last few years.

“I took the job in July and it only took me a couple of days to realize that these kids had it in their hearts,” Corsetto said. “They were diving after loose balls and crashing into walls during workouts. They had a lot of pride in themselves.”

Corsetto said that putting the team in the Bloomfield fall league was also beneficial.

“They went 6-2 in that league and that helped them get together and jell a little as a team,” said Corsetto, who was the long-time head coach at Hudson County Community College, then Passaic County Community. “That league helped them bind together and when the season started, they just picked it up right from there. They went into the season feeling good about themselves.”

Corsetto said that he can’t put a finger on one reason why the Vikings have been so successful thus far.

“I don’t know exactly what happened, but they were excited about this season right away,” Corsetto said. “We were only able to get three scrimmages before the season, but once the season started, they were ready.”

Corsetto said that early season wins against Group IV programs such as Belleville and Kearny helped to boost team confidence.

“I don’t care what their records are,” Corsetto said of Belleville and Kearny. “They’re still Group IV schools. Group I schools aren’t supposed to beat Group IV schools. But we’ve also beat everyone in our group as well. People are surprised and stunned at what we’re doing. It’s a credit to the kids. These kids are just not going let anyone beat them. They feel right now that no one can beat them.”

In the early going, the Vikings were playing at an up tempo, fast break oriented pace that worked to their advantage. So opponents are now trying to milk the clock and take the Vikings out of their familiar element.

Becton Regional tried that approach Friday night, but the Vikings still prevailed, winning 44-34.

“They held the ball for like two full minutes,” Corsetto said. “But that didn’t faze our kids. I was a little concerned with the pace, but it didn’t matter. They’re just a very confident group right now. Nothing is bothering them.”

Senior Thai Scott, who missed almost all of last season due to injury, has been the Vikings’ floor general at point guard.

“Right now, Thai is doing a great job,” Corsetto said. “All he has to do is run the team and score a little. He’s doing that and more.”

Senior Nick Martin is the team’s power forward. The diverse Martin, who is also a football and baseball standout, is averaging double figures in points and rebounds.

“He’s the backbone of the team,” Corsetto said of Martin. “He is a fabulous kid, a smart player who is very easy to coach. He would go through the wall for you. I’ve been coaching for more than 40 years and he’s the nicest kid I’ve ever coached.”

Sophomore Kevin Cerqueira has moved up to the varsity level with ease.

“He’s been our best defensive player and plays hard every game,” Corsetto said. “He has fit in well.”

Sophomore Edgar Carrenza has also been a pleasant addition.

“He’s our best free throw shooter,” Corsetto said. “He also handles the ball well and helps to break the press. He’s been a pleasant surprise.” Junior Jose Checo has been the Vikings’ inside presence.

“He has improved a lot and has really worked on being a better rebounder for us,” Corsetto said. “He’s scoring some more lately and most importantly, he’s been blocking some shots. He’s getting more aggressive every game.”

Senior Mike Brazzel is the team’s most important player off the bench.

“I think he’s the best sixth man in Bergen County,” Corsetto said. “He gives us nothing but energy. We were struggling a little against Becton and I put Brazzel into the game and the team’s energy went through the roof. He always brings that great energy.”

The Vikings have also been bolstered by the play of reserve sophomores Steven Velez and Jose Morales, as well as junior Jonathan Hurley.

The Vikings continue their remarkable run with games this week against Hawthorne and a huge NJIC tilt against St. Mary’s of Rutherford, a game that could very well decide a league championship by the end of February.

Incredibly, the Vikings have only three seniors on the roster, so this is a transformation of a young team.

“We’re still a very young team, but the kids are picking things up well,” Corsetto said. “I see nothing but good things ahead in the future.”

Corsetto also credits the diligence of dedicated assistant coach Dominic Bellifemine, who has also added energy to the program.

“He’s done a great job with the kids, getting them ready,” Corsetto said.

But to a record of 11-0? Is that record for real? Or is it a figment of someone’s creative imagination? Even Corsetto can’t believe it.

“I have never seen anything like it,” Corsetto said. “I’ve never stepped into something like this before. It’s a credit to the kids. They’ve worked so hard for this. They deserve it. Sure, it’s surprising to me. It’s surprising to everyone. But the kids believe in themselves. Now hopefully, we can keep this going.”

It certainly has been the talk of the local high school basketball season. Maybe everyone should believe in North Arlington now, because after 11 straight wins, the Vikings are for real. And the players certainly believe that for sure.

Nutley’s Kunz proves he’s a threat on hardwood like the diamond

Photo by Jim Hague Nutley senior forward Austin Kunz

Photo by Jim Hague
Nutley senior forward Austin Kunz

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

If you ask Austin Kunz what sport he’s more proficient at, the Nutley High School senior wouldn’t hesitate to answer.

“I like baseball better,” Kunz said. “I think I’m better at it.”

Kunz has been the starting catcher on the Nutley baseball team since he was a freshman. He’s earned a reputation as a slick fielding defensive catcher with a lot of power in his bat. In fact, Kunz is almost certain that he will attend Alvernia College in Pennsylvania in the fall to play baseball.

“He’s a baseball player who just plays basketball,” said Bob Harbison, who happens to be Kunz’s head coach in both sports.

However, Kunz is making his mark this winter as a solid basketball player.

Earlier this season, Kunz scored 31 points in a game against Newark West Side. The 6-foot-3 Kunz earned his spot in the starting lineup this season.

“He works well with what he can do on the floor,” Harbison said. “He has great hands and has a quick release. He is very strong inside and does well down low. He either makes the shot or gets fouled and he’s a very good free throw shooter. He sets a lot of screens, then gets the ball back to make that foul line jumper, but he can also hit the three (point shot).”

Last week, it looked as if Kunz was going to miss some time on the hardwood, because he suffered a sprained ankle.

“He was hobbling around on the bad ankle,” Harbison said.

But Kunz said nothing was going to stop him last Friday night, when the Maroon Raiders faced neighboring rival Belleville.

“I told my teammates that I wanted to score 40,” Kunz said.

However, that bold pregame prediction didn’t look too promising during the warm-ups right prior to the start of the game.

“I was terrible during warm-ups,” Kunz said. “I couldn’t make a shot. I didn’t think I’d have a good game.”

But when the game started, things changed remarkably.

“I made my first couple of shots and I began to feel it,” Kunz said. “It’s the greatest feeling when you know you can’t miss. My teammates just kept giving me the ball. They had so much faith in me and I couldn’t let them down. My teammates just kept getting me the ball.”

“He just was expecting the ball to go in when he was shooting it,” Harbison said.

When the final buzzer sounded, Kunz ended up with a career-high 33 points and the Maroon Raiders earned a 73-56 victory over their archrivals.

“It’s always great to beat Belleville and it’s great to know that I had 33 against them,” Kunz said.

Kunz also had 17 points in a tough 49-41 loss to East Orange in the opening round of the Essex County Tournament Saturday, so in the span of less than 24 hours, Kunz tallied 50 points.

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

A very confident Kunz was not shocked at all by his offensive explosion.

“I’m not really surprised at all,” Kunz said. “I’ve always thought that I was pretty good in both sports. I knew I was going to start this year, so I had to play good to earn my starting role.”

Kunz said that he didn’t play much basketball in the off-season to get ready.

“I didn’t play basketball at all until the tryouts,” Kunz said. “I played two games in the fall league and the tryouts and that was it.”

“He just gets the most of what he is,” Harbison said. “He finds himself in good places on the floor to score. Austin has great hands, so he catches everything thrown to him. I don’t know if his baseball skills help there. He scores the quietest 30 points you’ll ever see. When he had the 31 against (Newark) West Side, I said, ‘Really, he had that much?’ Now he gets 33. I think he’s getting a little more satisfied with the way he’s been playing, so that helps.”

However, Harbison is a little surprised with the outburst.

“I would have to say that the numbers he’s been putting up are shocking,” Harbison said. “But if you watch the games and see what he does, then it’s not shocking. It’s at the point now where you’re expecting the ball to go in when he shoots it.”

Harbison likes Kunz’s dedication in both sports.

“He’s a very competitive kid who is very committed to winning,” Harbison said. “He wants to win more than anything. He gets the most of what he is as an athlete.”

Harbison likes coaching Kunz in both sports.

“I think it makes it a lot easier, because you know where he is and you can expect him to be there every day,” Harbison said.

Kunz thinks that his basketball success will also pay off on the diamond come spring.

“I think playing basketball gets me in better shape to play baseball,” Kunz said. “It helps with my foot work behind the plate. Since I’m doing well, it definitely helps with my confidence a lot. I never scored 33 points in a game in my life, so this was the greatest feeling.”

And there was an added bonus.

“And beating Belleville was the best,” Kunz said. “I was really looking forward to the game and I’m glad we won.”

Just wait until the two teams meet up during the baseball season. That also should be fun to watch. Guaranteed that Austin Kunz will be more than ready then as well.

Lyndhurst/North Arlington wrestling program making strides with 7 sophomores

Photo by Jim Hague Lyndhurst/North Arlington senior 138-pounder Joey Morreale might be face first into the mat here Friday night at North Arlington, but the talented Morreale recovered to win via a pin over opponent David Lopez of Leonia/Palisades Park in 3:47. Lyndhurst/North Arlington won the rare match at North Arlington, 46-27.

Photo by Jim Hague
Lyndhurst/North Arlington senior 138-pounder Joey Morreale might be face first into the mat here Friday night at North Arlington, but the talented Morreale recovered to win via a pin over opponent David Lopez of Leonia/Palisades Park in 3:47. Lyndhurst/North Arlington won the rare match at North Arlington, 46-27.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Mike Goff is in his second year coaching the Lyndhurst/North Arlington wrestling cooperative program and the young coach is finding things easier to come by during his second go-round.

“It’s definitely a lot easier,” said the 26-year-old Goff. “The kids know me and know how my program works. We were able to step up the tempo this year and progress a lot faster. We’re able to do things differently in practices. They understand my lingo.”

When Goff took over the program last year, he mentioned the understanding of the “lingo,” like he spoke a different language than most wrestling coaches. He wasn’t kidding.

“They understand what I say and what it means,” Goff said.

For example, Goff uses a term called a “sit pop,” which was foreign even to the most knowledgeable of wrestling folk. It’s like a combination of a “sit out” and a “pop-up,” two terms more readily recognizable.

“I think the kids have picked up on my terms,” Goff said. “Like sit pop.”

Not only is the head coach of the program, which combines students from both Lyndhurst and North Arlington, younger than most coaches, the team is comprised of seven sophomores, almost unheard of in a sport where experience reigns supreme.

“Half the lineup is made up of sophomores,” Goff said. “I think they all have a lot more confidence this year than they had last year and I have a lot more confidence in them. I think the year of experience has helped. I think it’s good to have a young team. They’ve had the time to progress and by the time they are seniors, they will have something to show for their hard work.”

The team is already showing major signs of improvement. Lyndhurst/North Arlington owns a 3-2 record in dual meets, after defeating Leonia/ Palisades Park, another cooperative program, 46-27, last Friday night.

The match was held at North Arlington High School, the first time that North Arlington hosted a home wrestling match in more than five years. It was held at North Arlington with the hope that it would draw some interest to the sport and encourage more North Arlington students to get involved in wrestling.

The wrestling mats were transported from Lyndhurst High to North Arlington for the match. A solid crowd attended. It was a great step for the future of the program.

Goff, whose team also defeated Secaucus last week, said that he is pleased with the way his team has responded this season.

“They’ve shown a lot improvement and progression from last year to this year,” Goff said. “I think they’re all a lot more comfortable. I think we have a well-conditioned team and that has helped. We have a lot more kids out and we basically have everyone back from last year.”

Leading the returnees is senior 138-pounder Joey Morreale, who has been a veteran of the Lyndhurst Recreation wrestling program since he was a toddler. Morreale already has 12 wins this season and he’s well on his way to having a spectacular senior campaign.

“I’m counting on him to go pretty far this year,” Goff said of Morreale, who won via a pin over David Lopez in 3:47 Friday night. “I really think he can qualify for the states (in Atlantic City in March). He’s sound on his feet and knows how to ride an opponent. He’s our top wrestler.”

Morreale is also a standout in the pole vault during the spring track season.

Another top returnee is junior 220-pounder Lou LaRegina, who went to the Region 2 tournament a year ago.

“I have high hopes for him,” Goff said of LaRegina, who won via a pin in just 1:05 Friday night.

Sophomore Corey Leclerc is a fixture at 112 pounds. Leclerc already has 10 wins this season.

“He’s been doing pretty well,” Goff said. “I’m definitely counting on him to be a fighter for us. I can count on him to get points to help us. He’s a sound wrestler and he’s very technical.”

Senior Frank Mezzina is the team’s 160-pounder. Mezzina, a standout on the Lyndhurst football team, is one of the strongest wrestlers around. He’s won six matches, including one via pin Friday night.

“He came into the season in excellent shape,” Goff said.

The team is bolstered by the efforts of the Yunis brothers, namely freshman 103-pounder Conor Yunis and 120-pounder Devin.

“Devin Yunis is one of the most improved wrestlers we have,” Goff said. “He’s a lot smarter now and doesn’t give up easy take downs. Conor has been wrestling up a little, taking on guys who are bigger than him. But I definitely like his heart. He has a lot of promise.”

Conor Yunis won via a pin Friday, while Devin earned a win via forfeit.

The middle of the lineup features two wrestlers who are students at North Arlington in sophomore 126-pounder Luis Arzuaga and sophomore 132-pounder Andrew Fernandez.

“I like the way Luis is progressing,” Goff said. “He’s just starting to get it. Andrew is a solid wrestler who can get points when we need them.”

Fernandez won via a majority 18-8 decision Friday night to improve to 8-5 on the young season.

Shayne Cosme is the team’s 145-pounder. Like most of the team, Cosme is a sophomore.

At 152, Miraldo Mora is a freshman who is just learning the sport for the first time. Goff likes the promise of both kids.

Junior Rocco Russamano was slated to be the team’s 171-pounder, but broke his foot in the preseason and is just about ready to return to action.

Photo by Jim Hague Lyndhurst/North Arlington sophomore Andrew Fernandez (bottom) got the chance to compete in his home gym Friday night, as the North Arlington student won his match against Patrick Yun of Leonia/Palisades Park, 18-8, helping Lyndhurst/North Arlington win the match, 46-27. It was the first match at North Arlington in five years

Photo by Jim Hague
Lyndhurst/North Arlington sophomore Andrew Fernandez (bottom) got the
chance to compete in his home gym Friday night, as the North Arlington student won his match against Patrick Yun of Leonia/Palisades Park, 18-8, helping Lyndhurst/North Arlington win the match, 46-27. It was the first match at North Arlington in five years

 

“He’s a hard worker who will fit into the lineup nicely,” Goff said.

Sophomore Matt DeMarco is the team’s fixture at 182 pounds. DeMarco comes from a long line of wrestlers in his family.

“He has a good background in the sport and has a lot of potential,” Goff said.

Sophomore Michael Cooper is holding forth at 195 pounds. Cooper is another first-year wrestler who is replacing the injured Shane Reed, a junior.

The heavyweight is senior Albert Faiti, another firstyear wrestler.

“He has a lot of pure strength,” Goff said of Faiti. “His muscle helps him.”

So the young coach with the young team provides a ton of promise for a program that brings two neighboring rivals together for one solid cause.

“We were a little injuryprone, but we’re coming around,” Goff said. “Once we get everyone back, I think we have a chance to be a pretty good team.”

One that will make some noise by the end of the season – and then the years to come.