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NA girls: Trying to get through injuries

Photo by Jim Hague Senior guard Bri Cunanan was going to be the leader of the North Arlington girls’ basketball team, but she suffered a knee injury that will send her to the sidelines for the next three weeks.

Photo by Jim Hague
Senior guard Bri Cunanan was going to be the leader of the North Arlington girls’ basketball team, but she suffered a knee injury that will send her to the sidelines for the next three weeks.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Karen Smith had high hopes for her North Arlington girls’ basketball team this season. Even though the Vikings were going to be very young, Smith figured her squad could be competitive.

Then, disaster struck in the form of some crippling injuries.

First, sophomore Samantha Veloso suffered an ankle injury that kept her on the sidelines.

Then, senior guard Bri Cunanan went down with a knee injury. Cunanan’s injury especially hurt, because she was the team’s leading scorer and ball handler. At the time of her injury, Cunanan was averaging a little more than 10 points per game.

“They were two key players,” Smith said. “It’s a little difficult. But we’re obviously optimistic because other players are going to get playing time. The younger kids are getting a chance to play. Others have to step up.”

Veloso’s timetable for a return is up in the air. Cunanan’s injury will apparently take three weeks to recover from.

So it’s time for others to shine.

Senior Cara Dlugo is one of the key performers who will have to pick up the slack. The 5-foot-7 Dlugo is someone who had been playing both small forward and power forward, but will need to include some ball handling in the absence of Cunanan.

“She’s a very good athlete,” Smith said of Dlugo. “She’s really the heart of the team. She hustles all the time. She’s our leading rebounder. We need her to score more now. I think she can do that.”

Dlugo is averaging eight points and 10 rebounds per game.

Junior center Amanda Chiamese is another key contributor. The 5-foot- 9 Chiamese is a force down low.

“She’s extremely aggressive under the basket, but she also has a nice little jump shot,” Smith said. “She’s also a good hustle player. She’s been playing pretty well.”

Junior Taylor Barth has also enjoyed some success in the past. The 5-foot-4 Barth is one of the best shooters around.

“She can shoot the lights out,” Smith said. “She now needs to handle the ball more with Bri out. I think she can handle the ball. She just needs to be confident.”

Sophomore Denaijah Gainza is another guard. The 5-foot-4 Gainza has been the backup point guard to Cunanan. “She has a nice little shot,” Smith said. “She can handle the ball and take the ball to the basket.”

Gainza had 13 points in a recent win over Lyndhurst and eight versus neighboring rival Queen of Peace.

Sophomore Marissa Piscal is a 5-foot-7 forward.

“She can be a dominant force,” Smith said of Piscal. “She’s very strong and is a great rebounder. She’s a good softball player and joined us for the first time. We’re really excited to have her with us.”

Victoria Namnama is a 5-foot-3 sophomore guard.

“She handles the ball pretty well,” Smith said. “She’s the starting point guard on our JV [junior varsity] and plays off the bench for us. She’s going to play more now.”

Freshman Danica Krawczyk is a 5-foot-7 guard/ forward.

“She can shoot the ball well, but she’s also physical,” Smith said. “That’s a good combination and a good problem to have.”

Senior Tanna Avella is a 5-foot-6 guard who is playing varsity basketball for the first time.

“She’s probably one of the fastest players we have and our best defenders,” Smith said. “She comes off the bench, but defends against the other team’s top player. That’s her role.”

Sophomore Mariah Moreno is a 5-foot-3 guard. Theresa D’Errico is also a 5-foot-3 guard.

The Vikings have not enjoyed a ton of success thus far.

“We’ve been struggling,” Smith said. “We’ve hit a few bumps in the road. But I can see this team turning around. We’re going to see the teams in our league the second time and I think that things will change. We’re showing improvement. We’re starting to play better.”

Smith likes the fact that there are so many young kids involved in her program.

“I’m excited to see what the younger kids can bring to the table,” Smith said. “I like the way our program is headed. It’s headed in the right direction. We have 15 freshmen involved in our program. The numbers look good.”

Now if Smith could only get her injured players back.

Golden Griffins look to improve with veteran team

1-15 QP_web

Top photo by Jim Hague, bottom courtesy Robert Rodriguez The Queen of Peace girls’ basketball team has been bolstered by the play of their seniors. TOP, from l., are Nikki Sammartino, Raychel Piserchia, Maria Ruiz and Lia Rodriguez. BOTTOM: Senior Lia Rodriguez controls the ball in a recent Queen of Peace girls’ basketball game against rival North Arlington.

Top photo by Jim Hague, bottom courtesy Robert Rodriguez
The Queen of Peace girls’ basketball team has been bolstered by the play of their seniors. TOP, from l., are Nikki Sammartino, Raychel Piserchia, Maria Ruiz and Lia Rodriguez. BOTTOM: Senior Lia Rodriguez controls the ball in a recent Queen of Peace girls’ basketball game against rival North Arlington.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

As the Lyndhurst recreation coordinator, Paul Passamano has been involved with the coaching of youngsters for more than 30 years.

“It started with my daughter and I just kept going,” said Passamano, who remains active with the development of kids in Lyndhurst.

However, last year, Passamano took over a new challenge, when he became the head girls’ basketball coach at nearby Queen of Peace.

“I wanted to coach high school girls’ basketball all my life,” Passamano said. “I played at Bergen Tech and in the Navy. I love coaching.

It was my passion when I started coaching.” Sure, there were mixed feelings the first time QP faced Lyndhurst last year.

“We were playing against girls I coached,” Passamano said. “They were my heart and soul. But things are different now. Everyone understands that this is my team and I love coaching the girls at Queen of Peace. I was fortunate to get the chance.”

The Golden Griffins own a 3-3 record thus far in the early going of the season.

“I would have liked to have a better record,” Passamano said. “We’ve had a tough early schedule. But I think we should have a good team.”

In fact, Passamano believes that the Golden Griffins will be vastly improved on last year’s 7-15 mark.

“I think we should have double figures in wins,” Passamano said. “We’re trying to reverse last year’s record.”

Passamano said that he has instructed his players to not look at the scoreboard.

“They don’t look at the scoreboard,” Passamano said. “They just play hard, hard and hard. We’re a running team. We play hard and don’t give up. We have a good bunch of kids. We have a good bench that works the starting team hard in practice. They’re there every day in practice with no complaints.”

Passamano said that his team utilizes a variety of defenses.

“We do it all,” Passamano said. “We play zone, press, man-to-man. We mix it up to try to confuse the opposing team.”

Leading the team is senior Nikki Sammartino. The 5-10 forward is a hard worker under the basket.

“She’s a tough kid,” Passamano said. “She has the heart for the game. She is aggressive around the basket.”

Sammartino is averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds per game this season and is approaching 1,000 points for her career.

“We have to get the ball to her,” Passamano said.

Another solid contributor is senior forward Lia Rodriguez, who is one of the best all-around athletes in the area. Rodriguez, a standout soccer goalie in the fall and a track athlete in the spring, is averaging 13 points per game.

“She can really jump,” Passamano said of the 5-foot-9 Rodriguez. “She’s very athletic. I can put her up against someone 6-foot-2 and she’s going to get the ball. She’s also a pleasure to coach. She’s quiet, pleasant and says nothing. She’s just a great kid and a great kid coach.”

Passamano said that he interchanges Allison Gaudenzi and Chelsea Kaszka at the other forward slot.

“They flip-flop,” Passamano said. “It depends on the team we’re facing. Allison can put up the three (pointer). We mix it up.”

The Golden Griffins also have the Mastrofilippo twins, namely juniors Michele and Michaila, to operate in the backcourt.

“They’re coming into their own,” Passamano said of the Mastrofilippo twins. “We need them to shoot a little more, like 15 times a game. We’re working on that. But they’re very quick and athletic. They’re good players who understand the game.”

Junior Jamie Nemeth is another solid contributor.

“Jamie is our speed demon,” Passamano said. “She can run and jump. She just needs to understand the game more. Once she does, she can be a real threat.”

Senior Raychel Piserchia is a solid forward, while senior Maria Ruiz is a guard off the bench. Junior Tianna Peluso is a power forward who “goes after rebounds hard,” according to Passamano.

Junior Clara Marie Talban is a reserve forward and junior Devisha Khan is a new player, still learning the ins and outs of basketball.

Passamano is encouraged about the contributions of three freshmen, namely guards Kelly Lennon and Kaylee Ameri and center/forward Jane Amadeo.

“They wanted to be part of the team,” Passamano said. “They wanted to stay with us and train every day. They’re getting better and never complain. They’re going to help us down the road.”

As for now, Passamano is content with the Golden Griffins, taking full advantage of the opportunity he craved for a lifetime.

“I love coaching these girls,” Passamano said. “I love the team. I love the school. I love the people in the school. I think we’re going to show improvement this year. We’ll see how well we hold up over the next few weeks.”

Belleville girls’ basketball team has higher hopes

Photo by Jim Hague The Belleville girls’ basketball team looks to improve on its 10-win season a year ago. From l. are seniors Shatia Silas, Alisson Samaniego, head coach Liz Ramirez, Amber Bulna and Chloe Mecka.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Belleville girls’ basketball team looks to improve on its 10-win season a year ago. From l. are seniors Shatia Silas, Alisson Samaniego, head coach Liz Ramirez, Amber Bulna and Chloe Mecka.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Belleville High School girls’ basketball team won 10 games a year ago. Liz Ramirez, the third-year head coach of the Buccaneers, truly believes that her team should take a step up this season.

“We have a lot of seniors back from last year,” Ramirez said. “The core of the team is back. The girls know the deal. They’re familiar with what we want. We should hit the ground running.”

The Bucs have started the 2013-14 season with a 2-2 record.

“We lost two games (Science Park and Glen Ridge) that we should have won,” Ramirez said. “We’re still growing and trying to get into the swing of things.”

Ramirez said that she wished the schedule was kinder in the early going. Playing only four games over the first three weeks of the season isn’t easy.

“I would have liked to have faced more competition at this point,” Ramirez said. “It’s just the way the schedule worked out. We’re going to see a lot more games in January and February.”

One of the top returning players is junior point guard Arianna Douglas, who averaged nearly 14 points per game last year, earning All-Super Essex Conference honors.

“She’s improved a lot in the offseason,” Ramirez said of the 5-foot-3 Douglas. “I’ve definitely put a lot more on her shoulders this year.”

Another key returnee is senior center Shatia Silas. The 6-foot-1 Silas, another All-SEC honoree last year, averaged 11 rebounds per game last year. Silas has played in only one game thus far – and had 20 points and 10 rebounds in that game.

Photo by Jim Hague Belleville junior point guard Arianna Douglas is one of the top returning players in the Super Essex Conference.

Photo by Jim Hague
Belleville junior point guard Arianna Douglas is one of the top returning players in the Super Essex Conference.

“It was good for our guards to step up and learn that they could play without Shatia,” Ramirez said. “We learned that if we don’t have one of our key players, the others have to step up.”

The Samaniego sisters are also key contributors, namely senior Alisson and junior Samantha.

Alisson is a 5-foot-3 guard, while Samantha stands 5-foot-1. “Alisson is all over the place,” Ramirez said. “She gets points, rebounds. She gets something in almost every statistical category. She gives us an all-around look. Samantha is a good shooter who has developed her shot even more. She’s already made a few from 3-point range.”

Senior John’Nae Williams is a 5-foot-10 inside presence.

“She has crazy leaping ability for a girl,” Ramirez said. “She’s our shot blocker. She is a natural at blocking shots.”

Senior guard Amber Bulna is a 5-foot-5 sharpshooter.

“She’s our best technical shooter,” Ramirez said. “She has the best technique. When she’s on the floor, then she’s behind the 3-point line, because she can make those shots. We have to find her if she’s on the floor. She has a lot more confidence in that 3-point shot.”

Ramirez is ecstatic about the prospects of two freshmen who are seeing action right away.

Gianna Benacquista is a 6-foot forward. She comes from a long family lineage of talented female athletes in her family.

“She really has come a long way,” Ramirez said. “She’s getting a lot more playing time than I first envisioned. I can’t ask for a more dedicated player.”

Benacquista is averaging seven points and eight rebounds per game thus far.

The second freshman is guard Giselle Luna. The 5-foot-1 Luna has impressed Ramirez with her hustle.

“She’s an excellent defender,” Ramirez said. “She’s definitely our fastest player. She’s one of the quickest kids I’ve ever seen. I’m a defensive-minded coach, so I like defensive players. She’s proven she can give people problems with her defense.”

The Buccaneers continue their season this week against Christ the King of Newark and then a local rivalry is renewed Friday afternoon, when neighboring rival Nutley comes calling at Belleville at 4 p.m.

“It’s a good rivalry that we have with Nutley,” Ramirez said. “It’s good that we’re going to get a chance to play against a top team.”

And if Silas is able to play, it should be a fine battle between Silas and Nutley’s fine inside player Blair Watson. Where else can you see two talented players over 6 feet tall going head-to-head against each other?

Ramirez knows that her team still has to accomplish a lot.

“I would like us to be more patient on the offensive end,” Ramirez said. “I think that comes with time and experience.”

Ramirez believes that her team has a chance to capture the Super Essex Conference- Freedom Division crown.

“I really think we have a shot at the division title,” Ramirez said. “Our goals are to make the states, have a better than .500 record and win the division. I believe we can do all three.”

The opportunity certainly is there.

Kearny wrestling: Trying to instill pride

Photo by Jim Hague The Kearny High School wrestling team is experiencing some growing pains. Front row, from l., are James Hodnet, Wilker Villacorta and Luis Cornejo. Back row, from l., are head coach Tony Carratura, Giovanni Diaz, Johann Holguin, assistant coach Brian McDonnell and assistant coach Rich Stacey.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Kearny High School wrestling team is experiencing some growing pains. Front row, from l., are James Hodnet, Wilker Villacorta and Luis Cornejo. Back row, from l., are head coach Tony Carratura, Giovanni Diaz, Johann Holguin, assistant coach Brian McDonnell and assistant coach Rich Stacey.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

For 14 years now, as the head coach, Tony Carratura has dedicated his entire life to the Kearny High School wrestling program. Take that one step better, Carratura lives for the sport of wrestling in Kearny. It doesn’t stop with just the Kardinals’ varsity program.

“I want the kids to love the sport as much as I do,” Carratura said. However, it’s not easy. Participation numbers are way down. Not just in Kearny, but all over New Jersey.

“The numbers the last few years have gone down,” Carratura admits. “It’s an uphill battle. We’re starting from scratch again.” That’s why Carratura has enlisted the help of his son, Tony Jr., a counselor at Lincoln School, to help with the seventh and eighth grade programs.

“I think we have an excellent area for wrestling,” Carratura said. “This is just a start.” So having an inexperienced varsity team is something Carratura is not accustomed to.

“It makes you a better coach,” Carratura said. “I’ve been plucking kids out of the hallways and the weight room and trying to turn them into wrestlers. The majority of our team has only two years of experience. We have only four seniors. We’re up against a lot of obstacles. We’re trying to build up the program again.”

It doesn’t mean that Carratura is taking his team this season and hiding in a corner somewhere. Carratura firmly believes that inexperienced wrestlers become better wrestlers when they compete. And Carratura certainly lets the Kardinals compete, taking them on a grappling sojourn all over the state, match after grueling match.

For the last several years, Carratura has booked some of the top wrestling teams in the state – and this year is no exception, even with the inexperience and the lack of quality numbers.

“We’re still going to go after it,” Carratura said. “We want to stay as competitive as we’ve always been. It’s hard to do with the numbers, but we have about 25 kids who are there every day, busting their tail to get better. It’s a dedication sport and you have to be dedicated in order to do it well. We all have to work together to bring all of our sports programs back at Kearny, not just wrestling.”

Carratura believes that the Kardinals are about to turn the corner.

“We want to have kids who love the sport,” Carratura said. “No doubt about it, the kids are working hard. They want to be there.”

Carratura always has the assistance of dedicated coach Rich Stacey, who has been with Carratura for over a decade. But this year, former Kardinal standout wrestler and cross country runner Brian McDonnell (a recent inductee into the Kearny High School Athletic Hall of Fame) has joined the coaching staff.

“Brian is a great addition, because he’s been wrestling with me since he was eight years old,” Carratura said. “Rich has been with me for 12 years. We have a good staff and absolutely, that’s the first step.”

Senior Wilker Villacorta is the Kardinals’ 106-pound wrestler.

“It’s only his second year of varsity wrestling, but he won 18 matches last year,” Carratura said. “He was a soccer player, so he’s a good athlete. When he first came out, he didn’t know what to do, but he’s come a long way. I expect big things from him this season.”

Villacorta has won five matches already this season and placed fifth in his weight class at the recent Bloomfield Invitational tournament.

Junior Diego Poma and senior Angel Rodriguez share the 113 and 120-pound classes. The two are interchangeable, depending upon the opponent and their weight loss before the match.

“They flip back and forth,” Carratura said. “It’s a good option to have there. Poma is long and lanky and good with his legs. Rodriguez is more of a brawler. But they’re both doing a good job.”

At 126 pounds, the Kardinals welcome a newcomer in junior Josh Guerrero, who transferred to Kearny from New York earlier this year.

“He wrestled before, so that’s a help,” Carratura said. “He has good technique. He’s the most technical kid we have. He’s well on his way and I think he’s going to be a big surprise for us.”

Guerrero took third in the recent Kearny Holiday Invitational tourney.

Senior James Hodnet is the 132-pounder. Hodnet is perhaps the Kardinals’ most experienced wrestler, having been part of the team for the last three years. Hodnet finished fourth at the NJSIAA District 16 tournament last February and was fifth in the recent Bloomfield tourney.

At 138 pounds, junior Juan Lamboy returns. Lamboy was a newcomer last year, but he’s made strides already this season, finishing third in the Kearny tourney and fifth at Bloomfield.

“Last year, he was still green and learning the sport,” Carratura said. “This year, he’s improved and doing well.”

At 145 and 152 pounds, Carratura is using freshmen Cesar Fernandez and Justin Baeza are bouncing back and forth, depending on who makes weight.

“They both did well in the Bloomfield tournament and they show a lot of promise,” Carratura said.

Senior Luis Cornejo is the team’s 160-pounder. Cornejo is a complete novice to the sport.

“He’s just coming out for the team for the first time,” Carratura said. “He’s been there every day, as dedicated as the rest. He’s doing well.”

The Kardinals have two youngsters filling the slots at 171 and 182 pounds in sophomores Chase McMillan and Thomas Presblyski.

Senior Gio Diaz returns at 195 pounds. Diaz was a newcomer to the sport last year.

“He told me that he should have come out earlier and he could have been better,” Carratura said.

Junior Piero Ugaza is the team’s 220-pounder. Ugaza is also wrestling for the very first time.

The Kardinals have a busy slate, with more than 30 dual meet dates already set. Carratura always looks to add more as the season moves on.

“We’re competing all the time,” Carratura said. “We have quads (quadrangular meets with four teams participating) every Saturday. It’s a complete schedule. But we’re going to be well prepared for the (NJSIAA) Districts (16, in late February). We’re going to be ready. I just want to see them keep moving forward, keep making progress. We have kids who are there every day, dedicated to the sport, doing what they need to do”

And keep the sport of wrestling alive in a town where wrestling has always been a staple of the community.

Harrison girls’ hoops squad doesn’t skip a beat

Photo by Jim Hague Senior Stephanie Flatley (l.) has been the leading scorer for the Harrison girls’ basketball team, averaging 16 points per game with senior Sarai Rivera (r.) is a two-year captain on the team, averaging 13 points per game this season.

Photo by Jim Hague
Senior Stephanie Flatley (l.) has been the leading scorer for the Harrison girls’ basketball team, averaging 16 points per game with senior Sarai Rivera (r.) is a two-year captain on the team, averaging 13 points per game this season.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It’s not an easy task when your girls’ high school basketball team loses two of its top scorers from last year’s team, including one player who averaged close to 20 points per game down the stretch last season.

Harrison lost Rayven Lucas (now playing at Montclair State) and Ulyissa Pereyra from last year’s Blue Tide squad that went to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II playoffs. Those losses might be hard for some teams to overcome.

But the Blue Tide is showing no signs of letting up, exploding out to a 4-1 mark in the early going of the new season.

“The girls have done well picking up the slack,” said Harrison head coach Al Ruiz. “Sure, Rayven did most of the scoring last year. There have been times where it has been tough without her. But the girls knew that they had to pick up the slack somehow and they’ve definitely done it defensively. That’s the key. If we play well defensively, we have a chance to win. If our captains shoot the ball well, it could be a decent night.”

Ruiz said that he is not surprised by the Blue Tide’s solid start.

“With the type of defense we have, I thought we had a chance to get off to a good start,” Ruiz said.

Leading the way so far has been senior captain Stephanie Flatley. The 5-foot-6 forward is averaging 16 points per game.

“She’s doing a little bit of everything for us,” Ruiz said. “She’s like having another coach on the floor. She’s already had a couple of big games for us. She’s stepped up tremendously. She worked hard over the summer to get ready and she’s been a big plus for us.”

Another key contributor is senior forward Sarai Rivera. The 5-foot-6 Rivera is a two-year captain.

“She also has had some big games for us,” Ruiz said. “She hit three 3-pointers against Lyndhurst to help us get a win. She does a nice job of boxing out and rebounding.”

Rivera is averaging 13 points per game thus far.

Junior Amber O’Donnell is the starting point guard. The 5-foot-4 O’Donnell, a standout softball player in the spring, is a defensive whirlwind.

“She puts so much pressure on the opposing guards,” Ruiz said. “She also does a good job of controlling the tempo of the game.”

O’Donnell is averaging five points and five assists per game.

Senior Emmalee Lucas is the team’s starting off-guard. The 5-foot-4 Lucas (cousin to graduated standout Rayven) is another defensive stalwart.

“She takes good care of the ball,” Ruiz said. “She does a good job shooting and scoring.”

Ruiz said that there is no substitute for experience.

“It helps so much,” Ruiz said. “It helps us do a lot of different things. The girls all know what we’re trying to do, so that helps tremendously.”

Junior Kayla Montilla is a 5-foot-3 guard who is another standout on the defensive end of the floor.

“She is our defensive harasser,” Ruiz said. “She puts so much pressure on the opponent just being out there on the ball. Our defense has been unreal. They make stops all the time.”

Freshman Cynthia Ferreira has fit in nicely with the team. Ferreira is a 5-foot-7 forward.

“She works hard down low and has a nice post-up game,” Ruiz said. “She can also score pretty well with a nice midrange shot.”

Heather Harris is a 6-foot junior center.

“She’s a good rebounder who works hard down low,” Ruiz said.

Senior Ximena Lopez is a 5-foot-7 forward who comes off the bench.

“She has nice hands and catches the ball well,” Ruiz said. “She makes good decisions with the ball. She’s pretty smart.”

Senior guard Stephanie Lopez (no relation to Ximena) is a 5-foot-5 guard.

“She outhustles everyone on the floor,” Ruiz said of Stephanie Lopez. “She gets to a lot of loose balls. She does the dirty work.”

Ruiz was happy to welcome Ray Lucas back as an assistant coach. While his daughter Rayven is now at Montclair State, the former New York Jets quarterback and famed television and radio football analyst has remained as a volunteer assistant coach.

“The girls love him,” Ruiz said. “He’s so much more of a father figure to the girls than he is a basketball coach. They look to him for advice about anything. They don’t look at him as a football analyst on television. They think he’s just Ray and that’s why I like having him around and the girls like having him around.”

Ruiz is pleased by his team’s hot start.

“I’m very encouraged,” Ruiz said. “I just hope it keeps rolling, that we can keep riding that wave.”

Meaning, the wave of the Blue Tide.

“One of the main reasons why we’re doing so well is that they’ve all bought into the fact that we have to play defense to be successful,” Ruiz said. “They’re constantly diving on the floor for loose balls for the betterment of the team. They have the will to win and they’re willing to sacrifice themselves for the team. It gives you a nice feeling when you come to practice and they’re willing to work as hard as they are.”

Sports Year in Review: 2013

Harrison soccer, Lyndhurst baseball top the list

 

Photo courtesy Ronald Shields The Harrison boys’ soccer team won both the Hudson County Tournament and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championships last fall, earning the top spot on The Observer’s Top 10 Sports Stories for 2013.

Photo courtesy Ronald Shields
The Harrison boys’ soccer team won both the Hudson County Tournament and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championships last fall, earning the top spot on The Observer’s Top 10 Sports Stories for 2013.

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The calendar year 2013 provided plenty of thrilling moments for local sports fans. It’s very hard to organize all those events, then slice them to down to a precise 10 and then finally rank them.

So we will do our best once again to provide The Observer Top 10 Sports Stories for 2013.

Here goes:

Harrison wins state sectional soccer title; Sowe earns All-America honors

The Harrison boys’ soccer team enjoyed a sensational season, tying a school record with 22 wins, losing just once and capturing both the Hudson County Tournament and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship. The only blemish on the great season was the loss to Newton, 2-1, in the overall NJSIAA Group II semifinals.

Other than that, it was a year to remember, capped by defender Modou Sowe being selected as an All-American, the first ever Blue Tide player to receive the honor. Sowe had an astounding 19 goals as a defender, a total almost unheard of, except that Sowe tallied 20 goals a year ago. He leaves a legacy as one of the greatest all-around talents at a school with an impressive ledger of great players. Read more »

Vikings off to flying start under new coach Corsetto

Photo by Jim Hague North Arlington is off to a solid 2-0 start under new head coach Rich Corsetto. From l. are Thai Scott, Mike Brazzel, head coach Corsetto and Nick Martin.

Photo by Jim Hague
North Arlington is off to a solid 2-0 start under new head coach Rich Corsetto. From l. are Thai Scott, Mike Brazzel, head coach Corsetto and Nick Martin.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Being the new head boys’ basketball coach at North Arlington High School, Rich Corsetto was hoping for his new team to get off to a strong start in his new regime.

“It’s pretty important to start off well,” said Corsetto, a basketball lifer who was away from the game for the last three years. “Not only for me as a coach, but the entire program. It sets a tone for the rest of the season.”

Well, the Vikings have exploded out of the box, soundly defeating 13th Street Tech of Newark and Belleville in the first two games of the Corsetto era.

“It’s great,” Corsetto said. “It’s good to be back in it with a great group of young men who are working hard and doing everything that we’ve asked them to do.”

Corsetto knew that he was inheriting an experienced program from former longtime head coach David Walsh, who resigned last year after 10 years as head coach at his alma mater.

“I figured we had some experience,” Corsetto said. “I figured we could correct some things and make a few changes in how we play. We could install new things and the kids are picking up on that very well.”

Corsetto knew he had the makings of a solid squad by the way the Vikings performed in three preseason scrimmages.

“They also played in a fall league in Bloomfield that got them ready,” Corsetto said. “We played some good teams in Bloomfield, so that was good experience.”

Corsetto said that he has a solid rotation, one that was put into place during the preseason.

“We go about eight or nine deep, which is not bad for who we play,” Corsetto said. “A couple of kids have surprised me with their development. They play really hard together as a team. They know each other. I think that’s very important.” Corsetto also likes the team’s balance. “We have three seniors who are very close friends,” Corsetto said. “We also have a good group of sophomores who are learning. That’s good for the future. They get along well. They’ve known each other for a while. It’s a good mix.”

Leading the way is senior do-everything Nick Martin. The 6-foot Martin is a rugged, tough inside player.

“He’s a hard-nosed kid, but don’t be surprised if he steps back and hits that short jumper,” Corsetto said. “He’s a very intelligent kid and it’s like having a coach on the floor. I think he’s going to be a coach someday. I feel that way about him. He’s a nice kid. He’s the backbone of our team.”

Another key returnee is 5-foot-9 senior point guard Thai Scott, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.

“He’s worked hard to come back and he’s come back quick,” Corsetto said. “It’s unfortunate he missed all of that time, because he does a nice job as our floor leader. He plays hard every night.”

The third senior returnee is senior guard Mike Brazzel. The 5-foot-7 Brazzel is a bundle of energy, a whirling dervish, kind of like North Arlington’s version of the cartoon Tazmanian Devil.

“He brings nothing but energy off the bench,” Corsetto said. “He’s a hard-nosed kid who is very quick when he’s under control. He’s the fastest kid on the team.”

Sophomore Edgar Carranza is a transfer from Christ the King in Newark, where he started last year. Carranza is making his mark already with the Vikings.

Junior Jose Checo is perhaps the Vikings’ most important player. The 6-foot-4 Checo is the Vikings’ threat to score inside and take on some of the taller opponents.

Sophomore Steven Valez is a 6-foot-1 sophomore who is working down low with Checo.

Sophomore Kevin Cerqueira is the team’s instant offense.

“He’s a nice little-all around player,” Corsetto of Cerqueira, who should see a lot of action from the outset. “He’s a nice player with a good shot from outside. He’s just going to get better.”

Joe Morales is a 6-foot-1 sophomore forward.

“He’s a banger, a real tough kid,” Corsetto said. “He never played organized basketball before, so he’s still learning.”

The Vikings got off to a 2-0 start and were scheduled to face Harrison earlier last week prior to press time.

“It feels pretty good,” Corsetto said. “The kids are working hard and playing hard. That’s the one thing that sticks out. My wife pointed out that the kids do play hard. That’s a good sign. We just have to keep it going.”

Golden Griffin boys’ look to soar after tough year

Photo by Jim Hague The Golden Griffins of Queen of Peace will be a much better team this year. Front row, from l. are Kristian Rosario, Kevin Momnohin and Keith Momnohin. Back row, from left, are Danny Douelfakar, Matt Riley, head coach Tom McGuire, Pat O’Keeffe and Anthony Burgagni

Photo by Jim Hague
The Golden Griffins of Queen of Peace will be a much better team this year. Front row, from l. are Kristian Rosario, Kevin Momnohin and Keith Momnohin. Back row, from left, are Danny Douelfakar, Matt Riley, head coach Tom McGuire, Pat O’Keeffe and Anthony Burgagni

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Queen of Peace boys’ basketball team struggled last season, posting an uncharacteristic 6-19 record.

“We were definitely expecting a different kind of year,” said head coach Tom McGuire, a former standout basketball player at QP. “It sticks in my side a little bit. I’m never going to understand what happened last year and I never want it to happen again. It was a long season.”

But McGuire did get one positive vibe from last year’s troubled season.

“We have chemistry now,” McGuire said. “We didn’t have that last year. It took time to develop. We have nine returning lettermen with about half of them from the football team. They were all in the weight room, all in the gym when there was free time. Every opportunity they could get, they were playing basketball.”

Because there were so many experienced members of the Golden Griffins’ roster, McGuire didn’t have to make wholesale changes.

“It made things a lot easier,” McGuire said. “We didn’t have to install too much. We just dusted off what we had.”

Leading the way for the Golden Griffins is the same guy who led the football team to the state playoffs, even getting a win in the states.

Senior Kevin Momnohin, who broke all school records for rushing for almost 2,000 yards and scoring 34 touchdowns last fall, is the starter at point guard. The 5-foot-10 Momnohin is asked to duplicate on the hardwood what he did on the gridiron.

“We definitely expect him to be a leader,” McGuire said of Momnohin, who averaged eight points per game last season. “He’s a tremendous defensive player who shuts people down. I believe that defense breeds offense. He gets a lot of offense off his steals.”

Sophomore Jeremy Joseph is the team’s starter at shooting guard. The 6-foot-3 Joseph has a ton of talent and potential.

“He can play anywhere on the floor,” McGuire said. “He keeps getting better and better. I expect him to really take the next step this year and become a better player. There should be a progression. We asked a lot of him last year to play as a freshman and he handled it well. He’s in sync with everything we do.”

Senior Matt Riley is a 6-foot- 2 forward who makes the step up to varsity starter.

“He was our sixth man last year,” McGuire said. “Matt is probably our best shooter. He’s our most consistent player. He can stretch the court with what he does.” Senior Danny Douelfakar is a 6-foot-3 inside presence for the Golden Griffins.

“He’s a two-year varsity player who’s a tough kid and a solid rebounder,” said McGuire of Douelfakar, who averaged seven points and nine rebounds per game last year. “I envision him as a solid inside player.”

Senior Pat O’Keeffe is another solid inside performer.

“He’s aggressive,” McGuire said. “He’s a banger down low. He has a good mid-range jumper or at the elbow. Mentally, he’s in the right place defensively. He does all the right things.”

Junior Mike Pettigrew is a 6-foot guard.

“He’s more of a shooting guard,” McGuire said. “He can also play small forward. He’s definitely one of our better shooters.”

If Momnohin needs a breather, junior Joe Cook, the proverbial gym rat, takes over.

James Lia is a 5-foot junior guard.

“He’s very good as a ball defender,” McGuire said. “He will earn his minutes as a defender.”

“He’s a very good on-theball defender,” McGuire said. “That’s how he’ll earn his minutes, by playing defense.”

Kristian Rosario is a 6-8 senior guard.

“He’s one of our better ball handlers,” McGuire said. “I think we have a chance to be a pretty good defensive team with players like him.”

Keith Momnohin, Kevin’s twin brother, is another key contributor.

“Keith is like our sparkplug,” McGuire said. “He does all the dirty work, the little things, coming off the bench.”

Senior Anthony Burgagni is a 6-foot-2 forward.

“He’s a good practice player who practices hard,” McGuire said. “He’s also good on the boards.”

McGuire believes that his team is well improved over last year.

“I think we’re going to compete in the league,” McGuire said. “I really like our chances. We have chemistry and that’s the first step. We have a good chance to compete. I’m just hoping that we can surprise some people this year.”

Lyndhurst freshman Donohue simply perfect

Rolls perfect game in match against Wood-Ridge

Photo courtesy Rich Donohue Lyndhurst High School freshman bowler Ryan Donohue.

Photo courtesy Rich Donohue
Lyndhurst High School freshman bowler Ryan Donohue.

 

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Ryan Donohue basically had no choice but to be a bowler. After all, his father, Rich, owns Bowl-Rite Lanes in Union City.

So when Ryan was just a toddler, Rich put a bowling ball in his hands.

“I guess I was about 2 or 3,” Ryan Donohue recalled. “I threw the ball with two hands.”

But Rich Donohue was strict about one aspect in young Ryan’s development.

“There were never any bumpers,” Ryan. “My Dad wouldn’t allow me to learn that way. I had to learn the right way. It was pretty hard to do. I just tried to throw it straight and hit the pins.”

Young Ryan had his instant motivation.

“Once I knew my father owned the lanes, I knew I could bowl all the time and get better,” Ryan said. “I liked it a lot right away. Just seeing my Dad bowl, seeing how good he was, I wanted to do that, too. He was my inspiration.”

Ryan played other sports growing up in Lyndhurst, like baseball and football.

“I like baseball,” said the 14-year-old Ryan, who said he played first base in Little League and travel baseball. “I’m pretty good at baseball, but I would say I’m a better bowler.”

So when Ryan enrolled at Lyndhurst High School last September, he knew he would try out for the bowling team. However, Lyndhurst has a history of having excellent bowling teams, having won three NJSIAA state sectional titles in the last four years and a second place finish overall last year among Group I schools.

Making the varsity team as a freshman would be a little bit of a chore.

“I was in a league where I was averaging 175-180 against guys the same age as me or older,” Donohue said. “That gave me a lot of confidence. When I was younger, I was a pretty inconsistent. I had to improve on that.”

Donohue improved enough to post an average close to 200 for the Golden Bears varsity.

In the third match of the season last Tuesday, Donohue and the Golden Bears faced Wood-Ridge at Wallington Lanes.

In the second game of the day, Donohue started to get that special feel, throwing five strikes in a row, then six, then seven.

“Around the sixth frame, I started to feel it, but I really wasn’t thinking that much about it,” Donohue said. “But by the ninth frame, I started saying to myself, `Wow, this can really happen.’ When I threw the first one in the 10th frame, my teammate Daijon Smith said, `C’mon, you have to finish on a good note.’”

Donohue threw the first strike in the 10th frame.

“I realized that it could really happen,” Donohue said.

The “it” being the elusive perfect game — 12 straight strikes, a 300 score.

“I wasn’t too nervous, but I got real serious,” Donohue said.

He threw the 11th straight strike with no problem, leaving him one strike shy of immortality.

“When it came to the last strike, I tried to block everything out of my mind,” Donohue said. “I was focused on hitting my mark one last time.”

When Donohue threw the final ball, he didn’t think he had it.

“The ball came out high,” Donohue said. “It wasn’t the best shot.”

Two pins remained up for a second.

“The four pin and the nine were the last to fall,” Donohue said.

After a second delay, the pins fell. Donohue had his perfect game, something that no one could ever take away.

“I did nothing at first, then fell to the ground,” Donohue said. “I heard a lot of screaming, then my teammates picked me up and pushed me into the crowd.”

Nearby was Rich Donohue. “I had no idea what was going on for the first six,” Rich Donohue said. “I really wasn’t paying attention. But by the 10th frame, I wasn’t moving from that one spot. When he threw the last one, it felt like forever. After the pins went down, I started walking over to him. I had a little tear in my eye. I gave him a big hug. You have no idea how proud I was of him.”

Rich Donohue, the avid bowler, got to the final strike four times and left one pin standing for a 299 score. He has never reached perfection like his son did.

For his efforts, Ryan Donohue has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week, the first honoree for the winter scholastic sports season.

Donohue has continued his fine bowling right away for the Lyndhurst varsity. He had a 224 game in another game last week.

“It did give me a lot of confidence,” Donohue said. “It was a very, very good feeling. To get a perfect game this soon, I’d have to say I’d never think I’d get it. This actually takes a lot of pressure off me. If I didn’t get it, I’d still be reaching for my goal.”

“It was really exciting,” Rich Donohue said. “Incredibly, when he was younger, he used to practice a lot more, like 20-to-30 games a week. Then, he didn’t practice. Now, all of a sudden, he wants to come more. I’ve been waiting for him to do something like this. It’s almost unreal, like he didn’t do it. I’ve taught a lot of kids over the years at the lanes, kids who average over 200. And here’s my son, doing something like this. It’s really amazing.”

And it’s a moment that no one will ever take away from Ryan Donohue. Perfection never goes away. He has a teammate, junior Jordan Lopez, who knows that feeling all too well. Lopez threw a perfect game last year in the Bergen County tournament. Having two perfect game bowlers on the same team is pretty special.

Harrison soccer star Sowe named All- American

Photo by Jim Hague Harrison standout defender Modou Sowe was selected recently as an All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. He becomes the first All-American in the history of the school.

Photo by Jim Hague
Harrison standout defender Modou Sowe was selected recently as an All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. He becomes the first All-American in the history of the school.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Modou Sowe was 13 years old, his family left his native Gambia, only to arrive in – of all places – Harrison.

“Sometimes, I ask myself, ‘How did my parents find this place?’” Sowe said.

But it was an opportune move for Sowe, because Harrison is a soccer hotbed. And while growing up in Africa, Sowe was indeed a soccer player.

“I was so lucky to be put in this town,” Sowe said. “It didn’t take long to fit in here. This is a very big town for soccer and people found out right away that I could play.”

Sowe sure could play – perhaps better than any other player in the town’s rich history.

It’s debatable, simply because there might not have ever been a Blue Tide player with the diverse talents of Sowe, who can dominate one minute as a powerful defender and then move up to become a deadly striker the next.

Sowe scored 20 goals last year as a junior and added 19 more this year as a senior, impeccable numbers for a defender.

“We keep him at defense a lot, but sometimes, he was able to push forward and get a goal,” Harrison head coach Mike Rusek said. “It’s so hard to find a big guy (Sowe is 6-foot-4) to have that kind of skill. Usually, it’s a little guy who has that skill.

It’s like watching a tall point guard in basketball bringing the ball up. It’s a very rare quality to have that physical talent and skill.” Sowe now has a very rare distinction, because recently, he was selected as an All- American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Sowe was one of only three New Jersey players to receive the honor, joining Derek MacKinnon of Washington Township and James Murphy of Scotch Plains.

More importantly, Sowe is the first Harrison player to ever receive the prestigious distinction. Through all the years of great soccer and players in Harrison, Sowe is the first one. That idea is hard to fathom.

Over the past 15 years, Kearny had players like Sergio Ulloa, Michael Miller and Hugh MacDonald to receive All-America status, but Harrison never had one until now.

“This is so rare,” Rusek said. “We’ve had players earn All- State, but never All-American. It’s a great honor for Modou and he deserves it.”

Sowe was surprised when he received word of his honor.

“It’s a great feeling,” Sowe said. “When they announced it in the school, I was shocked by it. Of course, I was very happy. It never would have happened without the help of my teammates. They were great with me.”

The Blue Tide posted a 22-1- 1 record this season, winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship before falling to Newton in the overall Group II semifinals.

Sowe said that he was able to make a lot of friends in Harrison through playing soccer. It also helped him learn to speak English, because in Gambia, there were two languages. Sowe’s father speaks Fula while his mother speaks Wolof.

“There are different dialects,” Sowe explained. “Now, at home, we’re only allowed to speak English.”

Sowe is now weighing some offers to play college soccer. He is an excellent student, with a 3.3 grade point average, but he needs to improve his Scholastic Aptitude Test scores before deciding on a college.

Seton Hall is one of the schools very interested in securing Sowe’s services.

“I haven’t chosen a college yet,” Sowe said. “There are many colleges looking at me.”

As well they should be. “I guess Modou has to be considered one of our best ever,” Rusek said. “He falls in line nicely with the rest.”

Sowe will receive his All- America award at the NSCAA convention which is held in Philadephia next month.

“When I was just a boy in Africa, who would have thought that I could one day become an All-American?” Sowe said. “It’s really amazing. It’s a great feeling. You don’t get to have a feeling like that a lot.”

Nope. No one in Harrison has ever had it before.