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Kearny boys’ hoops: A new direction

Photo by Jim Hague The Kearny boys’ basketball team opens the season this weekend against Bayonne with new head coach Bob McDonnell. Pictured here are the team’s seniors. Front row, from l., are Alfredo Urgiles, Isaac Osorto and Julio Vasquez. Back row, from l., are Amged Fraih, Joel Vivas, coach McDonnell, Joe Rodriguez and Michael Trama.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Kearny boys’ basketball team opens the season this weekend against Bayonne with new head coach Bob McDonnell. Pictured here are the team’s seniors. Front row, from l., are Alfredo Urgiles, Isaac Osorto and Julio Vasquez. Back row, from l., are Amged Fraih, Joel Vivas, coach McDonnell, Joe Rodriguez and Michael Trama.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Bob McDonnell now has the position he had coveted for years, namely the head coaching position for the boys’ basketball team at Kearny High School.

Now, it’s up to Mc- Donnell to show everyone that he deserved the shot.

One thing was for sure. There was no need for a transitional period. McDonnell, who has been involved in Kearny basketball on the youth level for what seems like forever and was the former freshman coach and assistant on the varsity, knows all the kids and they all know him.

It wasn’t like an outsider was coming in and taking over. McDonnell has been a fixture in Kearny for more than 20 years.

“Honestly, there wasn’t a transition,” Mc- Donnell said. “Even for some of the players who came out for the team for the first time. It’s been going pretty well.”

There has been a lot of learning in the preseason.

“We’ve put in a system that is not like any other system they’ve seen,” said McDonnell, who was an assistant coach at Berkeley College for the last three years before replacing Bill Schoener at Kearny. “We’re trying to install the system. Some kids are picking it up faster than others.”

McDonnell said that there was one main obstacle that he faced during the early practices.

“One of our biggest problems has been a lack of fundamentals on defense,” McDonnell said. “The majority of our practice time has been spent on defense.”

But McDonnell seems to be making progress.

“I met with each kid individually and I asked them each what they felt they needed to improve on,” McDonnell said. “The majority of them said defense. That’s good, because that’s what we are trying to stress. We want to be a better defensive team.”

The Kardinals also want to be a better team than they were last year, when they won only five games.

“The kids have all set individual and team goals,” McDonnell said. “I wanted them to be realistic goals. They said they want to improve and win more games. They said they’re going to try to win at least 10 games.”

That total may be a challenge, playing teams in the competitive Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League. “I think the kids are up for the challenge,” McDonnell said.

Leading the returning players is 6-foot-3 junior forward Zach Latka. The lanky Latka is a player to watch.

“He has a quick first step to the basket and he’s also a very good shooter,” McDonnell said. “From 15 feet and in, he can make shots. Most definitely, he’s going to play a big role for us and set the tone.”

Senior Isaac Osorto is the Kardinals’ starting point guard.

“He sees the floor well and is a good passer,” McDonnell said of the 5-foot-9 Osorto. “He’s our floor leader. He’s definitely what I want in a point guard. He’s like the coach on the floor.”

Senior Joel Vivas has shown a lot of promise. The 6-foot-5 Vivas will be a key down low for the Kards.

“He rebounds well,” Mc- Donnell said of Vivas. “I’d like him to be a little more physical. But he has great leaping ability and goes up to get the ball.”

Junior Gustavo Chemin will play a big role as well. Chemin is a 6-foot-2 forward.

“He’s a hard worker,” Mc- Donnell said. “I’m looking for him to be a defensive stopper and rebounder.”

Senior Agmed Fraih is a 6-foot-3 forward that McDonnell likes to call “O.J.”

“He provides a little muscle underneath,” McDonnell said. “He’s a banger down low. He goes to the boards really hard. He’s really a team leader.” George Smyth, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, is also in the mix at forward.

“He has great court intelligence,” McDonnell said. “He sees the court well. He’s a total team player and he’s going to play right away.”

Senior Julio Vasquez is a 6-foot point guard.

“He plays defense aggressively well and is accepting his role well,” McDonnell said. “He knows he has to play defense for us.”

Senior Michael Trama is a 6-foot-2 forward.

“He’s probably our best jump shooter,” McDonnell said. “He’s also going to help us down low.”

Sophomore Sammy Sanchez is a 5-foot-10 guard who is playing organized basketball for the first time.

“He’s an aggressive kid, a football player,” McDonnell said. “He’s also quick and not afraid to get on the floor. He’s still learning because he never played basketball before. But he’s good to have on the team.”

The Kardinals also have a fine addition in a veteran coach. Mike Reilly, who was the long-time head coach at McNair Academic in Jersey City, has joined forces with McDonnell on the Kearny coaching staff.

“He’s great to have around,” McDonnell said of Reilly.“He’s great with the players and works with them well. He knows the finer points of the game. We have a nice working relationship because he knows the fundamentals and can help with drills with the kids.”

The Kardinals open their season Friday night against Bayonne.

“I think the goal is to improve,” McDonnell said. “I don’t expect miracles overnight. As long as they keep working hard, they’ll improve and that’s what we’re looking for.”

And there’s a coach who will be in place for many years to come.

Golden Bears take cerebral approach with new coach Palek

Photo by Jim Hague The Lyndhurst Golden Bears welcome a new head boys’ basketball coach in Paul Palek. Front row, from left, are Nunzio Gangi, Jake Estevez and Sergio Turelli. Back row, from l., are Patrick Dennehy, head coach Palek, Jonathan Hoff and Kyle Krzastek.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Lyndhurst Golden Bears welcome a new head boys’ basketball coach in Paul Palek. Front row, from left, are Nunzio Gangi, Jake Estevez and Sergio Turelli. Back row, from l., are Patrick Dennehy, head coach Palek, Jonathan Hoff and Kyle Krzastek.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Paul Palek noticed one important trait about the Lyndhurst High School boys’ basketball team he inherited this season.

“They’ve been eager to learn and quick to pick up on things,” said Palek, a veteran coach who had previously been a head coach at Montville and Wayne Hills and an assistant at Rutgers- Newark. “This has probably been the smoothest transition I’ve had so far as a coach, because of the kids. They give me good effort every day and that’s half the battle. I have no issues whatsoever with the effort.”

Palek has decided to institute a hybrid of the famed Princeton offense.

“The system we run is very complicated,” Palek said. “We’re putting it in piece by piece. We tried to do too much early on, so we scaled it back as they get a feel for it. But the kids have been real good in learning it. I think we’re actually ahead of schedule.”

Palek decided to go with the Princeton approach because he had a sense that his new team could handle that transition because of their basketball intelligence.

“They’re a very bright bunch of kids,” Palek said. “We also have some experience. Any time you get guys with experience, it’s a big plus, especially with a new coach. I think it’s helped the rest of the others come along. That’s been important.”

The Golden Bears’ starting point guard is the diminutive Sergio Turelli. The 5-foot-5 senior, who is also a baseball standout in the spring, has definitely caught Palek’s eye.

“I’m very impressed with him,” Palek said of Turelli. “He’s very quick and is good with the ball. We talk all the time about basketball and things with the team. I’m happy with his progress.”

The shooting guard is 6-foot senior Jake Estevez.

“He’s a strong guard, a physical player,” Palek said. “He also has good instincts on defense.”

Jonathan Hoff, a 6-foot-1 senior, is the team’s small forward. Hoff was the excellent quarterback for the Golden Bears’ football team last fall, passing for almost 2,000 yards.

“He’s our best shooter,” Palek said of Hoff. “He can also post up down low as well. He brings that football leadership to our team. Being a quarterback and having to make decisions makes a big difference to our team.”

Junior Brandon Karlok is another forward. The 6-foot-1 Karlok has a lot of potential.

“He’s long and lanky,” Palek said. “He’s also very athletic. He can also shoot it pretty well. He just needs to get used to the speed of varsity level basketball.”

Senior Kyle Krzastek is the Golden Bears’ biggest player at 6-foot-3.

“He’s our most important player,” Palek said. “He can run and jump well. He’s an unbelievable athlete. We’re going to rely on him a lot to rebound the ball. I expect him to have a big season for us.”

Senior Patrick Dennehy is a 6-foot-2 forward. “He will need to rebound and defend for us,” Palek said. “He’s more of a role guy.” Senior Nunzio Gangi is a 5-foot-10 player who can man both the point guard and shooting guard positions.

“He’s a good defensive player,” Palek said. “He’s still learning the offense, but he’s beginning to fit in.”

Sophomore Vincent Dorio is a 5-foot-9 player with a load of potential.

“He can really shoot the ball,” Palek said. “I just hope he can adapt to playing varsity right away, but I’m really excited about his potential.”

The Golden Bears begin the Paul Palek era on Friday night at home against Dwight-Englewood, with the tipoff slated for 7 p.m.

“I definitely think we can compete, if we keep on getting better,” Palek said. “As a coach, that’s all you can hope for. We’re running a new system for both offense and defense and that takes time. If we can defend, then we can compete. We have to make the other teams work for what they get. If we can defend, it can go a long way.”

Kardinals reshuffle the deck to remain competitive

Photo by Jim Hague The Kearny girls’ basketball team has a lot of new faces, but among those returning are, from l., senior Kiana Cardenas, Hill, senior Carolina Souza and senior Spiridoula Dimou.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Kearny girls’ basketball team has a lot of new faces, but among those returning are, from l., senior Kiana Cardenas, Hill, senior Carolina Souza and senior Spiridoula Dimou.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

A year ago, veteran Kearny High School girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill had to do a bit of last minute scrambling to put together a formidable roster. The Kardinals had lost a ton of talent to graduation, so Hill hoped that the new kids could step in and pick up where the graduating seniors left off.

Well, as the immortal baseball sage Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

“We’ve lost 13 seniors over the last two years,” said Hill, who begins her 11th season as the Kardinals’ head coach. “That’s losing a tremendous amount of experience. For the most part, I’ve never had to deal with that before.”

However, Hill isn’t exactly putting her head down and sulking about her team’s prospects. Quite the contrary.

“It’s a nice feeling to have some younger players who are going to be around for four years,” Hill said. “We’re going to try to mold them, not just for today, but also down the road. There are positives and negatives in having a young team. You take a hit with experience and you ask them not to make the same mistake twice. You learn from your mistakes.”

Hill said that she has been extremely positive since practices began in earnest last week.

“In the early going, we’re breaking down the fundamentals more,” said Hill, who guided her remade team to 15 wins a year ago. “We’re working on them making the right decisions. We definitely have our work cut out for us.”

Hill likes the athleticism of the team.

“We do have some athletes and we do have some size,” Hill said. “Overall, I think we’re looking to have more of an inside game this year than ever before. Our size is going to be a huge strength.”

As a former Hall of Fame guard during her playing days at Harrison High and later Pace University, Hill was a fearless point guard. So she has always favored guard play.

“We’re a little inexperienced at guard, but we do have some talent,” Hill said. “We have athletic guards who have to learn the game a little more. But I can see the progress. They keep getting better and better.”

Hill also likes the way her team has approached the new season.

“I think they’re very excited about it,” Hill said. “The energy level is excellent and we’re trying to put that energy level out onto the floor. The eagerness is there. I can see that in the seniors. We have spots in the starting lineup that are open to anyone who steps in and proves that they deserve it, prove that they want it.”

Leading the returnees is sophomore Amber Crispin, who stepped in toward the end of last season and became a key contributor and starter. Crispin is the team’s top returning leading scorer, but she averaged only six points a game. That’s a sign of just how much Kearny needs to rebuild this year.

“She came in as a freshman starter and led our team in steals,” Hill said of the 5-foot- 6 Crispin. “She has tremendous speed and competitiveness. She is one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever coached. I just hope that can carry over to the rest of the team. I hope it’s contagious. She has a lot of speed and energy. She’s also real eager to start the season and I like that. Amber has to be one of our leaders this year, even though she’s a sophomore. She leads by example and also knows what to say to the others. She’s a special kid.”

Another returning player is junior Emilia Fernandes. The 6-foot Fernandes is the team’s tallest player and she has to use that size to her advantage.

“I can definitely see her potential,” Hill said. “This is her time to shine. She’s been very dedicated to improving. She now has tremendous footwork. She realized what she needed to do and took a big step forward. Her goal is to play in college and she’s willing to do anything to make that happen. She’s added more moves near the basket. She’s made a big improvement over last year.”

The rest of the entire Kearny roster is still battling for playing time. In Hill’s eyes, they’re all players right now, not starters.

Freshman Sydney Pace, the younger sister of former Kearny standouts Stefanee and Samantha, joins the fray as a 5-foot-6 guard.

“She’s already played varsity soccer, so she knows what it takes,” Hill said. “She’s not intimidated at all. She comes from a good athletic family and she wants to get on the court to prove what she can do.”

Senior Carolina Souza is another contributor. The 5-foot-5 Souza owns a nice touch from the perimeter and is a good defender.

“She’s paid her dues and put in a lot of time,” Hill said. “She’s a good leader. She just needs to penetrate with the ball better.”

Junior Daniella Echevestre is a 5-foot-6 jack-of-all-trades.

“She literally can play any position,” Hill said. “She’s our most versatile player. She’s a great passer who played point guard on the JV level, but we need her inside more. She’s very strong and uses her body well.” Spiridoula Dimou is a 5-foot-2 senior guard. “She’s one of our toughest kids,” Hill said. “She’s extremely hungry to play varsity. She’s spent the last three years down on the bench, waiting to get put in the game. She’s our most vocal kid.”

Kiana Cardenas is a 5-foot-11 senior forward.

“She has no varsity experience,” Hill said. “She’s very raw. But she’s a coachable kid who is working on her speed. She’s going to provide solid minutes for us.”

Sophomore Nawal Farih is a 5-8 forward whose older brother and sister played varsity basketball at Kearny.

“She has good potential,” Hill said. “She has a good basketball body and goes extremely hard to the basket. She keeps getting better each year. She comes from a good basketball family. She just loves to play and she’s doing great in practice.”

Junior Nicole Sanchez is another back-up guard.

“She’s feisty and scrappy,” Hill said of the 5-foot-4 Sanchez. “She plays defense very well and can make the outside shot.”

Junior Patty Sheldrick is a 5-foot-7 guard with good ball handling skills and a good long range shot. Sophomore Izabela Stazewski is a 5-foot-9 forward who is still learning the game. Sophomore Erica Greenlee is a 5-foot-4 athletic guard who made headway in the Kearny summer league.

“I put her in one game and she had like four steals in a minute,” Hill said. “She has good instincts for the ball.”

Junior Vanessa Gallego is a 5-foot-4 guard who is a reliable defender.

As you can see, Hill has a lot of work to do between now and the Kardinals’ season opener against Hudson County power Bayonne Dec. 20. The Kards will also play this year in the North Arlington Christmas Tournament, where they will face local rival Queen of Peace.

“We definitely will get better as the season moves on,” Hill said. “Right now, we just need to find a little chemistry. They’re finding themselves for the first time. But I think we should have a pretty good team.”

Belleville turns to Stoeckel to lead Bucs’ boys’ basketball team

Photo by Jim Hague Belleville turns to new head coach Jim Stoeckel to lead the Buccaneers through some tough times. From l. are Shakhi Tanner, Joel Ayala, Henry Ayala, head coach Jim Stoeckel, Jacob Dabon and Wilbert Then.

Photo by Jim Hague
Belleville turns to new head coach Jim Stoeckel to lead the Buccaneers through some tough times. From l. are Shakhi Tanner, Joel Ayala, Henry Ayala, head coach Jim Stoeckel, Jacob Dabon and Wilbert Then.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Once again, the Belleville boys’ basketball head coaching position was open and Jim Stoeckel was poised, ready for the challenge.

“I felt it was a good opportunity to build something from scratch,” said Stoeckel, who was hired in September to replace Kurt Villani. “I live in the area. I know Essex County basketball. I know Belleville. I remember going to Belleville games when I was younger.”

Stoeckel’s father, Jim Sr., is a long-time high school basketball referee in Essex County, so the familiarity has always been there.

The younger Stoeckel was the head coach at Newark Academy for five years and spent the last three years at Bloomfield under Patrick Brunner.

“I wanted the chance to get back to being a head coach again,” Stoeckel said. “I know it’s a challenge, but I want to get in Belleville and get kids interested at the lower levels, like middle school and take it from there. I know Belleville could be a good program and when we get it there, we want to keep it there.”

Stoeckel said that he’s been encouraged by the turnout and the effort of the players.

“It’s been very good,” Stoeckel said. “We have to put this all together in two weeks. I’ve never dealt with anything like this before. No one knows anything. The kids are all learning to play. It’s a lot to take in, with such a short period of time.”

Nearly 60 kids attended tryouts and Stoeckel had to weed through the numbers and get his 15- man roster.

“Those first two days with the 60 kids were hectic,” Stoeckel said. “I had to get through it. We’re now pretty much set. We’re still waiting for a few kids to pass their physicals. Things are a little different now.”

Stoeckel said that he has been impressed with how hard the players have performed.

“I’m encouraged by the effort,” Stoeckel said. “They have responded well. I think we have to give it time and we’ll see. But if the effort is already there, that’s the first step. If they’re willing to learn, then they can become a better basketball team.” Stoeckel said that he didn’t see the Buccaneers play last year, so he’s starting with a clean slate.

“I just heard that one kid came off the bench and played a little,” Stoeckel said. “That’s all I knew. I was happy that there were so many freshmen and sophomores came to tryouts. I want to lay down the ground work now, so the kids can learn. We have five seniors, not like having 20 seniors. So we have to build from the bottom up.”

Leading the returnees is Jacob Dabon, a 5-foot-11 senior with good range from the outside.

“He definitely can shoot it,” Stoeckel said.

Senior Wilbert Then is a 5-foot-10 guard who is a tough defender. Senior Shakhi Tanner is a 6-foot-2 guard with long arms.

“He’s long and wiry,” Stoeckel said. “He can play a little.”

Nelson Pichardo is a junior guard with decent skills. Antonio Tyler is a 5-foot-9 senior guard. Chris Torres and Wally Battle are both 6-foot-2 junior forwards who will help on the inside.

The Ayala twins, namely Henry and Joel, help the Buccaneers’ depth.

Ande Velez is a 5-foot-7 sophomore with a ton of promise.

Stoeckel is still getting to know his team, learning their positives and negatives, pluses and minuses. He deserves the chance to learn what he’s coaching. It’s been a whirlwind since he was hired less than two months ago.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Stoeckel said. “We do have excellent effort thus far. That’s the first step.”

Lyndhurst girls’ hoops squad moves forward with new coach Cousins

Photo by Jim Hague The Lyndhurst girls’ basketball team welcomes a new coach in John Cousins this season. From l. are Christie Zembriski, Joelle Voza, John Cousins, Bianca Fata, Caroline Beatrice and Cameron Georgs.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Lyndhurst girls’ basketball team welcomes a new coach in John Cousins this season. From l. are Christie Zembriski, Joelle Voza, John Cousins, Bianca Fata, Caroline Beatrice and Cameron Georgs.

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

After several years toiling in the retail business, John Cousins desperately wanted a change in his life.

He wanted to be a teacher and a girls’ basketball coach.

So in reinventing himself after the age of 40, Cousins headed back to Montclair State in order to secure his teaching certification.

As a basketball mentor, Cousins spent four years at Mount St. Dominic in Caldwell as a junior varsity coach and assistant coach with the varsity, and he also spent several years coaching AAU basketball with the New Jersey Crusaders in Bergen County, but he always longed for something more.

“I wanted a head coaching job,” said Cousins, now 46. “I’ve been looking for the right varsity job for three years. Coaching keeps me young. It gives me a young spirit.”

When Perrin Mosca resigned at the end of last season in Lyndhurst, the door was left wide open for Cousins’ big break.

“Lyndhurst gave me the opportunity to be a head coach and I was extremely grateful and excited,” said Cousins, who began official workouts with his new team last week. “I’m very happy to be at Lyndhurst.”

Apparently, the Lyndhurst players are excited to have Cousins.

“The response has been great,” Cousins said. “I’m very pleased with the way they’ve responded to me. They’re working very hard so far and giving great effort. As a coach, that’s all I can ask for.”

It didn’t take long for Cousins to realize that he didn’t inherit the most talented team around. Gone is 2012-13 Observer Female Athlete of the Year Camila Alonso, who took her track and field talents to East Carolina. Alonso averaged 20 points and 13 rebounds last year, including a record-breaking single game high of 46 points. Those numbers are going to be impossible to replace. The Golden Bears did win 18 games last year.

But Cousins is impressed with the athleticism of his team.

“That’s the one thing that stands out more than anything else,” Cousins said. “They might not be highly skilled and they might not have the best talent, but they are very athletic. I was really surprised with how athletic they are. They’re also quick learners. They absorb everything we teach them, so that’s a tremendous asset.”

Cousins likes the athleticism that he has in the backcourt.

“For me, as a coach, whether they’re talented or skilled, I’ll take the athletic player any day of the week,” Cousins said. “You can teach them to shoot, but if they don’t have the heart, the determination and the hustle, it’s not going to work. So I’ll take the team we have, because they are athletic and willing to go the extra mile.”

Cousins also needed his senior players to step up and be leaders on a young team.

“I look at the seniors and they work together as a group,” Cousins said. “They play other sports together and that equates well for me. If they play other sports, then they’re not shell shocked when they come to basketball. They know what to expect. I’m impressed the way these girls have thrown themselves out there for a first-time head coach.”

One of those senior leaders is Bianca Fata, the standout goalkeeper for the Lyndhurst girls’ soccer team in the fall.

“Bianca is very aggressive and extremely fast,” Cousins said. “She’s a hard-nosed kid who goes after it every time she’s out there.”

Forward Christie Zembriski is another returning player who has impressed Cousins.

“I really like her,” Cousins said. “She throws her body around out there. She has a decent shot and she’s pretty quick. She reacts well to the ball. I’m hoping that she has a really good year for us.”

Cameron Georgs is another holdover from last year’s team.

“She’s one of our tallest kids,” Cousins said. “She can shoot it pretty well and she’s going to shoot it.”

Caroline Beatrice is another senior who has impressed the new coach.

“She has great enthusiasm,” Cousins said. “To me, that’s her strength. She comes every day and she’s ready to play. I want that to rub off on the others and have the others play like that.”

Sophomore Cameron Halpern is going to make an impact on the varsity.

“I like her size and she can run the floor well,” Cousins said. “She’s young and tough.”

Freshman Kira Adams has definitely impressed enough to stick around with the varsity.

“She definitely has a varsity body,” Cousins said. “She has a nice shooting stroke. I hope to get something out of her with the varsity.”

The Golden Bears open the 2013-14 season with Dwight- Englewood.

“Sometimes, I have to pinch myself and ask is this really happening?” Cousins said. “I can’t wait for Dec. 20t and for us to have our season unfold. I’m going to try to maximize their potential. If that means they’re going to be coached, taught, pulled and dragged, I’m going to do it. This is the next stage of my life.”

Remembering and honoring ‘Coach’

QP dedicates practice field to legendary grid coach Borgess

Photo courtesy Jim Hague The field at Queen of Peace was renamed last week in honor of the late Ralph Borgess, who spent 26 years at the school as a coach and assistant athletic director.

Photo courtesy Jim Hague
The field at Queen of Peace was renamed last week in honor of the late Ralph Borgess, who spent 26 years at the school as a coach and assistant athletic director.

 

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

For most of his adult life, Ralph Borgess was synonymous with Queen of Peace High School.

Sure, the late Borgess was a Kearny native who starred as a multi-sport athlete at Kearny High. And yes, Borgess spent a good portion of his life as the head football coach at Harrison, leading the Blue Tide to their lone football state championship, the North Jersey Section 1, Group II title in 1986.

And after all, Borgess spent an astounding 52 years coaching high school football in New Jersey, earning Hall of Fame honors all across the board.

But deep down, Borgess was as much a part of Queen of Peace as the Golden Griffin itself.

Borgess served as the head football coach for two different stints, including his final go-round that lasted until he was past his 80th birthday. He was also the assistant athletic director at the school and maintained a constant presence until his untimely death following a stroke in 2006.

Ever since Borgess’ passing, the school wanted to find a way to memorialize him, to make sure that people remembered “Coach” for perpetuity.

That tribute took place last week, when QP officials finally dedicated the practice field outside the school as the Ralph Borgess Field. There was a ceremony with speeches remembering “Coach.” The field house was newly painted with Borgess’ name in bright gold letters and a plaque was unveiled, featuring Borgess’ achievements and accomplishments at the school for 26 marvelous years.

While the weather wasn’t exactly balmy, nothing could dampen the spirits of the people who attended, who came to remember and honor “Coach.”

“It was wonderful,” said Ruth Borgess, the coach’s widow. “He knew that the school wanted to do something like this before he died. He said that they wanted to do it, but it never came to pass. I never thought it would take so long, but a lot of people all got together and pushed for it to happen.”

Ruth Borgess was moved by the ceremony and presentation.

“It was a very nice reception,” Ruth Borgess said. “I never expected anything like that. I think it’s great that kids are going to look up, see his name and say, `Who’s that?’ And they’re going to mention his name for a long time.”

Borgess said that her great grandson, also named Ralph, keeps the name alive. Her son, Ralph Jr., who also coached at Queen of Peace, passed away two years ago. The family has another son, Rich, who also was a coach.

Christine Borgess Riccardi is Coach Borgess’ granddaughter. She has such fine memories of her grandfather.

“He made such a lasting impression on me,” Riccardi said. “I can remember being an 11-year-old kid and driving through the streets of Harrison, looking for kids who broke curfew. I remember waiting for him after games and I had pockets full of M&Ms to give to him, win or lose. I can never forget those moments.”

Riccardi sang her grandfather’s praises.

“He was truly amazing,” Riccardi said. “He taught me so much about life. No one could compare to him. There was no better person.”

Riccardi was also impressed with the ceremony.

Photo by Jim Hague The plaque honoring the late Ralph Borgess was put on the wall near the field that will forever bear the name of the beloved “Coach.”

Photo by Jim Hague
The plaque honoring the late Ralph Borgess was put on the wall near the
field that will forever bear the name of the beloved “Coach.”

 

“It was an amazing tribute to him,” Riccardi said. “And it’s well deserved. I’m thrilled that it came to pass and that they recognized his iconic status, not just at Queen of Peace, but throughout northern New Jersey. He was the most amazing man I’ve ever known.”

Riccardi said that she had only one wish.

“I think the only thing I regret in life is that I wasn’t a boy,” Riccardi said. “Because being a girl, I didn’t get the chance to play for him.”

Tony Riposta, the highly respected North Arlington-based attorney, did get the chance to play for “Coach.” A graduate of QP in 1970, Riposta still holds his days playing with Borgess in reverence.

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this than Coach Borgess,” Riposta said. “He put in so much time there. He loved the place and loved the players. This was so appropriate, because he loved QP more than anyone.”

Riposta, who was asked to be one of the speakers, said that the ceremony was special.

“It absolutely brought back great memories,” Riposta said. “No one loved coaching high school football more than Coach Borgess. He was the consummate high school football coach and he was great at it. I was so lucky to have him as a coach. I don’t know where I’d be today without him. I would have done anything for him.”

Queen of Peace athletic director Ed Abromaitis was one of the driving forces to get this tribute for Borgess. After all, the two shared an office together in the basement of the school for the last 10 years of Borgess’ life.

“It was so important to Coach, having this field,” Abromaitis said. “It’s not a beautiful field, but it was his. It was his idea to build it. Before the field, the team had to practice in the cemetery. This field was his own little thing, so naming it after him is just right. It’s perfect.”

Abromaitis said that there was a certain amount of pride that came with the day.

“It was a great feeling,” Abromaitis said. “His family was here. Friends, former players, so many people. It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. It’s such a fitting tribute. It’s perfect for him.”

And a perfect way for the school to keep Ralph Borgess’ name alive for the many years to come.

“It came almost seven years to the day since he passed,” Riccardi said. “It’s a nice time of year to remember him. It was Thanksgiving, being with family. It was very emotional for all of us.”

Anyone who ever knew Ralph Borgess knew that he loved Queen of Peace, loved the kids, loved being active even into his 80s. The only bad thing was that “Coach” wasn’t around to enjoy the day and the festivities with everyone else.

Renewing Thanksgiving tradition with a cause

Photo courtesy Temple University sports information Former Belleville High School standout and Temple University defensive back Maurice Jones, shown here in action for Temple two years ago, was part of the Belleville-Nutley flag football game last week that raised money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Photo courtesy Temple University sports information
Former Belleville High School standout and Temple University defensive back Maurice Jones, shown here in action for Temple two years ago, was part of the Belleville-Nutley flag football game last week that raised money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Jason Luzzi and Bill Mbua are long-time friends who grew up together in Belleville. “We used to live on the same block,” Mbua said. But then, Mbua’s family moved to neighboring Nutley. When Mbua joined the football team at Nutley and Luzzi was on the squad at Belleville, it meant one thing – instant rivals. The childhood friendship had to go out the window, especially when the two teams met on Thanksgiving in 2004.

Since Mbua was a wide receiver, he never got a chance to tackle his friend during that game, which was won by the Maroon Raiders, 27-0.

Luzzi, a running back and safety at Belleville, went on to play football at Lackawanna Junior College and eventually baseball at Bloomfield College.

Last year, Luzzi’s family summer home in Ortley Beach was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

One day last year, with buddy Mbua nearby, Luzzi had a brainstorm.

“I started thinking that maybe there was a way we could help raise money,” Luzzi said.

And his thought was to bring back the Thanksgiving Day football game between Belleville and Nutley, which was discontinued three years ago.

The two rivals now open their seasons against each other instead of finishing off the year.

“A lot of people were not happy about the game not being played on Thanksgiving,” Luzzi said. “I was one of them. I was not at all happy.”

“We were all very disappointed,” Mbua said. “We didn’t understand why they didn’t play. It was something that should have gone on. It was a chance to get together, see old friends coming back from college. It was a fun time.”

So Luzzi thought that maybe he could bring back the Thanksgiving Day rivalry, but with a twist, sort of an Old Timer’s Day.

“It just hit me,” Luzzi said. “I thought it would be fun. I was sure that a lot of people would want to come.”

Luzzi posted a message on Facebook, proclaiming the renewal of the Belleville-Nutley Thanksgiving Day game, albeit in a flag football setting.

“We got 250 confirmations in 24 hours on Facebook,” Luzzi said. “It was amazing. I knew it would go over big.”

“I started to try to recruit players,” Mbua said. “But we also had to get approval from the elected officials and athletic directors.”

But Luzzi, Mbua and friend Mike Perinotti of Belleville had to go to work. They worked to get sponsors to help defray the cost of insurance, permits, uniforms, you name it.

“We also required each player to donate $50,” Luzzi said. “The response was so positive. We had so many people interested in playing that we had to turn some people away. We didn’t want to have too many people.”

“It was definitely not an issue getting players for either team,” Mbua said.

The first game, played at Belleville, was a rousing success. There was a solid turnout and they raised $7,000 for the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.

“We charged admission,” Luzzi said. “We had raffles and got donations. We had food donated from a lot of businesses. It was a great success, so much so that we figured we would do it annually.”

“We got a lot of support,” Mbua said. “It really turned out great.”

The second annual Belleville- Nutley game, played last Sunday at the Nutley Oval, took place under tough conditions.

“It was absolutely freezing out,” Luzzi said. “It was 25 degrees and windy. I think the weather kept a lot of people away.”

But in the end, Belleville prevailed, winning 27-26. It helped that Belleville had a new recruit in Maurice Jones, the former Temple standout who spent a good portion of last summer in the Chicago Bears’ training camp. Adding a pro player to the roster definitely helped the Buccaneers’ cause.

“We always had good skilled people,” Luzzi said. “We had so much fun.”

“Mo Jones is a great guy and a big help in getting the game together,” Mbua said. “It really was a lot of fun. It’s always a great time to get together with childhood friends and raise some money for a good cause.”

This year, the funds raised will go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research.

“There will be a decent donation,” Luzzi said. “It was still a good thing.”

Next year, the plan is to play the game earlier, say in October, with the game moving of course to Belleville.

“You can never predict the weather in November,” Luzzi said. “It definitely means a lot to me that we got this going. There was a lot of work that went into it.”

Luzzi thanked businesses like ShopRite of Belleville and Nutley, Franklin Steak House, Ritacco Brothers Pizzeria, Midtown Bar and Grill in Nutley and Jersey Dogs in Belleville for donating food for the event.

“As far back as I can remember, there was always Belleville-Nutley on Thanksgiving,” Luzzi said. “Part of the reason why I went to Belleville was that game. It was very important to me.”

“Tradition is the one thing we need to keep alive,” Mbua said. “There was never really bad blood between us. It was always a great rivalry. We get to see people we don’t usually see. We really want to encourage all generations of Nutley and Belleville football players to get involved. It really is a great thing.”

St. Mary’s heads to state title game, thanks to Kearny trio

Woupes, Banks, O’Sullivan give Gaels fighting chance

Photo courtesy Dennis Hulse From l , Kevin Woupes, Keon Banks and Evan O’Sullivan, all residents of Kearny, have played major roles for the St. Mary’s of Rutherford Gaels. St. Mary’s will face St. Joseph of Hammonton for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state championship Saturday at the College of New Jersey.

Photo courtesy Dennis Hulse
From l , Kevin Woupes, Keon Banks and Evan O’Sullivan, all residents of Kearny, have played major roles for the St. Mary’s of Rutherford Gaels. St. Mary’s will face St. Joseph of Hammonton for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state championship Saturday at the College of New Jersey.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When they were little kids, just learning about the sport of football, Kevin Woupes, Keon Banks and Evan O’Sullivan were friends and teammates, playing on the Pee Wee level of the Kearny Generals program.

“We were all like brothers,” Banks said. “We were all very close from the beginning.”

“We all started out on the same team,” Woupes said. “We made the playoffs together our first year. I’ll always remember that.”

When it came time to choose a high school, O’Sullivan was the first to select St. Mary’s of Rutherford.

“I kind of knew I was going there,” O’Sullivan said. “My father and mother both went to St. Mary’s, so I was continuing the tradition.”

O’Sullivan’s two buddies followed suit a year later.

“I wasn’t so sure that Kevin and Keon were going to come here,” O’Sullivan said. “But it worked out great.”

“My friends all wanted me to go to Kearny, but Evan helped me,” Woupes said. “It wasn’t a tough decision. I knew I wanted to go there. St. Mary’s was always my first choice.”

Banks was the same way. “In eighth grade, when I had to make the decision, I wanted to go to a program that was solid,” Banks said. “I knew some others who went to St. Mary’s. Having Evan there already helped. It made the decision to go to St. Mary’s easier.”

O’Sullivan, a senior, and his long-time friends, both juniors, have been mainstays for the Gaels’ football program since they arrived.

All three play big roles in the Gaels’ offense as running backs. Banks is one of the top running backs in northern New Jersey, compiling more than 1,500 yards and scoring 25 touchdowns this season. Woupes and O’Sullivan are linebackers on defense, Banks a defensive back.

And the long-time friends will get one final chance to play together this weekend, as the Gaels face St. Joseph of Hammonton for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state championship Saturday afternoon at the College of New Jersey in Ewing.

“It’s great because we’ve been together for practically my whole life,” said Woupes, who does a lot of the blocking for Banks from his fullback slot. “It’s pretty cool that we’re doing this together.”

Veteran St. Mary’s head coach Mike Sheridan credits the efforts of all three Kearny natives.

“They’re all major parts,” Sheridan said. “They’re a big reason why we’re in the position we’re in.”

Sheridan said that the coaching staff was looking for a way to get O’Sullivan more involved this season.

“We were looking for a spot for Evan, because he works so hard,” Sheridan said. “We honestly couldn’t figure out how to use him. But he changed his body in the off-season. He put on about 15 pounds of muscle and had good strength. He got in there at middle linebacker and filled gaps and made plays. He’s done a great job and he’s a big part of our defense.”

Offensively, O’Sullivan gives Woupes a chance to get a little rest as his backup at fullback.

“It’s almost like fate that I got my chance this year,” O’Sullivan said. “I think fate really had something to do with it.”

Woupes has been a mainstay at outside linebacker.

“I’m back to my old position and that has made me feel like I’m more of a bigger component this year,” Woupes said. “I feel like I’ve made a bigger impact. And I love blocking for Keon. It means a lot for me to spring Keon and if I’m not doing it, Evan is.”

Sheridan has nothing but praise for Woupes.

“Kevin is the best all-around athlete we have,” Sheridan said. “He’s just a great football player. He’s constantly around the ball. He’s a tough guy. He’s a silent leader who lets his actions speak for themselves.” Sheridan remembered the day last season when he realized Woupes was the real deal.

“I let him get on the field last year as a sophomore and he made two interceptions against Queen of Peace,” Sheridan said. “I could see the athleticism in him right away. He’s the best all-around player we have.”

Banks’ story is remarkable. At 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, Banks is not the biggest kid in the world. No one knew whether he could handle the grind of being an every down tailback.

Banks likes when people question his size.

“I use that as motivation,” Banks said. “People used to tell me all the time I was too small. That just makes me run harder. Sometimes, it’s good to be small, because the other teams can’t see me at first. I’ve heard teams saying, ‘Damn, I can’t even see that kid.’ That just makes me go.”

Sheridan had somewhat of an idea that Banks could be his go-to guy.

“He’s a powerful kid who is put together well,” Sheridan said. “With that low center of gravity, he’s tough to bring down. He drove our defense crazy last year when he was part of our scout team, so I knew he had potential.” But to gain 1,500 yards and score 25 touchdowns? That puts Banks in an elite category.

“Yeah, not to that extent,” Sheridan said. “No doubt, he’s been a pleasant surprise.”

“It’s definitely been a big surprise to me,” Banks said. “I gained a lot of confidence, working hard in the offseason. My linemen have been a big help. So are my friends Kevin and Evan. Without them all, I wouldn’t have had the season I’ve had.”

Needless to say, it’s been a season to remember for the Gaels, who have posted a 9-2 record this season. Now, they just need one final win for the big prize.

“It’s a great feeling,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re one of the few teams left still playing. It’s great to know that we have another game left.”

The Gaels took part in Rutherford’s Thanksgiving parade last Saturday.

“I got to march in a parade,” O’Sullivan said. “How great is that?”

O’Sullivan is the chauffeur for both Woupes and Banks, going every day to school together. That will soon end when O’Sullivan heads off to college. Woupes and Banks will have to find their own mode of transport next fall.

“This game is important, because I’m not going to see Evan much after he goes to college,” Woupes said. “He’s been a big part of my life. It feels great to be able to play with them and share all of this with them. I never thought I’d get this opportunity.”

Sheridan said that it has been a joy coaching the Kearny trio.

“It’s nice to watch them develop as young men,” Sheridan said. “The whole camaraderie they share. I watched them grow up together, see their maturity and their friendship. They’re never going to forget these times. They got all they could get out of high school, three league championships and three trips to the state finals.”

And perhaps, one shiny state championship to go with everything else.

NA soccer star Cordeiro commits to play at NJIT

Photo courtesy Jim Hague North Arlington senior soccer standout Danny Cordeiro announced last week that he has given a verbal commitment to the New Jersey Institute of Technology and will sign a national letter of intent to attend NJIT in February

Photo courtesy Jim Hague
North Arlington senior soccer standout Danny Cordeiro announced last week that he has given a verbal commitment to the New Jersey Institute of Technology and will sign a national letter of intent to attend NJIT in February

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Most college recruiting processes are long, drawn out affairs. Some of them last for years. A college coach might show some interest in a prospective player when the player is a sophomore, thus beginning the tedious procedure that leads up to signing the letter of intent. Incredibly, almost astonishingly, that wasn’t the case with North Arlington High School soccer superstar Danny Cordeiro. His entire recruiting ordeal lasted all of three weeks. Here’s how the story unfolds. It really is remarkable.

Cordeiro, the Vikings’ standout center midfielder, who had an amazing 30 goals and 18 assists this season, innocently sent an e-mail to the coaching staff at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

“I was interested in NJIT, because I want to study engineering,” said Cordeiro, who is almost certain to be an All-Group I selection in a few weeks. “As it turned out, they were already interested in me.”

NJIT assistant coach David Janezic knew of Cordeiro’s exploits and had a keen interest.

“As it turns out, he (Janezic) got a good recommendation from coach Robbie Fitzpatrick, the head coach at Georgian Court,” Cordeiro said. “His wife was an assistant coach at North Arlington, so he put in a good word for me, because he knew I wanted to study engineering.”

So Janezic came to watch Cordeiro play a few times and obviously liked what he saw — a tall, skilled player with excellent speed and good field awareness.

“He came to see me a second time against Wallington and after the game, he told me that he liked what I did on the field, Cordeiro said.

With that, Janezic made a scholarship offer to Cordeiro and the Viking standout quickly accepted. Last week, Cordeiro verbally committed to NJIT, becoming the first NA product to go NCAA Division I in soccer since Eric Chaves went to Marist College seven years ago.

And the whole thing took place in three weeks.

“I’m pretty surprised,” Cordeiro said. “I didn’t think I was going to get any offers, especially not Division I. Most of the Division I schools have already used up their scholarships, so I jumped at the first opportunity. I think it’s great.” Cordeiro will also get to stay close to home, giving his family and friends the opportunity to see him play for the Highlanders, who finished with a 7-9-2 record this season under first-year head coach Didier Orellana.

“I wanted to be close enough, but I’m still going to live on campus,” Cordeiro said. “I might have early practices in the morning and I don’t want to have to rush to get there. But the aspect that my family and friends can see me play is great. I like that. It’s good to be close for that.”

Cordeiro likes the way NJIT plays.

“I like how they’re trying to bring up their young talent,” Cordeiro said. “I’m glad that they’re going to have a good, young team.”

The program’s all-time leading scorer in Division I play is Kearny native Franco Gamero. Unfortunately, Cordeiro and Gamero will never get a chance to be teammates, because Gamero is graduating in the spring of 2014.

North Arlington head coach Jesse Dembowski was elated with the news of Cordeiro’s commitment.

“I’m extremely excited,” Dembowski said. “He’s my first Division I player. He’s so deserving of this. He’s an excellent player. I was just hoping that someone else saw the talent that he had. He’s so passionate about engineering, so this was a great fit for him. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Dembowski liked Cordeiro’s approach.

“He was there for every single practice, working hard every day,” Dembowski said. “And he loves soccer. He would spend his free time devising plays. He would come up with new ideas and run the formations by me. It was like having another assistant coach. He really worked hard at it.”

Dembowski will sorely miss Cordeiro.

“He’s a great role model,” Dembowski said. “He’s already got some of the kids thinking about colleges for soccer. He has absolutely opened doors. He was a great player for us and a great young man.”

Cordeiro won’t officially sign his national letter of intent with NJIT until February, but his decision is etched in stone.

“I’m definitely glad that I’m getting a chance to play D-I,” Cordeiro said. “It was always one of my dreams to get the chance. I’m going to be able to balance soccer with my education. I just want to have a good experience in college. It’s definitely a good feeling. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

More reasons than ever to give thanks this year

Photo by Jim Hague The Kearny cross country team, spearheaded by standouts Aislinn Sroczynski (l.) and Erika Alzamora, give some sportswriters reasons to be thankful.

Photo by Jim Hague
The Kearny cross country team, spearheaded by standouts Aislinn Sroczynski (l.) and Erika Alzamora, give some sportswriters reasons to be thankful.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

As some of our readers may know – and others may be totally oblivious – I have spent this entire month at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, working diligently to try to get my legs back in working condition.

I’ve had a tough go, battling a rare form of neuropathy that has weakened my legs and caused me to fall countless times since the end of the summer. I fell at Red Bull Arena. I fell at the Prudential Center. I fell hard at a high school football game and landed on my back, temporarily ending my ability to cover sporting events.

After a series of falls, causing the Kearny Fire Department to come to pick me up off the floor and the ground, hospitalization was the only recourse.

So here I’ve stayed, since the beginning of November, working with the great Kessler medical staff to try to get better.

And I have improved immensely. My right leg, which was virtually useless when I arrived, is now a little better than half strength. I am walking upright with the help of a walker and no hint of falling. I’m on the verge of getting my walking papers out of Kessler, more than likely this week.

So yes, I should be home for Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday.

It’s special to me for a lot of reasons.

As a child, Thanksgiving meant going to Pechter’s with my father to get the bread for dinner, then stopping off at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City to see St. Peter’s Prep face Dickinson in their annual gridiron rivalry.

As a teenager, it meant coming home from Marquette University for the first time since the summer and seeing my friends again, then having dinner with my family. It was always such a festive time for me.

So this year, it has a special meaning. I’m coming home. I’m healthy again. I hope I don’t fall.

So I am thankful for a lot of things, but mostly, I’m thankful for the great people that I deal with on a regular basis here with The Observer, namely the athletes, the coaches and the administrators.

I’m thankful for Kearny athletic director John Millar and his dutiful assistant Barbara Brooks, who are always willing to lend a helping hand, every single time I call. Whatever the request, they are there to help, whether it’s getting athletes together for an 8 a.m. photo shoot or getting a kid on the phone to be interviewed.

I’m thankful for Jim Cifelli and the Kearny girls’ cross country team, who get so excited every time I’m around to do a story or a picture. With athletes like Aislinn Sroczynski and Erika Alzamora, energetic, bubbly, wonderful young ladies, how could you go wrong? They’re a joy to write about.

I’m thankful for the entire Rusek family, the first family of West Hudson soccer. Sure, the Harrison boys lost a heartbreaker last week to Newton in the Group II state semifinals, but it was a great season for the Blue Tide.

And two weeks ago, when head coach Mike Rusek told his players about my illness, the team decided to dedicate the game to me — and they won. Where in the world does something like that happen? The Harrison soccer program is not only very good, but they’re very classy at the same time.

I’m thankful for Lyndhurst’s great litany of coaches and administrators, people like Butch Servideo, Joe Castagnetti, Kim Hykey and Tom Shoebridge, who go the extra yard as coaches and also greet me with a glad hand as a friend first and a coach second.

I’m thankful for Kearny football coach Nick Edwards, who I saw as a teenager playing baseball and have watched him grow and develop into a fine young man and a coach.

I’m thankful for the good people of Nutley, like athletic director Joe Piro, soccer coaches Mike DiPiano and Marcellino Marra and football coach Tom Basile, who are also extremely giving of their time to their athletes and then still take the time out to assist a local sportswriter in need.

I’m extremely thankful for the friendship and loyalty showed to me by Queen of Peace athletic guru Ed Abromaitis, the guy who has been through the wringer more than any other wet towel. Abro is constantly willing to assist and make sure that his athletes get the proper recognition.

I’m thankful that QP decided to honor my good friend, the late Ralph Borgess, by naming the practice field outside the school after him. I miss our Sunday morning conversations about football. The coach was the best human being I knew and I’m glad his name will live on now in posterity.

I’m thankful for the North Arlington girls’ soccer coaching staff, namely Sharon O’Brien Romer and her mother, Anne, for taking the time to send me a get well card at Kessler. That was such an amazing display of warmth that I am forever grateful for.

I’m also thankful to the hundreds of local readers who have sent texts, e-mails, messages via Facebook, you name it, wishing me good health. People like Joe Pollari of R&R Sporting Goods, who couldn’t have been more generous with his offers to help. I can’t begin to thank everyone.

I’m thankful for this newspaper, The Observer, for giving me the opportunity to continue to work through my illness. Without having The Observer to motivate me, I might have lost my mind over the last few weeks.

And I’m thankful for my family and friends, who have been so incredibly supportive through this tough time. It’s good to know you have friends when you’re down.

So yes, this is a special Thanksgiving. I’m coming home again. That’s a lot to be thankful for.

Thank you.