By Jim Hague
A few weeks ago, actor Sherman Hemsley died. He was best known for his portrayal of George Jefferson on the popular CBS sitcom, “The Jeffersons.”
The snappy theme song of that show was entitled, “Movin’ on Up.” It was a song that everyone sang in the 1970s when “The Jeffersons” were mentioned.
Well, that’s the motto that the Queen of Peace girls’ soccer team could use this season, because the Golden Griffins are certainly moving on up.
Queen of Peace suffered through a 5-16 campaign a year ago, a season that almost drove veteran head coach Mike Flynn into retirement after 12 seasons.
But Flynn saw the promise in his young roster and decided to return for lucky season No. 13.
“I’m really excited about them,” Flynn said. “They really have stuck together. They played spring soccer together and have been training every day. We have some good athletes. I can just see the change. There’s no arrogance, but there is a little more confidence. I just want them to keep it going at the same level right now. I still think we’re a work in progress, but I like what I see.”
Flynn said that his players are definitely inspired after losing 16 times last year.
“They’re definitely hungry,” Flynn said. “I think it helped going through last year. Hey, I’m tired of losing as well. It’s getting to the point where it’s personal. It’s been a while since we had a winner. I want to win just like they do.”
The Golden Griffins have endured three straight losing campaigns, something that Flynn was not accustomed to a few years ago, when QP won double digit games in wins every single year.
“I think this is a team that is fit as fiddles,” Flynn said. “They’re very athletic and they’re in great shape. I can’t challenge them enough.”
Flynn will take his team to preseason camp at Dingman’s Ferry, N.Y., this week in preparation for their first game Sept. 10 against Dwight- Englewood.
“We’re still moving people around,” Flynn said. “That’s what camp is for.”
The goalkeeper is junior Lia Rodriguez, who never played soccer before last year, but became the Golden Griffins’ starter in goal. Rodriguez, also a standout basketball player, handled herself well in goal and now she’s an accomplished net minder.
“She said to me the other day, `Coach, I’m starting to like this game,’” Flynn said. “She’s really been amazing. She’s a workhorse. She never misses a practice. She’s the first one there and the last to leave. She’s great to have on the team because of her attitude. She’s become a good goalie and because of her attitude, we made her a captain this year.”
The sweeper is sophomore Michaila Mastrofilippo, one of twin sisters on the team.
“Michaila knows the game and she has a great personality,” Flynn said. “She’s tireless. She didn’t sit out a minute last year and I already told her that she’s not coming out of a game for one minute this year.”
The stopper is a work in progress. It could be sophomore Natalie Negroni, the state 400-meter hurdles champion last spring. It could be softball standout Nikki Sammartino, also a sophomore. Both Negroni (for track) and Sammartino (for softball) were named as Observer Athletes of the Week last spring, so that proves how athletic Flynn’s team is.
The defenders are senior Stephanie Reyes, the lone senior on the roster, and Gabriella Lombardozzi, who is also a sophomore.
“I do like the youth of this team,” Flynn said. “It proves that we have a good future.” Junior Maria Reyes returns to the midfield. She made First Team All-NJIC honors last year.
“She works hard all the time and she always has a smile on her face,” Flynn said.
Michelle Mastrofilippo, the other twin, is a sophomore midfielder.
“She has the same type of energy as her sister,” Flynn said. “I love having both of them.”
Junior Marissa Dundas, who shocked the local soccer circles by scoring six goals in a game last year against North Arlington, only to suffer a separated shoulder in her next game, forcing her to the sidelines for the rest of the season, has returned healthy and is already making an impact.
“She scored three goals in a scrimmage against McNair Academic,” Flynn said. “She’s ready.”
The forwards can be Negroni, who scored five goals last season, or freshman Guilia Gargano, who has shown promise.
Sammartino could end up being a forward as well, along with Christine Castillo.
“We’re still moving people around,” Flynn said. “We’re moving everyone around. It’s why we have camp, so we can see where we are. I’ll tell you, last year, I was ready to pack it in, but now I’m excited about this group. I’m looking at the future and the future looks very bright. We’re setting the goals to be reasonable this year. We want to be competitive. That’s all we’re asking for.”