By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The last couple of years haven’t been too kind for the North Arlington High School girls’ soccer program. The Vikings won four games last year, after getting two the year before.
Head coach Sharon O’Brien- Romer wasn’t used to having seasons where the Vikings struggled. Ever since she took over the program a decade ago, O’Brien-Romer had built a consistent winner, a solid competitive program. So the tough times weren’t easy to swallow.
But this year represents a new year and so far, the Vikings are doing a good job of holding their own, posting a 2-3-2 record in the early going. That record may sound like an area code, but it’s definitely better than what has taken place in the last few years.
“We’re definitely showing improvement,” O’Brien-Romer said. “We beat Becton and St. Mary’s and we tied Weehawken and Harrison. We had a couple of good opportunities in the games we tied, so the record could be better. But we’re being competitive and that’s the first step. I’m proud of the way the girls have progressed since last year. We still have a young team. I have two freshmen and two sophomores starting for me, so that’s a good thing for the future.”
So O’Brien-Romer likes the way the Vikings are making strides.
“I’m happy with the way we’ve played so far,” O’Brien- Romer said. “The quality of the play overall has improved. We had a lot of talent last year, but that didn’t show on the scoreboard. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how talented you are. These girls are working hard and chugging along. I think we’re getting a lot out of them and that’s what makes me happy.”
Senior Nathalye Ribeiro returns to her starting slot as the Vikings’ goalkeeper.
“She’s doing better,” O’Brien- Romer said. “She already has three shutouts. She’s been very instrumental in us playing well.”
Junior Cristina Nardini is the Vikings’ sweeper. Nardini is also a returning starter.
“She’s the type of kid who can play anywhere, but I need her back there,” O’Brien- Romer said. “She wants to do what’s best for the team. She’s already had two goals and two assists, so she’s contributing offensively from the back. She has scored twice outside the box with free kicks. If I need someone who can turn it up a notch, she’s the one who can do it. She’s a take-charge type of kid.”
The stopper is senior captain Amanda Awad.
“She earned her spot through hard work,” O’Brien- Romer said. “She’s such a reliable and smart player.”
Sophomore Sarah Palma is another defender.
“She’s a dynamic player and there’s not a better way to put it,” O’Brien-Romer said. “She’s aggressive and offensive-minded as well. She can dribble well and she has the ability to score.”
Freshman Samantha Maglori is one of the frosh starters along the backline.
“She’s very athletic and has a lot of potential,” O’Brien- Romer said. “She has certain qualities that set her apart.”
Junior Anna Doherty is also a top-flight defender who sees playing time.
Senior captain Mackenzie Cutruzzula is one of the team’s center midfielders.
“She’s a good playmaker,” O’Brien-Romer said. “She’s smart and consistently improving. She’s a great leader.”
Senior captain Melissa Gilmour is another center midfielder.
“She’s a hard worker who plays hard all the time,” O’Brien-Romer said. “She also takes direction very well.” Junior Cara Beth Tillou is a versatile player who is usually in the midfield, but had to be thrown into the role of goalkeeper last Friday in a game against Immaculate Conception. “
She understands the midfield position well,” O’Brien- Romer said.
The Vikings use four different players in the front line, all contributing. Sophomore Taylor Barth has already scored four goals this season.
“She’s unassuming and has such a great foot,” O’Brien- Romer said. “She’s developed into a good scorer with a nose for the goal.”
Junior Tatiana Balugas has been a good distributor on the front line.
“She crosses the ball well and has a great foot as well,” O’Brien-Romer said.
Freshman Jessica Gilmour, the younger sister of Melissa, is another forward who scored a goal against St. Mary’s.
“She’s very versatile and can play anywhere,” O’Brien- Romer said.
Junior Bridget Mejia is another forward who scored a goal against Weehawken. Junior Cristina Valente is a former cheerleader who decided to come out for soccer this year for the first time and is getting playing time along the front line.
“Cristina does a lot of nice things,” O’Brien-Romer said. “She just needs more experience.”
The Vikings have a chance to return to the Group I state playoffs once again.
“I think this team has potential,” O’Brien-Romer said. “Mackenzie and Melissa can give us leadership. They’ve been through such tough times as we struggled the last few years. It would be nice if they can be with us as we got better. I’m always optimistic. I think we can do well and rise to the occasion.”
And a return to the state playoffs would be a fitting reward for the North Arlington hard-working and dedicated seniors.