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Lyndhurst softball team prepares for another state title run

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

The 2014 high school softball season was certainly a memorable one for Lyndhurst High School. The Golden Bears won the school’s first-ever NJSIAA state sectional championship, capturing the North Jersey Section 2, Group II title in coach Emily Ringen’s first year as head coach.

The Golden Bears also won their division of the New Jersey Interscholastic Conference.

“We were league champs, then state champs,” Ringen said. “But we’re trying not to use the words ‘last year’ that often. I didn’t want to put pressure on them that they had to do it again. They’re a good group to work with and I think they’ve bought into what I’m selling them.”

That’s why Ringen doesn’t bring up the Golden Bears’ successes of a year ago.

“It’s over,” Ringen said. “It’s something we needed to defend, but I try not to mention it too much.”

The Golden Bears have only two returning starters from a year ago, but they’re in the most influential positions in softball, namely catcher and pitcher.

The catcher is junior Monica Laverty, who has developed into a fine catcher despite not looking like she fits the part.

“She knows the game,” Ringen said. “I was a catcher when I played, so I have a good relationship with Monica. She’s just picked up where she left off last year.”

The pitcher is one of the very best around.

Senior Jenn Tellefsen is a dominant force, both on the mound and with the bat.

Tellefsen was a workhorse in the championship game of the Weehawken tournament Saturday, defeating defending Hudson County champion Kearny, 2-1, in the title game. In the final that lasted an incredible 13 innings, Tellefsen allowed just five hits and struck out 19. She also had the two-run double that gave the Golden Bears the victory.

Tellefsen is headed to Florida State-Jacksonville in the fall.

“She definitely sets the tone of the game,” Ringen said of Tellefsen. “It’s huge to have her back.”

Tellefsen had 17 strikeouts in recent win over New Milford and 15 strikeouts in defeating Midland Park.

“She sets the tone with her powerful pitching,” said Ringen, who has this team out to an 8-4 record and have won four straight.

Tellefsen had 10 hits in her first 17 at-bats this season (.588) and had a Bergen County best in RBI with 13 after just three games.

“The opposing teams recognize her and won’t throw to her,” Ringen said.

After Laverty and Tellefsen, the Golden Bears are extremely young and inexperienced, thus the concerns about the lineup.

Junior Giana Nerney played practically every position last season and has settled into the first base role.

“I put her everywhere last year and she responded,” Ringen said.

Senior Nicole Calabro is returning to action after an injury and may see time at first base.

The second baseman is freshman Makenzie McMillan, who has responded well to the challenges as well.

“She has the potential to be a very good infielder,” Ringen said. “She’s a good athlete. I think she can have a good career.”

Junior Haley Duffy is the shortstop.

“She can do it all,” Ringen said of Duffy. “She’s like a junior captain out there. She’s a good leader. She’s a threesport athlete, so she knows what it takes.”

Duffy also plays basketball and volleyball at Lyndhurst.

The third baseman duties have been shared by a pair of sophomores in Olivia Carins and Jessie Bolton.

“They both have talent,” Ringen said. “They’re young and getting to understand the game better. But they’re still learning.”

Sophomore Olivia McMullin is the left fielder.

“She knows the game and I like having her in the lineup,” Ringen said.

Senior Kayleigh O’Rourke is the centerfielder.

“She has so much energy that it’s incredible,” Ringen said. “She’s our sparkplug and our leader in off-the-field activities.”

O’Rourke had some college offers, but she’s elected to attend Norwich University in Connecticut.

The right fielder is freshman Genna Ricciardi, whom Ringen says “has a strong bat and solid arm in the outfield.”

Three other seniors see playing time, namely Kathleen Totaro, Amanda Roman and Natalia Sampedro.

The Golden Bears are hot right now, having won four straight, including the impressive wins over Kearny and West Orange, both Group IV programs.

“I think we’re going to take it week-by-week,” Ringen said. “We do have a very young squad, so it’s really wide open for playing time. We’re going with the hot hands.”

Right now, that hot hand is Tellefsen, who is pitching like one of the very best in the state.

Assistant coach Diana Auteri helps Ringen immensely.

“We talk softball all the time,” Ringen said. “We talk as if we’re still playing. That’s the name of the game.”

Say what? QP allegedly hires Dressel, then un-hires her

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It’s been stated here too many times to remember that Queen of Peace is perhaps the most dysfunctional school and athletic department that I’ve dealt with in my 33-year career in covering high school sports.

In fact, there’s not even a close second. It’s the true champion of dysfunction and discombobulating events.

You name it, it’s happened at Queen of Peace. You have coaches coming and going for a host of reasons, ranging from hiring an exercise expert without permission to domestic violence threats. You have athletic administrators being replaced and then brought back again, then replaced and brought back once again. Kids come and go, either transferring in or leaving.

And seriously, you can’t make up some of the stories that emulate from Ridge Road in North Arlington. It would make for its own ridiculous reality show.

One figures that nothing that happens at Queen of Peace could shock me anymore. I figured I’ve seen and heard it all after all these years.

That was, until last week, when I happened to open the Bergen Record. On the front page of the sports section, across the right side column, appeared a story whose headline read, “QP hires Dressel as girls’ basketball coach.”

Say what? Could it be THE Kerry Dressel, the former St. Mary’s of Rutherford coach? That same Kerry Dressel? Sure enough, the article stated that Dressel had been indeed hired by QP athletic director Ed Abromaitis to become the new girls’ coach at the school.

And as I read further, I exclaimed out loud, even if I was by myself, “Are they kidding me?”

This one took the cake. Of all the stories that ever came out of QP – like one coach getting arrested for going after another coach in a domestic dispute, or another former coach appearing in pornographic films or yet another coach going into the showers with his players – this one was clearly the most ridiculous.

You see, Kerry Dressel once stood accused of having committed a felony.

Regardless of what her status is now, in 2009, when she was the head coach at St. Mary’s of Rutherford, Dressel took a plea bargain and accepted Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) for pleading guilty to falsifying financial aid documents for three students in order to get those players to be able to pay tuition to go to St. Mary’s.

Dressel and her assistant coach Rachael Kressaty were arrested and charged with theft by deception, use of personal identifying information and theft by failure to make required disposition of property received.

Dressel, who was an All- State player during her days at St. Mary’s and still remains the No. 2 scorer all-time in Bergen County history, scoring 2,566 points when she graduated in 1982, agreed to forfeit her teaching certificate in 2010 as part of her entrance into the PTI program.

PTI is offered to first-time offenders who do not commit violent crimes. If someone completes the PTI program, then after a year, the charges are expunged and removed from one’s permanent records.

So therefore, Dressel currently does not have a criminal record. But there’s no denying what she did to get in trouble in the first place.

Dressel was a highly successful coach at St. Mary’s, winning more than 250 games during her 14-year tenure. No one can ever doubt Dressel’s abilities as a coach.

But she simply cannot be involved in high school athletics. Dressel relinquished that privilege once she accepted the terms of the PTI.

Apparently three weeks ago, on the request of current QP wrestling coach Scot Weaver, Dressel met with Abromaitis to discuss the possibility of being the new girls’ coach at the school.

Dressel was apparently upfront with Abromaitis and told him that she did have some trouble in the past.

But Abromaitis did not know the severity of Dressel’s situation when he spoke with her about the job.

Here’s the other sticking point – whether Dressel was hired at QP in the first place.

One day after the story appeared – much to everyone’s surprise – in the Bergen Record, the Archdiocese of Newark issued a statement which said that Abromaitis “misspoke” when he allegedly told the Bergen Record that Dressel was indeed hired.

Both the Archdiocese of Newark and school officials are insisting that no one has been hired as the girls’ basketball coach at Queen of Peace.

Dressel sure sounded like she was the new coach in the Bergen Record article.

“I had a great conversation with Abromaitis, and we had a lot of the same ideas and we both want good things for the Queen of Peace basketball team to get them back to where they used to be,” Dressel was quoted as saying in the Bergen Record article. “My job is not going to be easy, because there are not a lot of kids in the program, so it’s pretty much starting from scratch and going forward. There is nowhere to go but up.”

In the Bergen Record article, Abromaitis admitted that Dressel addressed her legal woes, but that he thought everyone “deserved a second chance.”

“The feeling I got was she was humbled by what happened to her and was very honest about it,” Abromaitis said in the article. “I am sure she wants to put it behind her and move forward. We are looking to build a program because it’s been down the last couple of years. We needed a coach who would come in and stimulate the girls and get them to come out. Hopefully, we can become a winning program again.”

Maybe the Golden Griffins can soar again in girls’ basketball, but they cannot with Dressel as the head coach. Plain and simple, Dressel’s days as a basketball coach are over. How in the world could any school turn a blind eye to what she did, even if it was six years ago, even if she did complete the terms of her PTI and there is no permanent record of the crimes?

The bottom line is that she did it. She perpetuated fraud on legal financial aid forms for the benefit of her basketball program and even herself, admitting that she took some of the financial aid money received for “personal expenses.”

It’s absurd to think that the school would even consider someone with that kind of track record, especially with all of the countless other indiscretions and horror stories the school has had to endure over the years.

So shame on Weaver for recommending her in the first place.

And shame on Abromaitis for being naïve to the severity of the charges that were initially levied against Dressel. All Abromaitis had to do was Google Dressel’s name.

One of the first items that appears when you do is “Kerry Dressel convicted.” I kid you not. It’s the third option down after you Google her name. That alone should have been the red flag warning for Abromaitis.

I respect Ed Abromaitis as much if not more than anyone else I’ve covered in my 14 years at The Observer. He’s honest, upfront, doesn’t lie at all and more importantly has been loyal to Queen of Peace more than anyone else I’ve ever known. His loyalty to the school, even after he’s been abused and dumped on time and time again, has no peers.

But honestly, Abromaitis screwed up big time with this one by not doing his homework. All he had to do was go to Google. It would have taken three seconds. Instead, he has this mess to clean up and once again, he has to fall on the sword for his beloved QP.

So the Archdiocese did the right thing in putting a halt to the madness, stating that Dressel was not hired – even after Dressel spoke and acted like someone who had indeed been hired.

And yet once again, here’s QP getting the spotlight in these pages for all the wrong reasons. And people think that I have it out for the school. No, honestly, the school does it to itself time and time again.

If this one would have stuck, it would have been the worst of all.

NA’s Silva throws no-hitter in Autism Awareness Challenge

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By Jim Hague

 Observer Sports Writer 

At the end of the 2014 high school baseball season, North Arlington’s promising junior Joel Silva was not pleased with his development.

“I just had a feeling that I could do better and I really expected myself to be better,” Silva said. “I needed to help the team a little bit more than I did. I always knew I had the talent. I just needed to add a little more.”

It started by joining the North Arlington soccer team. “I hadn’t played soccer since middle school, but I went back to playing soccer,” said Silva, who was a defender for the Vikings last fall. “It really helped me immensely and gave me strength in my legs. It helped with my stamina.”

Then, Joel had a sit-down gathering with his hardworking mom, Ana, and told her that he needed to do the extra things if he wanted to improve.

“My Mom has always been there for me,” Joel Silva said. “I just knew I had to do something just to get better.”

So Ana Silva picked up the tab as Joel went to pitching camps and clinics. He worked out with former professional pitcher Jim Wladyka to learn about some of the intricacies of pitching. Silva and North Arlington teammate and fellow pitcher Brian Costello went to Wladyka Baseball Camp with Silva.

“We figured we could go together and learn a lot there,” Silva said.

Both Silva and Costello worked with North Arlington pitching coach Bruce Baddis as well.

When the 2015 season began early this month, Silva thought he was ready.

“I knew had to step it up this season and do whatever it takes to help us win,” Silva said. “I knew the team was counting on me.”

Silva experienced some slight bumps in the road in the early going, having a tough go of it in the first couple of starts against Becton Regional and Saddle Brook.

“I was a little frustrated, but I knew I could do better,” Silva said. “I was so worried that he was trying to do too much,” said North Arlington head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono. “He was trying to be perfect and was a little down on himself. I told him that I didn’t need him to be perfect. I just needed him to be Joel Silva. It seemed to calm him down a bit.”

Top photo by Jim Hague, Above photo courtesy Paul Marcuntuono TOP: North Arlington junior pitcher Joel Silva. ABOVE: North Arlington pitcher Joel Silva (c.) holds the baseball after pitching a no-hitter in the Weehawken Autism Awareness Challenge against St. Anthony at Weehawken Stadium Saturday. With Silva are head coach Paul Marcantuono (l.) and pitching coach Bruce Baddis.

Top photo by Jim Hague, Above photo courtesy Paul Marcuntuono
TOP: North Arlington junior pitcher Joel Silva. ABOVE: North Arlington pitcher Joel Silva (c.) holds the baseball after pitching a no-hitter in the Weehawken Autism Awareness Challenge against St. Anthony at Weehawken Stadium Saturday. With Silva are head coach Paul Marcantuono (l.) and pitching coach Bruce Baddis.

 

 

Last week, Silva took the ball against Paterson Charter and had a great game, firing a complete game shutout.

He was definitely prepared, mentally and physically, for his next start against St. Anthony in the Weehawken Autism Awareness Challenge last Saturday.

The start and the cause meant a lot to Silva.

“Before the game, I called my friend Jessica Ryan,” Silva said. “She has a sister, Cate, who has autism. I told Jessica that I wanted to pitch the game for Cate.”

As it turned out, Silva had the game of his life.

Silva fired a no-hitter, striking out 13, walking four and hitting two batters, leading the Vikings to a 5-1 victory over St. Anthony. It was the first no-hitter that Silva ever threw on any level and the first no-hitter thrown by a North Arlington pitcher since Joseph Monahan threw two in 2008.

The victory was also the fourth of the season for the Vikings, who won three games all of last season.

“It was a tough season for us last year,” Silva said. “We won only three games. We didn’t have our home field (Rip Collins Field was undergoing the major renovation project). I think going through all of that made us a better team overall.”

The Vikings trailed, 1-0, into the sixth inning despite Silva’s flirtation with destiny.

“He’s pitching a no-hitter and we’re losing,” Marcantuono said. “But we stayed with it and scored five runs in the sixth.”

Silva delivered the big hit in the inning, a two-run double, that sealed the deal.

“It was a great feeling,” Silva said. “It was pitching so well. I just had to wait for the win to come. But everyone contributed to us getting the runs.”

For his efforts, Silva has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week, the first such honoree in the spring scholastic sports season.

Silva said that he felt confident going into Saturday’s game.

“I felt great,” Silva said. “Everything was on. My curveball was dropping in for strikes and my fastball was good. My control was a little off. I kept running my fastball inside, but as the game went on, I got control and was locating my pitches better.”

“It was one of the most unconventional no-hitters you’ll see,” Marcantuono said. “His control was a little off, but his fastball was still overpowering and his curve was breaking. I always tell him that if he wants to dominate, he has to throw inside. It was all just a mix of everything.”

After Silva had the lead, there was nothing that was going to stop him, as he struck out four of the last six batters he faced to secure the memorable performance.

“There was no way I was taking him out of the game,” Marcantuono said. “He had to be the horse. I think the whole team knew he was throwing a no-hitter. As soon as he got the last out, he didn’t know what to do. He just smiled at me.”

“I was in total shock,” said Silva, who knew he had a no-hitter going during the last two innings. “I had no idea I could do it. I had so many things running through my mind. Seriously, I was in complete shock. But it was awesome.”

Marcantuono said that the Vikings were also in a bit of awe with Silva’s dance with destiny.

“No-hitters don’t come around here often,” Marcantuono said. “We hadn’t had one in seven years, so we didn’t know how to react. But it was great feeling for all of us and especially Joel. It was a great way to start the tournament. It gave it all a little excitement.”

As it turned out, North Arlington’s win was the lone victory for a Bergen County school in the Weehawken Autism Awareness Challenge. The other seven games were all captured by Hudson County squads.

In that respect, it makes Silva’s no-hitter even more impressive.

“I can’t ask for a better team,” Silva said. “We’re all still young and still learning. But we’re getting there. You put it all together, the win, the no-hitter, winning for Cate. It was just great.”

One for the memory books, that’s for sure.

Take me to the river, Passaic River that is

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Four local crew programs compete in Metropolitan Youth Speed Regatta

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

The sun had just barely been spotted near the banks of the Passaic River last Saturday morning, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a bevy of activity going on already.

The Metropolitan Youth Speed Order Regatta was taking place on the Passaic River with four local programs – Kearny, Belleville, Nutley and North Arlington – all participating in the event, which basically kicked off the spring crew season for the local schools.

The Kearny girls were in full force, ready for action.

“I was looking forward to it a lot,” said senior Gabriella Baptista, who earned a spot on the United States Rowing Junior National Development team last summer. “We get a chance to compete with our rivals, racing on our own river.”

“It’s more comforting for us,” said senior Cynthia Luz, who has earned a crew scholarship to Fordham University. “We already know the course and already know the river. It’s a plus for us.”

It was especially exciting for the locals, especially after the long and wicked winter everyone had to endure. It was excruciating for the crew members, who could not get on the water because the Passaic River was frozen for so long and the temperatures weren’t exactly conducive to outdoor activity of any kind.

“It was extremely difficult,” said veteran Kearny girls’ coach David Paszkiewicz. “Most of our training was done indoors. The kids would rather be on the water than being indoors. Normally, we’re able to get out during the last week of February. This year, we didn’t get out until the second week of March. The ice took a while to break up and go out. We didn’t get to go out every day until the weather settled.”

Paszkiewicz said that it’s hard to determine what girls go in what boat simply by using the ERG or ergometer, the machine that simulates rowing.

Photos by Jim Hague LEFT: The Belleville crew team gets together before the races Saturday. Front row, from l., are Natasha Rosa, Edward Greco, Aum Parekh and Patrick Marriot. Back row, from l., are Mustafa Asali, Tom McNulty, Matthew Mucha and Jonathan Russo. RIGHT: Belleville’s notice four girls fi nished third in their race at the Metropolitan Regatta Saturday.

Photos by Jim Hague
LEFT: The Belleville crew team gets together before the races Saturday. Front row, from l., are Natasha Rosa, Edward Greco, Aum Parekh and Patrick Marriot. Back row, from l., are Mustafa Asali, Tom McNulty, Matthew Mucha and Jonathan Russo. RIGHT: Belleville’s notice four girls fi nished third in their race at the Metropolitan Regatta Saturday.

 

“You have to look at them on the water,” Paszkiewicz said. “You can look at the ERG first, but then you have to go by performance on the water.”

So the winter weather certainly limited those opportunities.

But some of the competitors don’t mind the ERG, which to most rowers is a very dirty word.

“I love ERG,” said Belleville sophomore Edward Greco, on the Belleville junior varsity four. “It’s fun. It really is. It helps to make us stronger on the water. For me, it’s a good showing.”

While Mother Nature wasn’t kind to the rowers all winter, she certainly was helpful Saturday, as there were bright, sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s.

“It’s awesome,” Paszkiewicz said. “You couldn’t ask for a better day. We’re all excited to be home, excited to be here with Belleville, Nutley and North Arlington. It’s a fun day for everybody.”

It was also a fun day for the Kearny Crew Booster Club, which organized a host of fundraisers, perhaps the best being the rubber duck race.

According to Kearny Crew Booster Club president Vicki Grimm, the club put 200 numbered ducks on the water and watched them float with the tide for about 200 yards. Each person purchased a duck for $5 and the winning duck received half of the pot.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Grimm, who has two sons, Cameron (a sophomore) and Patrick (a freshman) on the current team and sent eldest son Jack to Drexel to compete in crew. “Everyone wants to watch their duck win. It’s a tradition we do.”

Grimm said that there are many times that she has to get up at 3 a.m. to get ready for events far away from home.

Photos by Jim Hague TOP: The Nutley crew team was also ready for action Saturday. Front row, from l., are Vienna Pinheiro, Lauren Modica, Sarah Roselli and Marissa Daly. Back row, from left, are Emily Varga, Kaitlyn Quinn, Erin McGrath and JiannaMarie Padilla. CENTER: From l., Wally Szymanski and John Paskiewicz wore their Kearny colors with pride Saturday at the Metropolitan Regatta. BOTTOM: The Nutley novice four are rowing away during the Metropolitan Youth Speed Order Regatta on the Passaic River Saturday.

Photos by Jim Hague
TOP: The Nutley crew team was also ready for action Saturday.
Front row, from l., are Vienna Pinheiro, Lauren Modica, Sarah
Roselli and Marissa Daly. Back row, from left, are Emily Varga,
Kaitlyn Quinn, Erin McGrath and JiannaMarie Padilla. CENTER:
From l., Wally Szymanski and John Paskiewicz wore their
Kearny colors with pride Saturday at the Metropolitan Regatta.
BOTTOM: The Nutley novice four are rowing away during the
Metropolitan Youth Speed Order Regatta on the Passaic River
Saturday.

 

“So today we were here at 6 a.m.,” Grimm said. “This is good to be home. And we were lucky to get a beautiful day.”

What inspires a youngster to want to join crew? It takes a special breed of athlete and competitor.

“It does take a lot of dedication and it’s very draining,” Luz said. “It’s such a tough sport, both mentally and physically, because when the mind gives up, it’s not easy to get it back. You also have to go with your heart. I never thought it would lead to a college scholarship for me.”

Chelsea Dantas is a coxswain, the one who is basically the vocal coach on the boat, telling the teammates how to stroke and when.

“I was in seventh grade and my math teacher (former boys’ crew coach Scott Fuchs) said that I had a projecting voice,” Dantas said. “He suggested it to me and I was intrigued by it. It’s been a crazy experience. I never thought I’d like it this much. I’ve seen a lot of girls come and go. There are some who can take it and those who can’t. You can’t come here and not want it.”

Baptista remembered being a little girl and watching other teams race on the river.

“I was like in fifth grade and was on the bridge and seeing them, thinking that it was so cool,” Baptista said. “It was different. I didn’t know if I’d like it, but I tried out and I loved it.”

Luz, Baptista and Dantas were joined on the varsity four by Sabrina Magee and Jessica Cavalier.

The Kearny boys were also excited to be on the river for the Metropolitan Regatta.

“It was very frustrating this winter, wanting so many times to come down to the river, then having to end up in the weight room or the school gym,” said senior captain Wally Szymanski, a member of the lightweight four. “We just couldn’t get on the water. It was so cold with snow on the ground for so long. This is honestly our first beautiful race day. It’s so nice to have this after such a tough winter. I’ve been doing this for four years and this is my last year. So I want to give it my all and try to have no regrets. It all comes down to this. This is what we train for.”

John Paszkiewicz is the son of girls’ coach David and brother of assistant coach David Jr., so it’s all in the family.

“I’ve been involved in crew for as long as I can remember,” John Paszkiewicz said. “They were big influences on me. Once I got to high school, I knew that this is where I wanted to be. I knew that it was going to eventually be me. It’s very exciting to be here today, especially with the weather we had. It was always so windy and cold. We have a nice day today.”

Belleville junior Patrick Marriot was excited to be on the Passaic River.

“It’s very motivational, being here with family and friends cheering us on,” Marriot said. “It makes us row harder and we’re representing our school and hometown. All the eyes are upon you. This is why we do this sport. It’s the sport we all love.”

“Our parents can’t drive for two hours to see us race for five minutes,” Greco said. “So they’re here and that makes us strive even harder.”

“I have a lot of my friends here,” said sophomore Aum Parekh. “I had to explain to my parents what crew was. It’s much more intense than some paddle boat thing. I woke up at 4 a.m. today and woke my parents up to get me here. It’s great fun, great fun.”

Nutley also had a lot of fun in the sun on the river Saturday.

“When I was in sixth grade, a coach came up to me during a tug-of- war and said that I should do crew,” said JiannaMarie Padilla. “I remembered it and thought it would be a good team sport. It’s not easy to do, like most people think. But I’m glad I got involved in it.”

Padilla is headed to Richard Stockton College to study special education.

Kaitlyn Quinn basically had no choice but to participate in crew. “Both of my parents and all of my siblings were crew members,” Quinn said. “So I really didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t one for softball or track, because I was so bad at those. I loved joining crew. I might not have liked it at first, but I love it now.”

And racing on the river?

“It’s so great, because so many people come,” Quinn said. “Friends come, family comes. It’s so nice.”

Just like the weather. Most of the locals will return in three weeks to compete in the Passaic River Sprints.

For the results of Saturday, log on to www.herenow.com.

Harrison volleyball coach Landy earns 100th victory

4-15View_web

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Nick Landy began his coaching career years ago, he never would have imagined he would attain a milestone coaching volleyball.

“No, not at all,” said Landy, who has coached baseball, basketball and football during his career in Harrison.

But while Landy was a student at Bergen County Community College, he took a course on volleyball.

“I actually enjoyed it,” Landy said. “I wanted to get involved in the sport.”

Landy later became an assistant coach with the Harrison High School volleyball program and after two years, he was elevated to head coach.

During the first year that Landy ran the program, the Blue Tide won all of three matches.

“We were 3-20,” Landy said. “It was a rough season.”

Landy also coached the varsity and the junior varsity squads.

“I coached both teams by myself,” Landy said.

After a while, Landy was able to get a dutiful assistant in Anthony Sabia.

“We work well together,” Landy said. “It helps to have a knowledgeable assistant. The kids all bought into the program. The (Harrison) Recreation department helped us out by giving us some gym time in the off-season. The open gyms helped the younger kids to want to get involved. We also got help at the (Harrison) community center. The people that work there became big fans and got behind our program. They really enjoy it.”

Soon, Harrison became a volleyball town, much like it is a soccer community.

“The South American kids and Polish kids love soccer, but they also love volleyball,” Landy said. “It helps that the kids play both sports. We’ve put a lot of work into making the volleyball team more competitive.”

The interested kids also put the time into the sport.

“They put a lot of work into it, practicing, watching videos,” Landy said. “They realized it’s an exciting sport. Kids in the schools are coming to see it because they know it’s exciting as well.”

It helps that the Blue Tide program became proficient and has done a complete 360-degree spin since that first year of three wins.

The Blue Tide defeated Garfield last Thursday to give Landy the 100th win of his coaching career in just six years. It says a lot about a program that won just three times during that fateful first season.

“The kids came in with just a little more bit of knowledge of the sport,” Landy said. “I think it helps that there is now a volleyball program in the middle school program.”

And there is a program now at Harrison. It’s not a fly-by-night operation. The Blue Tide won 17 matches a year ago and advanced to the second round of the Hudson County tournament and state NJSIAA North 1, Group II.

And so far this season, the Blue Tide has won all five of its matches.

There is a bit of a change, as the Blue Tide has joined a league in western New Jersey, of all places, facing perennial power Vernon (whom the Blue Tide has already defeated this year), as well as Jefferson, Dover and Pope John.

“We’ve taken some long rides,” Landy admitted.

Lyndhurst is now also a part of the west Jersey league.

Landy said that the Blue Tide has independent matches scheduled against local teams like Bayonne, McNair Academic of Jersey City and state power St. Peter’s Prep, as well as local rival Kearny, but since Harrison is a member of the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference for all other sports, they cannot join the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League for volleyball.

“We would fit in perfectly there,” Landy said. “But we don’t want to leave the league we’re in just for volleyball.”

Landy likes the makeup of his team.

“We really have high hopes for this season,” Landy said. “We only lost three seniors from last year’s team and we have a strong junior class.”

The Blue Tide will head this weekend to the Hackensack Invitational, a tournament that they won twice in the last three years.

“We’re looking forward to that again,” Landy said. “It’s one of our early goals.”

Landy said that he wasn’t too shocked with the Blue Tide’s early season success.

“I wasn’t totally surprised,” Landy said. “I knew we had a tough match against Hunterdon Central, because they had just defeated two state-ranked teams. But we won that one. If we play to our abilities, we should be fine. The kids all get along pretty well and that helps.”

Junior Gerson Pachas is the team’s outside hitter.

“He’s pretty solid,” Landy said of Pachas. “He’s played club volleyball, so that helped him improve tremendously in one year. He’s strong and has the ability to put the ball down the line.”

Junior Piotr Namiotko is the team’s middle hitter.

“He’s one of the fiercest hitters around,” Landy said. “He has collected double-digit kills almost every match. He’s a major factor around the net. It’s almost like he levitates in Senior David Penaherrera is the Blue Tide’s outside hitter. Penaherrera, also a member of the Harrison state championship soccer team, is a four-year starter for the Blue Tide in volleyball. “He came in as a freshman, earned a spot and he’s never come off,” Landy said. “I have used him in practically every position.”

Sophomore Maciej Gaus is the Blue Tide’s opposite hitter.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Landy said. “He’s grown into hitting the ball well and gets it to spots.”

Junior Jimmy Vega is the team’s setter.

“Not only has Jimmy done a great job in setting the ball, but he leads the team in service points,” Landy said.

Vega also comes from good stock, as his cousin, Victor Narvaez, was another standout setter for the Blue Tide a few seasons ago.

The libero is junior Frank Contreras.

“He’s been there for three years and it’s his second year as the libero,” Landy said. “He’s our best guy in the back defending and passing.”

Senior Jimmy Chen offers assistance along the back line and senior Tony Almeida is another middle hitter “who is coming into his own,” according to Landy.

The Blue Tide faces Lyndhurst, St. Peter’s Prep and Dover this week, with the Dover match at home on Friday.

“I’m very excited with what’s going on,” Landy said.

“The 100-win thing is all behind me. I like this team’s intensity. They want to win. I’m looking forward to what this team is going to do.”

As for the next milestone of 200?

“I don’t know if I’ll make it to 200,” Landy laughed.

Honestly, he never dreamed he’d get to 100, but he’s done that now, which was quite an accomplishment in itself.

Mother-daughter combo coaching NA girls’ softball

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

After having a successful softball career that ended at North Arlington High School in 1982, Carol Dorazio always wanted to return to her alma mater as head coach.

When the position opened up last year, Dorazio was a bit reluctant at first, considering her old high school coach, John Galante, had the head coaching slot, until the Board of Education decided last July not to re-hire Galante.

“He was one of the first people I called,” Dorazio said of Galante. “I wanted to make sure he was fine with it. We definitely have some big shoes to fill, because John was here for 35 years. But it was a dream come true for me to coach my alma mater.”

It also helped that Dorazio was bringing along a personal assistant coach – namely her daughter, Samantha Veneziano, who was a standout hurler for the Vikings, graduating in 2007.

“She went through the whole hiring process like me,” Dorazio said of her daughter, who graduated from William Paterson and is now a teaching assistant in North Arlington. “What’s better than having a motherdaughter combo?”

Both Dorazio and her daughter were great pitchers during their days at NA, so it’s only natural that both should work with the Vikings’ hurlers.

“We both handle the pitchers,” Dorazio said.

But it helps when you have a senior pitcher who is already accustomed to the grind, namely senior do-everything Taylor Barth.

“Taylor needs very little handling,” Dorazio said. “She is definitely a seasoned pitcher.”

Dorazio said that she has enjoyed the dichotomy she has had with her daughter.

“We come home now and talk softball all the time,” Dorazio said. “We constantly talk strategies and how to pitch to certain batters. It’s constantly softball. It’s been fun. I respect my daughter so much, because she knows so much about the game. I respect her opinion. In fact, she doesn’t even call me ‘Mom’ at the field anymore. She calls me, ‘Coach.’”

The Vikings have another assistant coach in Samantha Cain.

Barth is the key to the team’s success, both on the mound and at the plate.

“She does a lot of everything,” Dorazio said of Barth, who is the team’s No. 2 hitter and is already getting on base at a .455 clip to begin the season. “She’s very fast and when she gets on base, she does a lot of things. She’s also doing great as a pitcher. She has unbelievable control, yet throws hard.”

The team’s catcher is junior Marissa Piscal, who is off to a sizzling start. Piscal had a homer and six RBI in one win last week and is hitting .600 with three homers and 16 RBI in just four games.

“I’m not surprised at all with what she’s done,” Dorazio said of Piscal, who had two doubles in the Vikings’ 9-3 loss to Kearny last Saturday morning. “I’ve seen this kid play her whole life. I knew this was coming. She’s an amazing hitter and she’s so coachable. She loves the game and loves to play.”

The first baseman is junior Meghan Beyer, who is a great fielder.

“I called her a Hoover the other day, because she’s like a vacuum, scooping up everything,” Dorazio said. “But she didn’t know what a Hoover was. I felt very old. But she catches everything over at first. She’s also a good hitter.”

Sophomore Arielle Castellanos is the team’s second baseman.

“She has a lot of speed,” Dorazio said. “She can bunt and hit, so we look for her to get on base. As a fielder, she has the ability to turn and get the double play, because she gets to the ball quick.”

Sophomore Danica Krawczyk is the team’s shortstop.

“She can handle the responsibilities at short,” Dorazio said. “She’s tough and knows the game. She also pitches, so she’ll get her chances out there.”

Junior Samantha Veloso is the Vikings’ third baseman.

“She’s a good fielder with a strong arm,” Dorazio said. Junior Tiziana Cristiano is the team’s left fielder.

“She’s very flexible and agile,” Dorazio said.

Senior Ashley Meyers is the team’s centerfielder.

“She’s having a great start to the season,” Dorazio said. “She has a .500 on-base percentage and a .455 batting average. She’s also a very good defender in center.” Dorazio has been using a host of sophomores in right field in Alexandria Zaros, Megan Arb and Missy Torres, who has already been the Vikings’ resident jackof- all-trades.

“I can put Missy anywhere,” Dorazio said.

The Vikings are off to a 2-2 start for the season, which takes a tougher road this week with games against Saddle Brook, Hasbrouck Heights and Wood- Ridge.

“We have a lot of talent,” Dorazio said. “The future looks very bright. We have some girls who can hit the ball. I think we opened some eyes with our offense. I don’t want these girls to be afraid to fail, because that’s when they will.”

Dorazio said that she had no problem facing a Group IV program like Kearny.

“I don’t want to be afraid to take risks,” Dorazio said. “I like taking risks.”

So when the season began, did Dorazio think she would actually be coaching with her daughter?

“No, I never thought that would happen,” Dorazio said. “It’s been a lot of fun, but there’s a lot of pressure involved. Everyone is watching now, because I have big shoes to fill. I’m confident these girls will come around and be a strong team.”

Golden Bears’ baseball team looks to new coach Auteri

Photo by Jim Hague
The Lyndhurst baseball team will look to a strong pitching staff to help coach Patrick Auteri (c.) in his first season as head
coach. From l. are Nolan Kelly, John Leonard, Nick Carnevale, head coach Auteri, Andrew Fitzgerald, Christian Camilo and
Jordan Lopez.

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Patrick Auteri said that he has been basically auditioning for the role that he currently owns for the last 14 years – that being the head baseball coach at his alma mater, Lyndhurst High School.

You see, Auteri, a former standout player at the school, spent that time as the understudy or assistant coach to long-time Lyndhurst baseball coach and athletic director Frank “Butch” Servideo, who retired at the end of last season.

“It has definitely been a smooth transition,” Auteri said. “I’ve been here so long that the kids all know me. I had chances to coach elsewhere, but it never felt right for me to leave. Butchie told me that I had to be patient, that I would get the chance. And to his credit, he let me do a lot of the coaching. He let me do most of the teaching.”

But still, Auteri is coming in and replacing a legend who spent more than 40 years of his life as an athlete, teacher, coach and administrator at the school.

“That part is very tough,” Auteri said of replacing someone who won more than 500 games, three state sectional championships and the overall NJSIAA Group I crown in 2008. “Butchie really set the standard and in the back of my mind, I feel like I have to live up to that standard. I have to be the one who keeps the program where it was. I have to be myself, but I also have to keep the tradition going.”

Auteri said that he has remained in contact with Servideo, who now spends some of his time in Florida.

“We’ve become good friends over the years,” said Auteri, who played for Servideo at Lyndhurst. “He’s really been a great role model for me, not only in baseball, but in life. As a matter of fact, most of the time that we talk, it’s not about baseball.”

The Golden Bears have played three games in the Auteri era thus far, posting a 1-2 record.

“We have only four starters back from last year,” Auteri said of the team that went 20-8 last spring. “So there has been a little bit of a transition on the field. We had some jitters Opening Day (in a loss to Becton Regional). We need to make the little plays and shape up a little better on defense.”

Auteri said that he expected some tough spots early on.

“I knew we’d have to get through some growing pains,” Auteri said. “Right now, we’re very inconsistent. My main focus will be trying to find some sort of consistency. We’re preaching fundamentals. Our pitching has been pretty decent, but it’s not where we want it to be. If we keep the morale up, we can get things going, once the weather warms up.”

Leading the way on the mound is senior right-handed pitcher Nolan Kelly, who had a great year last season, winning six games and saving an additional seven more.

“Nolan definitely eats innings for us,” Auteri said. “He throws three pitches for strikes and his change-up is his best pitch. He’s very consistent and I’m going to have to lean on him.”

Senior right-hander Jordan Lopez also returns. Lopez won four games on the mound last spring.

“He has a little better grasp of what it takes to pitch,” Auteri said. “He understands that he just doesn’t have to throw the ball and mechanically he knows how to pitch. His walks are down. He has pinpoint control now.”

Senior John Leonard is another Golden Bears starting pitcher.

“He’s going to need to step it up for us,” Auteri said. “He’s not an overpowering guy but he can get people out.”

Sophomore Nick Carnevale, a transfer from Paramus Catholic, is another right-handed hurler.

“He throws hard,” said Auteri, who might use Carnevale as a closer.

Junior Andrew Fitzgerald is another quality pitcher.

The Golden Bears will receive a big boost when senior Christian Camilo becomes eligible. Another transfer from Paramus Catholic, Camilo is a right-handed pitcher who can give Kelly some backup at the top of the rotation. Camilo has to sit out the first 30 days of the baseball season due to the NJSIAA’s transfer rule.

“Once we get him back, we’ll be good for the stretch run,” Auteri said.

The catcher is junior Edwin Rivera, who has developed nicely into a solid backstop.

“He’s a very solid kid,” Auteri said. “He has a good work ethic and has put the time in to become a good catcher. I am looking for a lot of big things from him.”

Lopez will spend time at first base when he’s not pitching. Junior Matt De- Marco and sophomore Ryan Donohue will also see time at first. Lopez and Donohue were both members of the Lyndhurst state championship bowling squad.

Junior Vincent Dorio is the team’s starting second baseman.

“He’s had a great spring and has become our No. 3 hitter,” Auteri said of Dorio, whose older brother was a great Golden Bear infielder before moving on to play at William Paterson. “Vincent has been hitting the ball hard.”

Senior Brandon Karlok has moved from third base to shortstop.

“He is just a great athlete,” Auteri said of Karlok. “He can go and get it. He’s more of a natural at shortstop.”

Carnevale is the starter at third base. He has already made some spectacular plays at the hot corner over the first three games of the season.

“He’s going to be a very good player for us,” Auteri said.

The outfield situation is a little bit of a logjam. De- Marco is in the mix, along with seniors Anthony Ferulli and Andrew Khantzian and sophomore Max Vigliotti. That group will rotate both in left field and right.

Junior Evan Kelly, Nolan’s younger brother, is the centerfielder. Kelly is a solid defensive centerfielder with excellent speed.

The Golden Bears have tough games this week against New Milford, Wood- Ridge, Secaucus and Harrison, so Auteri will have a better idea of how his team shapes up after this week.

“I really think we have a good team,” Auteri said. “I like the team chemistry, the camaraderie. They’ve all been together since Little League. A good core group of this team comes from Little League days. They’re a good group of kids who are very baseball oriented. But they also hang out together, enjoy each other. We are going to be fine.”

As long as the new head coach doesn’t get frustrated early, the Golden Bears are generally always golden in the spring.

Izod Center closes: End of an era

Photo by Jim Hague
The Izod Center, also known as the Brendan Byrne Arena and Continental Airlines Arena as well as unofficially as the
Meadowlands Arena, closed its doors for good last week.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It was first the Brendan Byrne Arena, then the Continental Airlines Arena and finally the Izod Center, but from the minute the doors opened in the summer of 1981, it was more universally known, unofficially, as the Meadowlands Arena.

And it was a building that helped to put New Jersey on the national sports map.

Sure, we already had Giants Stadium for five years by the time the Meadowlands Arena opened to a string of Bruce Springsteen concerts. While Giants Stadium was definitely constructed in the New Jersey Meadowlands, making East Rutherford a household word in 1976, the Meadowlands Arena gave New Jersey its own sports identity.

It’s because the New Jersey Nets played there from the first year of the building’s existence. A year later, the Colorado Rockies of the NHL moved east to become the New Jersey Devils. These were New Jersey’s teams with a New Jersey name. The Giants, albeit housed in New Jersey, have still kept New York as their first name.

The Meadowlands Arena provided New Jersey with its own teams. Even if the Nets and Devils weren’t great teams back then, they were still New Jersey’s teams in name and spirit.

The Nets did become pretty good in 1983 and 1984, with Micheal Ray Richardson running the point and Darryl Dawkins giving us his Chocolate Thunder and Buck Williams becoming the franchise’s first NBA All-Star. The Nets knocked the defending NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers out of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 1984, sending shockwaves through the league.

Then, in 2002 and 2003, the Nets, led by all-time All-Star Jason Kidd, won consecutive Eastern Conference championships and went to the NBA Finals.

The Devils, the laughingstock of the NHL in their infant stages, a team that the immortal Wayne Gretzky once dubbed as a “Mickey Mouse operation,” ended up winning the Stanley Cup championship a total of three times during their days in the Meadowlands Arena.

The NCAA totally adored the Meadowlands Arena for its college basketball tournament. For a grand total of 11 times, the NCAA held either East Regional first round action or the East Regional finals at the Meadowlands. It became a regular jaunt.

There were some memorable East Regional moments, like 1990, when Christian Laettner hit a jump shot at the buzzer that lifted Duke past UConn, two days after Tate George’s miraculous’ catch-and- shoot enabled the Huskies to get past Clemson at the buzzer and advance to face Duke, a school that treated the Meadowlands like its home away from home.

In 1996, the NCAA Final Four was held there, with Kentucky winning the national title in coach Tubby Smith’s first year with the Wildcats.

There were also countless independent college basketball contests, mostly involving Duke, but there was a classic showdown between North Carolina and Kentucky when the arena first opened in 1981, a battle between No. 1 and No. 2 in the country, featuring North Carolina’s sophomore sensation Michael Jordan, a game won by the top-ranked Tar Heels, 82-69.

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference held its season-ending tournament there for several years. The Atlantic 10 tourney was also once held there. So the arena was a hotbed for college basketball events for decades.

From the high school basketball standpoint, the NJSIAA held the annual Tournament of Champions finale, both for the boys and girls, there for many years. It was also the home of the NJSIAA wrestling tournament for two years while Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City was under reconstruction.

It was also the home of the NCAA wrestling championships one year. The Maccabiah Games, the Olympic Games for those of the Jewish faith, were held there. Major track and field meets, like the Vitalis Meadowlands meet, were held there.

The arena was always a place of local prominence, not just for sporting events. Many local colleges held their commencement exercises there every year. There were countless concerts, kids’ events, circuses. The list can go on and on.

Needless to say, the Meadowlands Arena by that unofficial name or any of its other official given names was a major part of the local dichotomy for more than 30 years.

That was, at least, before last Monday, when the once-magnificent and once-majestic white edifice located in the swamps of the Meadowlands, making the Meadowlands an internationally renowned site, was closed by the state for at least the next two years, quite possibly forever.

It’s sad to think that the Meadowlands Arena could become so obsolete in such a period of time. One would figure that it would be there forever, serving the public and bolstering New Jersey’s image.

But the Prudential Center was constructed in nearby Newark and the Barclays Center followed in Brooklyn, turning the Meadowlands Arena into an ugly stepsister.

The Devils moved to Newark and the Nets to Brooklyn. Duke played UConn one last time at the Meadowlands last December, almost like a fitting swan song. The place was packed once again with rabid college basketball fans. It was like old times.

From my standpoint, it’s the location where I did the most amount of work in my adult life.

Before I became a sportswriter, I was a security officer/bodyguard for several of the performing acts who graced the Meadowlands Arena stages. I helped to protect performers like Styx, Kenny Rogers, Journey, Aerosmith.

On one memorable August afternoon in 1982, I had the great fortune to work with the late John Denver, who I played ping pong with, drove across Route 120 to the Meadowlands Racetrack to see the Hambletonian race (in complete anonymity) and watched as he gave daisies to my mother after a concert.

Those daisies were placed in a glassed frame and although they became a bit weathered after a while, they hung on the wall in our Jersey City home for years and years, right next to my mother’s shrine to the Kennedy brothers.

When I became a sportswriter in 1983, the Meadowlands Arena was where I got my first professional byline – yes, covering figure skating of all sports.

I was sent to the Meadowlands to do a story about former Olympic gold medal winner Scott Hamilton and interviewed him in the bowels of the arena. How would I have known that it would be the beginning of 30 years of covering events there?

I spent thousands of hours and hundreds of days covering the sporting events there, especially the Nets, who I’ve covered more than any other team in my career.

I was there when Shaquille O’Neill brought down the entire basket – frame, backboard and all – when he was just a puppy playing for the Orlando Magic in 1993. I was there for those great playoff runs in 2002 and 2003. I sat center court and watched Reggie Miller throw in a shot from right near where I sat and sent the Nets-Pacers playoff game into triple overtime in 2009.

I was there for countless Devils games, sitting both in the hockey press box at center ice, then getting shifted to the roof where the skaters looked like miniature figures. I was there when they won the Cup in 1995 and 2003, much to the delight of local fans.

Sure, I was there for a lot of those college games as well, the NCAA Tournament classics.

I was there to watch St. Anthony win its share of Tournament of Champions titles, especially the 1996 T of C when Rashon Burno, who I had the pleasure to coach as a child in Biddy basketball in Jersey City, steal his way to prominence by leading the fabulous Friars to the state title and winning the T of C Most Valuable Player award.

I felt like a proud father that night, especially when Burno acknowledged me among my friends and colleagues in a post-game press conference.

So there was a major sense of sadness driving past the place last week. It was raining, of course. Construction workers had installed concrete barricades to prevent any access. A lone security guard sat in a booth far outside.

It’s almost the same sickening feeling that I had when they tore down Giants Stadium five years ago. But at that time, there was hope for the future with the new MetLife Stadium. With this closing, there is no hope, just the finality.

I’ll forever remember the Meadowlands Arena, for what it meant to northern New Jersey, for what it meant to so many people who spent so much time escaping from life’s daily grind there. I did the math and counted at least 1,500 dates over 30 years that I covered events there. That’s almost five full years of my life.

It meant a lot to me, because it was not only a place that I went to on a regular basis, but it was also a place that gave us New Jerseyans a sense of pride. We weren’t the subject of jokes and ridicule. We had a big-time arena with big-time events. Yes, New Jersey, right across the river from Manhattan, was big time, right down to the names of the teams.

For that, we’ll forever have the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the people who ran the arena for ages, great people like Michael Graime and Helen Strus, to thank for making us all feel relevant and important, and not some joke about what exit we lived near.

Kearny softball squad hopes to pick up from last year

Photo courtesy Robert Rodriguez
Kearny junior Caralynne Rivera is seen circling the bases after hitting the
clutch home run that gave the Kardinals the Hudson County Tournament
championship a year ago. Rivera has returned as one of the top all-around
players in the county.

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

The 2014 high school softball season was a dream campaign for the Kardinals of Kearny High School, who rolled off 10 straight wins at one point last season en route to a 21-5 record and the school’s first-ever Hudson County Tournament championship.

As the 2015 season began last week, Kearny head coach Jimmy Pickel believes that the Kardinals can once again contend for top honors in Hudson County.

“With the pitching we have and the amount of players we have back and if we stay together, I think it’s possible to have another run at it,” Pickel said. “We have to click at the right time, like we did last year. That’s all it takes.”

The Kardinals are fortunate to have junior Caralynne Rivera back for another season. Rivera is one of the best players in the county, evidenced by her pitching and hitting performance in the county title win over Bayonne, hitting a homer that sealed the victory.

“I never have to worry about the pitching with Caralynne there,” Pickel said. “It always helps having a No. 1 pitcher like her. She plays softball all year round. She plays travel ball and goes for pitching and hitting lessons. She throws a number of pitches for strikes and has really improved her changeup. I would say she’s improved as a pitcher. She’s also now our leadoff hitter, so she’s the one who gets us going.”

When Rivera needs a day off from pitching, Pickel can go to sophomore left-hander Giovanna Scrimo, who did a fine job on the mound during the Kards’ recent excursion to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Scrimo’s older sister, Arianna, is the team’s returning starter at catcher.

“It helps immensely having your top pitcher and catcher back,” Pickel said. “They’re the keys to the team and they work well together. They’re always talking together about different hitters and different pitches to throw. They get along very well.”

Obviously, the elder Scrimo gets along with the team’s No. 2 pitcher as well. After all, she has to. It’s all in the family.

Senior Amanda DeSousa is the Kardinals’ starter at first base. DeSousa started at first on the county championship team as well.

“She’s a very solid fielder,” Pickel said. “She’s also our cleanup hitter. She’s a leader by example being a senior.”

The second base duties are being shared by juniors Caitlyn Crespo and Ryelle Feda and sophomore Jane Amadeo, who can also play the outfield and pitch.

“We’ve had her all over the place so far,” Pickel said of Amadeo. “She’s very active on the field.”

The shortstop is returning senior Daniella Echevestre, who was the starter at short last year.

“She’s really improved since last year,” Pickel said. “She’s already made some outstanding plays in the field.”

Junior Laura Vilar is the third baseman.

“She’s probably our most reliable infielder,” Vilar said. “She’s also our No. 2 hitter and is batting well over .500 right now.”

Junior Brianna Serrano is the starter in left field.

“She has never played for us before, but she’s done a great job so far,” Pickel said. “She’s come a long way.”

Serrano had a two-run triple in a win last week against defending state sectional champion Hoboken.

Junior Melissa McAndrew is the centerfielder.

“She’s done a very nice job out there so far,” Pickel said. “She’s also really stepped up at the plate. She’s taken the role of being the centerfielder and has run with it.”

Right field is being shared by a pair of juniors in Jillian Cullen and Erika Greenlee. Cullen was a first baseman who has been converted into an outfielder this season.

“She has done an outstanding job in learning the position,” Pickel said.

Junior Olivia Papa is the team’s jack-of-all-trades. Papa can play second base or the outfield.

The Kardinals have won two of their first three games and have games scheduled against Hudson Catholic and Ferris this week.

On Saturday morning, the Kardinals will play host to local rival North Arlington at 11 a.m. and the two teams will participate in the Strikeouts for Cancer fundraiser. The game will be played at the Gunnell Oval, the Kards’ home field.

There will be raffles and concessions at the game, as well as a T-shirt sale. All of the proceeds of the day will go to a local cancer-related charity that has yet to be determined.

“Every little bit helps,” Pickel said of the fundraiser, which should be a good event.

So the Kardinals are hopeful that it can be another exciting softball season.

“We have to expect that,” Pickel said.

Whether it means another county championship remains to be seen, but with Rivera leading the way, the pieces are certainly in place.

Kardinals loom as one of Hudson County’s diamond dandies

4-1KearnyBaseball_web

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

The Kearny High School baseball team won 13 games last spring, but head coach Frank Bifulco knows that the Kardinals will be vastly improved over a year ago.

“I think we can build on what we did last year,” said Bifulco, who enters his fourth year as head coach. “Hopefully, we can continue to rise. We’re not taking any steps back. We have a team that can contend and the kids believe that as well. We can’t hide anymore. Things are a little different now than what we’re used to. The expectations are higher.”

The Kardinals welcome back junior left-hander Corey Sawyer, who made a huge splash last season. Sawyer won four games and posted a 1.27 earned run average, but three of the wins were memorable, because he fired a perfect game and two no-hitters.

“It was nice that he threw three no-hitters last year, but that means nothing now,” Bifulco said. “He has work to do and needs to continue. I think he’s become more of a complete pitcher. He’s made major strides in the offseason. He’s worked on all of his pitches and he’s ready to control the game.”

Senior Josue Rodriguez is also back. The right-handed Rodriguez won three games last year.

“He knows he hasn’t pitched his ‘A’ game yet,” Bifulco said. “He came in last year as our ace and has the ability to be our ace. With those two guys, Corey and Josue, we feel we match up with anyone else in the county. We expect to win when they pitch. Josue pitches to his strength and leads by example.”

Junior Connor McClelland is the team’s next best starter. The right-handed McClelland is a talented hurler with a lot of potential.

“We’re looking for him to step up and take some of the slack off Corey and Josue,” Bifulco said. “He’s going to be a good pitcher.”

So will sophomore righty Ryan Tully, who has all the talent in the world, both on the mound and at the plate.

Senior lefty Louis Sandomenico and senior righty Adam French round out the extremely deep pitching staff.

“I like the depth we have,” Bifulco said. “The younger ones are going to come. We know we have guys who can throw and can be successful.”

The team’s catcher is senior Aaron Gonzalez, who spent last year as the backup to former Kardinal standout T.J. Witt.

The first base duties will be shared by senior Johnathon Silva and junior Joseph Esteves. Both have shown promise during the limited preseason workouts and scrimmages.

French will spend most of his time at second base.

Junior Joseph Baez, the leading scorer on the Kearny basketball team this winter, is the baseball team’s shortstop.

“He’s a very good baseball player,” Bifulco said. “He just needs to stay focused and needs to stay composed all the time. If he can understand that, we’re going to be a much better team.”

Rodriguez will play third base when he’s not pitching. He batted .372 last year.

Senior Mike Hyde is the starting left fielder. Hyde batted better than .330 last year, but more importantly he had a .615 on base percentage.

“When he gets on base, a lot of good things can happen for us,” Bifulco said. “He’s our leadoff hitter or No. 2 hitter. He’s become a nice leader for us. The rest of the team naturally gravitates to him.”

Sawyer will play centerfield when he’s not on the mound. When Sawyer is pitching, junior John O’Neill mans centerfield.

McClelland plays right field. He batted .325 as a sophomore last year.

Junior Benedict Cowan, Jr. is the Kardinals’ resident jack-ofall- trades, seeing time in the outfield and as a designated hitter.

“I’m looking for him to do a nice job with his role,” Bifulco said.

The Kardinals also have Alex Molina playing a utility role and Zak Mostafa as the team’s back-up catcher and another utility bench player.

The aforementioned Tully will serve a key role, not only as a pitcher, but as a second baseman and shortstop as well.

“He can play any position well,” Bifulco said. “I think good teams need to have good bench players. I think we have guys off our bench who can help us.”

The Kardinals are slated to open the 2015 season against Memorial Wednesday at 4 p.m. They also face St. Anthony Friday and square off against neighboring rival Harrison Saturday afternoon. It pits former teammates and close friends Bifulco and Jairo Mendez against each other. Mendez is the head coach at Harrison.

“Anything I miss, Jairo lets me know,” Bifulco said.

The Kardinals have a ton of potential.

“The expectations are high,” Bifulco said. “I expect us to make a deep run in the county tournament. I know we can do better in the states. They know what’s expected of them. They know they have promise. We have a good lineup, good pitching. We also have a tough schedule, so we have to see what happens.”

Count on the Kardinals to be more of a regular competitive force in the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League and the NJSIAA state playoffs.