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NA’s Ryen Pezzolla a semi-finalist for ECRHA’s top award

Ryen Pezzolla

Ryen Pezzolla, center, whilst playing a hockey game for St. Peter’s Prep at Yankee Stadium last winter.

Ryen Pezzolla, of North Arlington, a graduate of St. Peter’s Prep and the grandson of Observer GM Robert Pezzolla, who is currently a student at Rutgers University, has been named a semi-finalist for the Eastern Collegiate Roller Hockey Association’s Division 1 Player of the Year. He faces competition from three other universities. The winner will be announced at the association’s annual awards banquet later this year. Click here to read the announcement.

Does girls crew row vs. bias?

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

A Kearny parent has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Board of Education.

The complaint, filed in December 2014 by Paula Cavalier, alleges that the high school has violated Title 9 of federal education law which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-supported education programs.

Cavalier’s complaint alleges that the high school is favoring the boys crew over the girls crew team by denying the girls the chance to participate in regionally competitive races in which the boys crew participates.

And, the complaint says, the school discriminates against the girls crew by giving the male crew priority access to equipment.

Kenneth Lindenfelser, attorney for the school board, said that, “there was a complaint filed by a parent alleging Title 9 violations” and that the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights “has asked for information that we are in the process of gathering and which we will be providing.”

Lindenfelser said the feds wanted the materials “by Feb. 18” but because the scope of the information sought involves all interscholastic sports activities in which Kearny High participates, collecting all the information – items including each program’s “budget, number of participants, age of uniforms and type of equipment” – collection of the data has become “tedious to assemble.”

For that reason, he said, he is asking the feds if the district can limit its research to crew but, if not, “we’ll probably ask for an extension.”

The district, the attorney said, “is confident we’re in compliance, but we’re going to cooperate with them and if they find that some type of adjustment is needed, we’ll make it.”

He declined to elaborate. In her complaint, Cavalier attached a spread sheet detailing the boys and girls crew competitions for 2014. From an analysis of those events, Cavalier drew this conclusion:

“The boys raced against 151 more teams than the girls, mainly because they raced on Sunday, when the most competitive races occur. These are the races most likely to draw college recruiters, so that girls who cannot race on Sundays have reduced access to scholarships, as compared with boys. This is mostly due to the fact that the girls’ crew coach declines to work on Sundays, for religious reasons. The majority of competitive rowing on the east coast occurs on Sundays. … Under Title 9, the school district is required to afford equal opportunities to female athletes. Because the Kearny school district could easily find a solution to this inequality, I have contacted the Office of Civil Rights ….”

Ironically, according to logs obtained by Cavalier, more girls participated in crew than boys last year. “For 2014, 40 girls signed up, as compared with 36 boys,” she told The Observer.

Under the projected schedule for 2015 competitions, Cavalier said, “The boys will be racing 296 more teams than the girls, which is worse than last year’s inequality of 151 more teams.”

And getting less exposure than the boys crew in bigger competitive races “attended by regional, Ivy League college recruiters” means that girls’ chances of landing athletic scholarships are negatively impacted, she said.

Although her daughter is a member of the girls crew team, Cavalier said that she filed the discrimination complaint as an advocate for the entire girls crew team, and not just as her daughter.

“I hope she realizes that sometimes, you have to do what you might be afraid to do for the bigger picture, to right a wrong,” she said.

Last year, Cavalier said, it was embarrassing for the girls crew members when “our immediate regional competition, like the girls teams from Nutley, Belleville, Rutherford, for example, were at the Sunday Philadelphia Rowing Association races, and Kearny was not represented.”

Possible solutions, Cavalier suggested, include allowing assistant crew coaches for boys and girls to “work out a schedule so that both teams can attend the same competitions,” merging the boys and girls crew “so that they can compete in the same races as a unit” or replacing the girls’ crew coach.

Back in 1983 when Cavalier was a student at Kearny High and an avid cyclist, she asked if she could go out for crew, only to be told there were no girls permitted “because they had no separate showers or bathrooms.”

Three years later, she recalled, a girls crew team materialized.

“Today, ironically, more than 30 years later, we’re still running into a situation of inequality for girls,” she said.

Last year, Cavalier revived her high school dream by taking lessons with the Passaic River Rowing Association and has relished the experience. “When you’re a crew and rowing as one unit, it all clicks together. Together, you become one quiet, beautiful machine.”

Lyndhurst bowling: Dominance at state sectional

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Emily Young rolls top series facing boys’ competition

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports

Writer After losing in the Bergen County Bowling Tournament to Indian Hills two weeks ago, the Lyndhurst bowling team was on a mission.

“We were a little motivated,” said senior Jordan Lopez.

“They were disappointed in themselves after that tournament,” said Lyndhurst second-year head coach Brianna Balkin. “They were out for redemption.”

At the NJSIAA North 1A sectional championships Saturday at Bowler City in Hackensack, the Golden Bears were unconscious, setting a new record for total score of 3,490 – or a per-player average of 233 – capturing the North 1A title for a fourth consecutive year.

The Golden Bears were led by a girl, namely Emily Young, who rolled both the high game of the day (268) and high series (759), but had nothing to show for it, because rules state that a girl cannot win the boys’ sectional. Talk about your gender inequality.

“I would have to admit I was a bit upset by it,” Young said. “But at the same time, I got bragging rights. No one could ever think that a girl could actually win the sectional.”

“She just wanted to finish among the top five and then see what could happen,” Balkin said. “But then the whole place went nuts when she rolled her highest game ever. I remember saying, ‘Oh my God, she’s going to win the whole thing.’ ”

No one could have ever dreamed that a girl would beat all the boys in attendance at a state sectional championship. But that’s what happened. Young, who won the Bergen County girls’ tournament back on Wednesday, Jan. 21, just kept throwing strikes with her different release form.

Instead of throwing the ball down the center of the lane, Young directs the ball to have an alternate backward swing from right to left. It’s not a conventional way of bowling, but it obviously works. “I definitely did not expect to win,” said Young, who also plays on the Lyndhurst volleyball team in the fall. “It was really impressive. I have to admit that I was a little upset that I didn’t get a chance to win many things in volleyball. But now, I have bragging rights, especially with the boys.”

Young rolled a 268-244-257- 769 series to card the best outing of the day by anyone, boy or girl.

“She rolled a 268, which was her highest game ever,” Balkin said. “I said, ‘She’s going to win the whole thing.’ And she did just that. I moved her to the lead-off slot and that worked, because she carried the team throughout. The boys all love her and wanted to do well behind her.”

James Kane of Paramus Catholic was second, but at 748 some 21 pins behind Young.

“It was the best day of her career,” Balkin said. “She’s been bowling great for us, but this was pretty special.”

But Young got nothing to show for her brilliant day.

“I guess they never thought a girl could actually win it,” Young said.

The Golden Bears rolled a commanding 1,233 to win the first game overall, with Young’s 268 leading the way. In fact, all five Lyndhurst bowlers shot over 200 in the first game. Daijon Smith was next with a score of 259, followed by Lopez’s score of 258. Ryan Donohue finished fourth with a 244 and Richard Sawires finished off the brigade with a 204.

Lopez was second with a 728 series. Smith was fourth with 716 and Donohue rolled a 667. It was pure domination.

“I’ve been in bowling leagues my whole life and I never saw anything like that before,” Balkin said. “All five kids rolled three strikes in the 10th frame. I never saw that before on any level, never mind high school, not from five kids. It was amazing.”

The Golden Bears just continued with the dominance all day, setting a new sectional total pin record in the process.

“They just wanted to beat everyone in the building,” Balkin said. “They were so upset after the county that they were not about to let it happen again. It’s really impressive. That’s a lot of pins. I’ve seen people bowl in leagues and can’t come close to that score. They were out to show everyone how good they really are. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It’s an amazing group. They all wanted to do so well.”

After it was over, Balkin stopped to reflect on the Golden Bears’ fourth straight state sectional title.

“Did that really happen?” Balkin asked. “It really was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

The Golden Bears move on to the overall Group I state championships Friday at Carolier Lanes in East Brunswick.

“It feels like maybe this could be the year for us to win it all,” said Lopez, who joined Young as members of all four state sectional champions.

“We’re going in with a big confidence boost.” “We’re all bowling well and that works out well for everyone,” Young said. “Everyone pushes each other to do better.”

Lopez, Smith and Donohue, all of whom have already bowled perfect games in their careers, also qualified as individuals for the state championships Wednesday, where Young will compete with and against the girls. All of Lyndhurst’s bowlers return Friday for the team championships.

North Arlington also qualified for Friday’s team championship with a 2,858 pin performance, moving on to the state finals for the first time since 2010.

QP hires respected veteran Kelly to head football team

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

As has been noted here several times over the years, there’s a coaching carousel that lives at Queen of Peace High School.

One coach leaves, another arrives. There’s never a lot of time for a coach to feel comfortable.

Take for instance, the head football coaching position. Ever since Andy Cerco led the Golden Griffins to the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 2 state championship in 2004, there have been four different head coaches, all trying to duplicate what Cerco did.

In fact, the year after the Golden Griffins won their lone state title, Cerco brought the team back to the state title game once again, but this time fell short to St. Joseph’s of Hammonton.

However, in those two glorious seasons, the Griffins were 21-2, records that were never to be seen again.

There were high profiled coaches like Ed Stinson. That didn’t work. There were alums like Bob Kearns. That didn’t work.

Here’s an incredible stat. Since the Griffins lost in the state title game in 2005, they have gone a collective 30-62. Not exactly a successful run.

But there’s another change in administration, with John Tonero taking over as principal and Ed Abromaitis returning once again as athletic director. The school vows that they are moving in the right direction.

Sure seems like QP is trying, especially since the school hired Jim Kelly to be the new head football coach.

Kelly has an impressive resume, having turned around a totally moribund Clifton program in 1992 and led the Mustangs to the NJSIAA Group IV playoffs, when no one thought that was even fathomable.

“You look how competitive we were, playing in the NNJIL with schools like Ridgewood and Montclair,” Kelly said. “We made strides both on and off the field.”

Kelly then left Clifton after five successful seasons and moved to Nutley, where Kelly was and still is a teacher. Kelly had a nice seven-year stay at Nutley, but stepped away for family reasons, turning the program over to Nutley alum in Steve DiGregorio in 2004.

So Kelly has great success in leading two noted high school programs like Clifton and Nutley. In recent years, Kelly was an assistant coach at Montclair State, coaching the tight ends, wide receivers and running backs.

For the last two years, Kelly was away from coaching, doing clinics and such in Nutley. Now 55 years old, Kelly felt like he was missing the game too much and wanted a return.

When his good friend, Scot Weaver, the current QP wrestling coach, called Kelly to see if he would be interested in the position at QP, Kelly’s ears perked up.

“It was simply an opportunity that presented itself,” said Kelly, who met with his new players for the first time last Wednesday at the school. “I was definitely intrigued. I had some conversations and it turned out to be the right spot, the right place. I always had the passion to coach again. I just wanted to go someplace where I could make a difference.”

Kelly knows that he’s not inheriting a great program. After all, the Golden Griffins were a miserable 1-9 last season in Kearns’ second year.

“There are things that need to be addressed,” Kelly said. “There has to be accountability and discipline. If you can develop a mutual trust between your players and your staff, that’s the first step. I feel like I have a lot to offer here.”

But Kelly realizes that he has his work cut out for him.

“I realize it’s a challenge,” Kelly said. “A lot of people have asked me why would I want to do this. I’m drawing on my own experience. There is a lot of similarity to what I had to go through in Clifton. When people get to know who I am and what I stand for, then they’ll realize this is a good fit.”

From a personal standpoint, I have worked with Kelly in both of his prior head coaching positions, going back to Clifton in 1992 and then in Nutley. He is an excellent football coach, a great offensive mind who has the ability to turn things around.

But can he? That remains to be seen. However, Kelly certainly is eager enough and believes he can with the help of the new administrative team at the school.

“I’m always excited to get a good opportunity like this,” Kelly said. “With the help of the administration, I feel like I can do something positive and make a difference. I think we all have the same vision and understanding.”

Kelly said that he was encouraged after meeting with the players Wednesday.

“I was interested in hearing their perception of the program and the questions they asked of me,” Kelly said. “They seem to be players who want to get better and want to have the right product. They want to be a part of something special. That’s how I felt by the questions they asked of me.”

One thing is for sure. There’s only one direction that Kelly can go – and that’s up. The program can’t get much lower than it is. Here’s to hoping that Kelly gives the program some much needed stability and leadership – and here’s to hoping that the school’s administration gives Kelly the support he most definitely needs.

NA’s Fisher captures gold in Group I pole vault

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Travis Fisher loaded up his gear and braved the bitter winter cold to head to the Bennett Center in Toms River for the NJSIAA Group I state indoor track and field championships Sunday, he had a dream in mind. He was going to win the pole vault gold medal.

“I felt really good,” Fisher said. “I felt like nothing was going to stop me. I was shooting to finish first or at least second.”

North Arlington head track and field coach John Zukatus had more reasonable goals.

“I thought he would medal, like finish in the top three or so,” Zukatus said.

However, when the bar in the competition was raised to 14 feet, the expectations changed a little.

“Travis never cleared 14 (feet) before,” Zukatus said.

“I never did 14, but I figured this was my chance,” Fisher said. “I felt really ready for it, going at it full speed.”

Sure enough, Fisher got enough steam and lift to clear the bar at 14 feet and that was enough for Fisher to secure the overall Group I gold medal, topping Andrew Accardi of Pompton Lakes by a match of jumps.

Incredibly, both Fisher and Accardi train together at Apex Vaulting in Fairfield.

Still, the victory gave Fisher a state gold medal _ the second gold medal for a North Arlington track and field athlete in as many years.

Last year, Danny Cordeiro, now playing soccer at NJIT, won the 800-meter run gold medal at the state meet.

Not bad for an indoor track program that didn’t even exist before last year. Two years of existence, two state gold medal winners.

Fittingly, it was due to the hard work of Fisher and his mother, as well as others, that pushed the North Arlington Board of Education to consider having indoor track as a varsity sport. Fisher went around collecting signatures on a petition two years ago and made a presentation to the Board of Education, calling for the implantation of indoor track as a sport.

“If it never happened, then Danny and I would never have the chance to win a state championship,” Fisher said. “It’s an amazing accomplishment. It’s such an awesome feeling.”

After Fisher cleared 14 feet, he had to sit around and wait to see if anyone else did.

“That was nerve wracking,” Fisher said. “I still had to compete while worrying about everyone else.” Fisher did try to clear 14-6, but missed on three attempts. Still, he cleared his career best, indoors and outdoors, by clearing 14 feet.

“I was shooting for it,” Fisher said. “That was my goal. I really thought I had a chance.”

Zukatus was more than pleased by Fisher’s performance.

“I think it’s more than remarkable that it was the first time he cleared 14 feet,” Zukatus said. “It came down to doing it today (Sunday) and he did it. It was huge and so exciting. I never thought he could pull it out. It’s the best thing ever, seeing him after he tried for so long. I couldn’t think of a kid who deserves this more, considering the work he puts it and tries to get better every meet.” It’s not easy for Fisher, who trains in conditioning with the rest of his North Arlington teammates three times a week, then heads to Apex Vaulting twice a week.

“He has to do a lot of it on his own,” said Zukatus, who obviously doesn’t have the luxury of having an indoor vaulting pit in North Arlington High School. “He keeps a busy schedule for himself.”

With the victory, Fisher now heads back to the Bennett Center this Saturday one last time, but this time, it’s the overall NJSIAA Meet of Champions. Fisher will hope to duplicate Cordeiro’s performance of a year ago and come home from the state’s premier indoor meet with a medal.

“I’m excited for it,” Fisher said. “Whatever happens, happens. But I feel like I’m right there.”

Fisher said that he came “pretty close” to clearing the bar at 14-6 Sunday, which would almost guarantee him a medal this weekend.

“I have a shot,” Fisher said.

Zukatus just loves Fisher’s overall approach.

“He doesn’t get caught up in himself,” Zukatus said. “Travis is always calm and cool. It’s not his style to be anything else.”

Zukatus hopes that Fisher’s gold medal-winning performance will open some eyes around the entire state.

“I would hope that it gives us more recognition,” Zukatus said. “I hope that people realize that we’re not just some little program who did a onetime thing last year. Now, we have another state champion.”

Two in two years is not a bad start.

“I think it says a lot for the kids,” Zukatus said. “They worked so hard to get to be with the best. Like Danny, Travis’ hard work has paid off.”

But in the case of Fisher, here’s a kid who wanted to have indoor track, did all the leg work to make sure the sport reached varsity status _ and now gets to reap the rewards as an overall Group I state champion.

“It is an awesome feeling,” Fisher said. “I know that there are some people who never thought it was possible.”

However, one of those people who never doubted it was eventually the most important one of all, namely Travis Fisher, who will be forever remembered now as a North Arlington state champion.

Local wrestling teams move on to NJSIAA sectionals

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Is there a doubt about what the prominent winter sport is in the area?

There shouldn’t be now, especially after three of the local wrestling teams from The Observer circulation area (out of a possible five) have earned berths into the prestigious and perennially tough NJSIAA state sectionals this week.

That’s right, three local teams, namely Nutley, the Lyndhurst/North Arlington cooperative and Queen of Peace have all punched their respective tickets to the state sectional playoffs with the hope of being crowned a Group team champion by the end of the week, when the championships are held at the Sun National Bank Arena in Trenton.

For now, let’s start with what we know for sure.

Nutley earned the second seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III bracket, one of the toughest sectionals in New Jersey. The Maroon Raiders (20-3) earned a bye in the sectional and will play host Wednesday (weather permitting) to the winner of the West Essex match against another of the local qualifiers, Lyndhurst/North Arlington.

The Maroon Raiders have enjoyed a complete metamorphosis this season, going from a 10-17 team a year ago to a 20-3 powerhouse this season.

“It’s a credit to all the hard work the kids put in,” said Nutley head coach Frank DiPiano. “Our goals this year were to win the (Super Essex Conference) American Division title, the county and get to the states. Well, for us to come back from 10-17 and have this kind of year is huge. We’re doing it with a lot of the same guys as well.”

Senior Joe Ferinde has been a major stud for the Maroon Raiders. Ferinde has a 26-2 record thus far, with his lone losses coming against potential state contenders.

“He’s our captain and he wrestles hard all the time,” said DiPiano of Ferinde, who finished eighth in the state last year.

Junior Robert Duxbury owns a 28-2 record, making a huge jump in weight classes from 106 pounds last year to 132 pounds this year.

“I expected him to do well, but I didn’t think this well,” DiPiano said. “He has never let the size thing get in his mind. He’s a hard-nosed kid.”

Senior Kenny Pena represents the improvement more than any other wrestler. Pena was 11-13 overall last year as a junior and now he owns a 27-2 mark.

“His work ethic is second to none,” DiPiano said of Kenny Pena. “He’s become committed to the sport tremendously and spent a lot of his free time on the mat.”

Incredibly, Pena was ready to walk away from wrestling for good two years ago, because he didn’t see improvement.

“He quit, but I told him to take a couple days to think about it,” DiPiano said. “He did and came back more committed.”

Junior Darwin Pena is another vastly improved wrestler. A cousin of Kenny, Darwin Pena has a 28-2 record.

“I don’t think they’re overachieving,” DiPiano said. “I knew they all would be good. These are guys who were proven wrestlers.”

However, there has been some startling improvements from others, like senior Andrew Aiello, who had a 4-22 record last year and this year, he owns a 25-5 mark.

“He’s grown up a lot over the year and it all just finally clicked for him,” DiPiano said.

Two freshmen have also contributed right away in 106-pounder Frank Gabriele, who has come in and learned the system and Frank De- Maio, whose father, Frank Sr. runs the Nutley Recreation wrestling program. The two Franks have pleased the head coach Frank.

“Frankie DeMaio has had a tremendous year,” DiPiano said. “He’s behind two seniors, but he’s found the time to get into the lineup and done well. Frankie Gabriele came through the Recreation program and adjusted real well.”

Lyndhurst/North Arlington was a moribund program without a state sectional playoff berth since 2000. But third-year head coach Mike Goff has turned things around and people in both towns are getting excited about the team’s progress.

“It’s a good thing,” Goff said. “We have things moving in the right direction. The kids are working hard all year and it’s paid off. It’s definitely a good feeling to qualify.”

Goff will take his team to face perennial state sectional participant West Essex.

“One of the goals this year was to make the sectionals,” Goff said. “I thought it was a reasonable goal. I knew that these kids work hard in the classroom and in the wrestling room. They definitely deserve this.”

Junior Devin Yunis has the highest win total among the Lyndhurst/North Arlington wrestlers with a 22-8 mark. Andrew Fernandez and Matt DeMarco both have 20 wins already this season. It’s hard to remember another Lyndhurst team that had three wrestlers with 20 or more wins this early in a season.

“It’s definitely a good first step,” said Goff, whose team prepared for the state sectional with wins last weekend over East Orange Campus and Kinnelon. “Whatever happens with West Essex, we definitely took the first step this year.”

The third local qualifier is Queen of Peace, which returned to competitive wrestling this year after a brief hiatus.

Still, the idea of a basically brand new program qualifying for the NJSIAA Non-Public B bracket is still amazing.

“It’s very gratifying,” said Scot Weaver, who returned to QP this season after a brief stint at Brearley Regional in Kenilworth and guided the Golden Griffins back to the state playoffs in the first year of his return. “The entire school and the community are behind it. The student body is cheering for their classmates. There are a lot of good things going on with the future of the QP wrestling program.”

The Golden Griffins will play host to Pingry in the opening round of the Non- Public B bracket Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

Weaver was asked if he was worried about whether he would field a competitive team this year.

“I really was concerned, but I’m always concerned,” Weaver said. “When I took the job, we had no wrestlers, no roster, no place to practice. All we had were some incoming freshmen.”

The Golden Griffins also secured a host of transfers, including senior Jeff Velez (24-5), who was a region champion last year at Brearley.

“He’s become a good teammate and a very good wrestler for us,” Weaver said.

Another solid competitor is senior Anthony DeLorenzo, who has won 25 and lost just once this season. DeLorenzo is a Nutley native who transferred to QP after a falling out with the Nutley coaches.

Senior Joe Rocca (24-6) transferred in from Saddle Brook.

Junior Mike Scaravelli (21-4) and 106-pound freshman Enrique Sanchez of North Arlington (25-3) have been excellent additions to Weaver’s once-again fledgling program.

Weaver knows that his team will more than likely see state-ranked DePaul in the second round.

“DePaul is as rock solid as they come,” Weaver said. “We’re going to have our hands full with them. But in terms of being competitive, we’re going to be right there. We’re ecstatic about being there. I’m happy to be where I am. We have a new (wrestling) room built and the kids are happy about being there. It’s all just a good thing.”

And it’s good for local high school sports to have three teams competing for a state wrestling team title.

Bloomfield is also a state playoff team, with the Bengals facing Clifton in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV playoffs.

The 700 Club welcomes NA coach Corsetto

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Rich Corsetto began his basketball coaching career 43 years ago, he never thought he would still be at it, coaching the game he loved.

“At the time, I was 22, 23 years old,” Corsetto said. “I never thought I’d be coaching for five years, never mind this long. Back then, I didn’t know how long I would be in coaching.”

Corsetto began coaching at Passaic County Tech in 1972 and remains active in the game today as the head boys’ coach at North Arlington, where he’s been for the past two seasons.

And last Thursday night, when Corsetto’s Vikings defeated Becton Regional, the coach was able to reach an impressive milestone. Corsetto collected the 700th win of his coaching career.

Most of his wins have come at the college ranks, first at Hudson County Community College and later at Passaic County Community College, but after a three-year hiatus, Corsetto came back last year and led the Vikings to a 22-win season.

“My father told me a long time ago that I should never give up and always go for what I want,” Corsetto said. “When I was away for those three years, they were the toughest three years of my life. I knew I had to get back to coaching.”

With the support of his wife, Doreen, who is a professor at William Paterson University, Corsetto decided to pursue any and all coaching opportunities.

“I still had that drive and desire to coach,” Corsetto said. “I wanted to keep coaching. Doreen, who was my scorekeeper at Hudson and Passaic County colleges and loves to come to all the games, was very supportive. She knew what I wanted to do.”

So Corsetto looked around and found the opening at North Arlington, after long-time coach and NA alum David Walsh stepped down.

“I appreciate North Arlington for giving me the opportunity.” Corsetto said. “It’s a beautiful place with a great administration and great community. The Board of Education and the staff are so helpful and supportive. They all love the kids, their players. It’s a very close-knit town. There are a lot of different cultures here. It really is a great place. And it’s a great sports town. The parents love their sports and I get texts from them all the time.”

North Arlington athletic director David Hutchinson realizes how fortunate his school was to get a coach of Corsetto’s stature.

“It has been a pleasure to have him,” Hutchinson said. “He’s a legendary figure in New Jersey basketball. He’s revitalized our program. He’s been to the recreation league games and been all over. Everyone is excited about basketball in the town again. Last year was an exciting year for us and everything has been a positive for us since Coach Corsetto arrived. He had a good track record before he came here and he’s been successful everywhere he’s been. We were lucky to get someone who has such a real passion for the game. He wanted to get back into coaching and he hit the ground running.”

Corsetto said that he never fathomed the idea of becoming a member of the 700 Club _ the hardwood variety, not the evangelical television show.

“I never thought I’d get 100 wins, never mind 700,” Corsetto said. “For me, it wasn’t about the wins. It was about the kids. I just helped them along. That was my goal, to help the kids, through teaching and coaching.”

Given his longevity in the coaching ranks, Corsetto looked back on some of the great teams and players he had the fortune to mentor over the years.

“There were so many good teams, good players, good memories,” Corsetto said. “It makes you sit back a little and reflect.”

Corsetto coached Eric Riggins at Passaic Tech, before Riggins became a 1,000-point scorer at Rutgers and a draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1987 NBA Draft. The 6-foot- 10 center Jim Lampley played for Corsetto at PCT before heading on to Vanderbilt, then Arkansas-Little Rock, eventually becoming a 5th round pick of the Dallas Mavericks and then getting a cup of coffee in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers.

“We had a lot of good wins, but I suffered through a lot of tough losses, too,” Corsetto said. “If I reflect back, I know that I wouldn’t have made it without the great players and great coaches who helped me. They deserve the credit. The kids are the ones who play hard.”

Corsetto likes the make-up of his current team, which now owns an 11-6 record after defeating Lyndhurst Friday night. Before the game, the North Arlington administration presented Corsetto with a basketball highlighting his 700th win.

“It’s an honor for me,” Corsetto said. “The kids are playing hard and doing a great job. We might need a little help to get to 20 (wins) again this season, but we still may get there.”

As for the milestone?

“Well, I’m 68 years old now,” Corsetto said. “I don’t take the losses as hard anymore. But I still have a lot of fire in me. When I don’t like coming to the gym or don’t have the passion anymore, then I’ll quit. Or when I just can’t get there anymore. My wife is so supportive. A lot of other wives might have told their husbands to stop coaching. But she loves it, too. She comes to every game. She was the cheerleader when I was a player.”

Corsetto said that he gives credit to his assistant coaches George Rotondo and Marcello D’Andrea.

“They’ve been a big help,” Corsetto said.

But both were just toddlers when Corsetto began coaching.

“I remember my first loss,” Corsetto said. “I took it pretty bad. But I took our last loss just as bad.”

Yeah, the fire still burns inside Rich Corsetto. It looks like he’s going to manning the North Arlington sideline for quite a few more years to come _ and with that, quite a few more wins as well.

“I don’t know about 800,” Corsetto said of the next milestone. “We’ll have to see about that one.”

It’s the Blair Watson Project in Nutley, headed to Maryland

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

When Blair Watson was growing up – albeit in rapid fashion – the first sport she participated in was not basketball.

“Tennis was my first sport,” said the talented Nutley High School girls’ basketball player. “I started with tennis in third grade.”

So then basketball was second, right? Not quite.

“I started playing soccer when I visited my grandmother here,” Watson said, “I liked soccer a lot. I guess that was fifth grade. Soccer was a lot of fun.”

Soccer was so much fun for Watson that she stuck with it as she began Nutley High. “At first, I thought soccer was going to be my sport,” Watson said. “But I started with basketball in eighth grade and saw how good I was at it. Once I saw how good I was in basketball, I knew that was going to take me to the next level.”

Watson grew to stand at 6 feet tall, so she certainly drew her share of attention and interest.

But she never dreamed about where her basketball talents would take her.

“It was pretty crazy,” Watson said of the attention she received from major colleges, even when she was only a freshman. “I didn’t expect the kind of things that was happening. But I then realized that if I kept working at it, I could get some really good (NCAA) Division I schools to look at me.”

Watson said that she was blown away by one of the first letters she received from Stanford.

“That was like my big ‘Whoa!’ moment,” Watson said about the letter from Stanford. “It was unbelievable.”

Watson then soon received a letter and invitation from the University of Maryland.

“I only visited Maryland once and as soon as I got on the campus, I said, ‘This is like my home,’” Watson said. “I liked everything about it. The coaches all cared about me just about as much as my Mom. I wanted to be at a school where everyone cared about me. I got done with the visit and I called my AAU coach (John Griff of the New Jersey Panthers) and said, ‘Okay, when can I commit?’ Right there, I was ready.”

Although she had yet to enter her junior year at Nutley, Watson gave a verbal commitment to coach Brenda Frese and the Terrapins right away. There was no need to wait out a recruiting process. Watson knew she wanted to go to the home of the 2006 NCAA champions.

“It was definitely a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” Watson said. “I knew right away that Maryland was it. It definitely took a lot of stress out of the way.”

But as the season began, the pressures of being a big-time Division I recruit got in the way. Teams were double and sometimes triple-teaming Watson, especially after she began the season with a 40-point explosion against Weequahic.

“It’s definitely been frustrating, but I’ve learned ways to deal with the frustration,” Watson said. “I’m dealing with it better. I have to say my teammates have been helping me out in teaching me that acting out my frustration is not the smart thing to do.”

Nutley head coach Larry Mitschow, who first met Watson when she was in sixth grade, can see the pressure building up inside Watson.

“You can see the frustration a little,” Mitschow said. “She has the bulls’ eye on her back and teams are surrounding her every time she touches the ball. I think in the beginning she was looking to shoot too much, because she thought she had to do everything. But the chemistry on the team is so much better. We’re moving the ball around so much better.”

The result has been five wins in their last seven games, with the only losses coming at the hands of Montclair, including one in the quarterfinals of the Essex County Tournament Saturday.

However, last week, in another game against Montclair, Watson exploded for 31 points. She also had 13 points in a win over perennial power Mount St. Dominic.

For her efforts, Watson has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Watson is averaging close to 22 points per game. What is astounding is her prowess from beyond the 3-point line. Watson has connected on a total of 63 3-pointers this season, almost five per game. She had eight treys in the Weequahic game to start the season and had seven in games against Newark Tech, Belleville and last week against Montclair. That is uncanny prowess from the perimeter and certainly peculiar for someone of Watson’s stature.

“Most of her points now come from out there,” Mitschow said. “If she’s open, she’s going to make that shot.”

“Definitely looking toward the future, Maryland sees me more as a wing or a guard,” Watson said. “I’ve definitely stepped up my game and added (the 3-pointer) to my arsenal. If I’m shooting the 3-pointer, I don’t have to get banged up in the paint. It’s definitely the best of all worlds.”

Mitschow said that her perimeter abilities have helped other parts of Watson’s game.

“She now can go to the basket more and if she gets fouled, she doesn’t miss free throws,” Mitschow said. “If she could develop even a little more going to the rim, she can’t be stopped. We’re trying to get her to go to the basket.”

But when Watson needs to be, she’s a 6-foot dominating force.

“Her presence there is always a game-changer,” Mitschow said. “I just let her stand inside and with her wing span, she’s blocking a lot of shots. She also does a great job of rebounding. She needs to box out more on rebounds, but she gets a lot of rebounds. She gets about 80% of all our rebounds.”

Watson realizes that she has another year of high school before she can take that quantum leap into big-time women’s college basketball. The Terrapins are currently 17-2 overall and ranked No. 5 in the nation.

“It definitely feels good not having to wait until next year,” Watson said. “I can work for the next year in terms of my ball handling and shooting. I get a chance to breathe a little. I really think my body needs a chance to recover and get everything ready for college. Coach Frese can’t wait to have me there. She’s already come to see me play here twice this year. It’s still kind of amazing that I’ll be playing at the No. 5 school in the country. It’s still a little early to be thinking about that.”

Mitschow is happy to have Watson for one more season.

“People still come up to me and say, ‘She’s just a junior?’” Mitschow said. “I have to remind myself of that. She’s still a kid who isn’t done growing yet. I think her best basketball is still ahead of her. Her potential is endless. She couldn’t have made a better decision. I got to have the coach of Maryland come into our gym twice. That showed a lot of class in my eyes. So it’s been a blessing to have Blair. She’s been great and we want it all to continue.”

At least for another year locally – and then to the Land of the Terrapins. Blair Watson is the most celebrated big-time athlete Nutley has had since baseball standout Larry Mohs some 20 years ago. Watson is gaining that kind of celebrity and she still has her senior year left.

Nationally ranked Red Hawks feature local talent

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Kearny’s Aquino, Harrison’s Lucas playing big roles at MSU, now 20-1

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Janitza Aquino cannot comprehend that four years have passed since she left Kearny High School to play basketball at Montclair State University.

“It has definitely flown by,” Aquino said. “It’s like I just got into Montclair yesterday and now it’s coming to an end. I’ve really enjoyed every year.”

“It went fast,” Montclair State head coach Karin Harvey said. “I’m happy for Janitza and the career she’s had with us. I’m so proud of her. She’s improved every year. It’s amazing how much her game has improved. She’s played some great basketball for us.”

The Red Hawks own a 20-1 record and No. 10 national ranking among NCAA Division III schools, thanks in part to the play of Aquino, the 2011 Observer Female Athlete of the Year recipient, and to the play of another local talent, namely sophomore guard Rayven Lucas of Harrison, who has played a bigger role this season with the Red Hawks.

Aquino has been a mainstay with the Red Hawks since her sophomore year. She is currently ranked among the top 10 scorers in school history with almost 1,300 points. This season, Aquino is leading the Red Hawks in scoring, averaging 15.8 points per game to go along with nearly three assists and three rebounds.

“She wasn’t a 3-point shooter when she came here,” Harvey said. “But she has worked on that aspect a lot and has become a very good shooter from the outside. She now holds all the school records for 3-pointers. What really has impressed me about Janitza is that she’s become a phenomenal leader. She takes the younger kids on her own and gets to know them well.”

Aquino believes that she has become a better player each year at Montclair.

“I’ve enjoyed each year and I’ve gotten better each year,” Aquino said. “These have been some of the greatest times in my life. I think each year I had to grow into a different role as a player. This year, I think the entire team just wants to keep improving. It’s not just me.”

Aquino has played both the point guard and off-guard slots this year in order to get freshman Kate Tobie more comfortable being a floor leader.

TOP PHOTO: Photos by Jim Hague Harrison native Rayven Lucas (l.) and Kearny’s Janitza Aquino (r.) are two of the reasons why the Montclair State women’s basketball team is ranked No. 10 nationally among NCAA Division III schools and own an impressive 20-1 record this season. ABOVE: Photo by Jim Hague Kearny’s Janitza Aquino (15) brings the ball up the floor against Rutgers-Newark last week. Aquino is leading Montclair State in scoring with a 15.8 point per game average.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny’s Janitza Aquino (15) brings the ball up the floor against Rutgers-Newark last week. Aquino is leading Montclair State in scoring with a 15.8 point per game average.

 

“I was always a point guard in high school, so I had to have the ball all the time,” Aquino said. “Now, I share the ball. Shooting was never my main thing, but now I can step out and shoot the three. I had to develop my game. Shooting was always a struggle, now it’s my main priority. I do what I can to help the team.”

One of the things Aquino has done in terms of helping the team has been the development of Lucas, the daughter of former Jets quarterback and current football TV and radio analyst Ray Lucas.

“That’s been one of the greatest things this year is watching Rayven develop,” Aquino said. “She’s up to learning new things. She knows I’m a senior this year and I was once like her. I’ve been in her spot before. She’s going to be a huge asset for this program when I’m gone. She’s learned all that she can. I’m just trying to do my part to help her learn. She’s always working hard.”

Lucas has seen her playing time dramatically improve this season. She’s averaging nearly two points per game and playing 10 minutes per game.

“It’s been like night and day since last year,” Harvey said of Lucas. “We all knew that Rayven had the athletic ability, but she still had a long way to go. She worked hard in the offseason. We gave her a list of what she needed to work on and she did that. It usually takes another semester for it to kick in, but she’s starting to do the things we want to see.”

“I worked on everything over the summer, shooting, ball handling, running,” Lucas said. “I hoped that my role would increase, because last year, I didn’t play much. I had to work hard and I’m glad that all the hard work I put in is finally paying off. I give Coach Harvey a lot of credit for giving me the chance to show I am a different player.”

Harvey likes Lucas’ improvement.

“I’m excited for her,” Harvey said. “She’s a nice young lady who comes from a great family. They all want her to be successful. She’s contributing to our team now and it’s only going to get better from here. She can continue to grow and develop. We need to get more kids like Rayven and Janitza.”

Lucas credits Aquino for her development.

“Janitza has really helped me a lot,” Lucas said. “I know that she’s leaving and there will be huge shoes to fill. I’m just grateful to help she has given me and it’s not just me, it’s everybody. She has the strength to lead us and she has the ability to find our weaknesses. We feel like we have a different connection because we’re from the same area.”

“I’m just trying to do my part,” Aquino said. “I’m trying to help on the floor and off the floor.”

Aquino will receive her degree in criminal justice in the spring. She doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life after graduation.

“I might want to come back to Kearny and become a police officer,” Aquino said. “I’m already doing my internship with the campus police here, so we will see what happens.”

Lucas knows that her final two years at MSU will be much improved thanks to her hard work and the tutelage she has received.

“This was just a stepping stone for me,” Lucas said. “There’s always room for improvement. It’s an honor to be part of this great team, highly rated, nationally ranked. It’s been a lot of fun.”

“We went to the Sweet 16 my sophomore year and the Elite Eight last year,” Aquino said. “So this year, we’re gunning for the Final Four. I couldn’t ask for a better scenario here. It’s been a privilege to be a part of something so great. A lot of people dream about what has happened to me. I got to share it with my family, my friends, my teammates. We have a great team and we’re all focused on the same goal, which is winning.”

Hopefully, the winning will continue all the way through March.

“I want to go all the way,” Lucas said. “With Janitza here, this is her year to do it. We have to do it.”

There’s no stopping Montclair State’s West Hudson connection.

Nutley hockey once again solid as a rock

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

After struggling somewhat at the end of last season, veteran Nutley High School hockey coach Eric Puzio didn’t know what to expect this season.

The Maroon Raiders did graduate nine seniors and had only three seniors returning for this season. Needless to say, there was a cause for some concern.

“I didn’t think the transformation would happen overnight,” said Puzio, who is in his ninth season as the head coach of the Maroon Raiders. “I thought it might take until midseason for them to gel and get going.”

Well, Puzio didn’t have to wait until the midway mark of the campaign for the winning to begin, because this young group of Maroon Raider ice warriors has been winning from the onset of the season.

After a 2-0 shutout victory over Livingston Saturday afternoon, the Maroon Raiders are an impressive 14-3 and are battling Livingston and Montclair for top honors in their division of the Super Essex Conference.

“The last few years have been really good for us,” Puzio said. “We’re getting a ton of production from a lot of guys. We have about nine forwards we can put out there and about five defensemen. So things are going pretty well.”

But the Maroon Raiders have two excellent net minders as well.

“I think it’s essential to have quality goalkeepers,” Puzio said. “It all starts between the pipes. You can have bad days up front and get a lack of production, but if you have a solid goalie, you have a shot to win.”

Junior Joey Hoarle has been rock solid in net.

“He started for us last year as a sophomore and was the co-MVP of the team,” Puzio said. “He has continued his stellar play for us.”

Hoarle just posted a shutout in a 2-0 win over Livingston Saturday night the Codey Arena in South Orange.

But the Maroon Raiders also have sophomore Tim Spitalnik, who gets a spot start here and there and has been undefeated since he has put on a Maroon Raiders uniform. Spitalnik is 5-0 this season and was 4-0 last year.

Senior defenseman Angelo Gaeta is the mainstay in the Maroon Raiders’ back line. Gaeta, the team’s assistant captain, has been what Puzio dubbed “a shut down defenseman for us.”

“Angelo has become a true leader for us,” Puzio said. “We only have three seniors this season, so Angelo is doing a great job as being a leader. He’s hit his stride this year and played very well.”

Gaeta has four goals and five assists this season.

A pair of juniors, namely Greg O’Connell and Joe Fontanals, has been also solid on the defensive back line.

“Both guys are doing a great job there,” Puzio said.

Sophomore Dan Caputo, a transfer from Don Bosco Prep, junior Sean Giordano and freshman Mark Frade are the rest of the Maroon Raiders’ defensive corps.

Mark Frade’s older brother, Mike, a senior center, has been the Maroon Raiders’ top scorer thus far, collecting an astounding 23 goals and adding 13 assists. The elder Frade is now 10 points shy of 100 for his career at Nutley.

“We’re fortunate enough to have a couple of guys who have tremendous numbers,” Puzio said.

 

Photos by Renee Hoarle TOP: Nutley junior goalkeeper Joey Hoarle has been rock solid in goal for the Maroon Raiders, picking up a shutout in a 2-0 win over Livingston last Saturday night. BOTTOM: Nutley senior center Mike Frade (l.) skates up ice during Nutley’s 2-0 win over Livingston Saturday at the Codey Arena. Frade leads the Maroon Raiders in scoring with 23 goals and 13 assists.

Photos by Renee Hoarle
TOP: Nutley junior goalkeeper Joey Hoarle has been rock solid in goal for the
Maroon Raiders, picking up a shutout in a 2-0 win over Livingston last Saturday
night. BOTTOM: Nutley senior center Mike Frade (l.) skates up ice during
Nutley’s 2-0 win over Livingston Saturday at the Codey Arena. Frade leads the
Maroon Raiders in scoring with 23 goals and 13 assists.

Junior Christian McCue is the left winger on Mike Frade’s line. He has five goals, but an amazing 16 assists this season. Junior Zack Vaughan is the right winger on Frade’s line. He has eight goals and 20 assists, leading the team.

“We’re getting a lot of production from that line,” Puzio said.

It doesn’t end there. Junior Dan Render anchors the team’s second line. Render has scored 15 goals and has 13 assists.

Junior Brendan McCormack has nine goals and eight assists and sophomore Gerard LaFuria has 11 goals and seven assists. “It’s fantastic, the way they’re spreading it out,” Puzio said.

Senior Michael Spagnuolo is the team’s resident grunt player.

“He’s a workman-like guy,” Spagnuolo said. “He is a big ‘rah-rah’ guy. He’s one of the leaders in the locker room. He doesn’t wear the ‘C’ on his chest (like a captain), but the rest of the team follows him.”

Junior Brendan Ruiz fills a role as one who “does the dirty work,” according to Puzio.

Freshman Cullen McCormack, the younger brother of Brendan, has played a big role already with four goals and four assists.

“He has a great future,” Puzio said.

Ryan O’Mara is another freshman who has fit in right away, scoring five goals and collecting three assists.

“He’s playing well and getting good ice team,” Puzio said.

The Maroon Raiders’ losses have come against state powers Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair and undefeated Madison.

“We’re in a good standing in the league and right there in the hunt,” Puzio said.

The Maroon Raiders are also in good position for the upcoming state playoffs.

“Everyone is upbeat and everyone gets along,” Puzio said. “That’s the best thing so far.”