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Category: Sports

Lyndhurst’s Failace makes remarkable comeback

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Jessica Failace vividly remembers the day that dramatically changed her life.

“We were playing River Dell in the county playoffs (two years ago),” said Failace, the Lyndhurst High School senior. “My knee twisted the wrong way. I heard it pop.”

The results were staggering. Not only did Failace tear the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), but she also damaged her meniscus.

“There was only 1:44 left in the game,” Failace said. “I knew it was bad.”

It also came at an emotional time in Failace’s life. Just eight days prior to the injury, Failace lost her beloved grandfather, Frank Benedetto, Sr.

“It was a hard time for me,” Failace said. “It was absolutely horrible. I had everything I loved to do taken from me.”

However, Failace was determined to get back to the soccer field and to the track (where she competes in the middle distance races).

Failace’s uncle, Frank Benedetto Jr., is a physical therapist who works at Paramus Orthopedic Physical Therapy.

“He took care of me right away,” Failace said. “I was blessed that he helped me. I ended up needing two surgeries. I was non-weight bearing for 66 days. But the day after my last surgery, I started physical therapy. Those were the worst days of my life, but they changed me. Those days made me who I am today. I completely believe that things happen for a reason. It all made me a stronger person.

” Failace worked diligently in her physical therapy in order to make it back to the soccer pitch and back to the track.

“I worked very hard,” Failace said. “I wanted to come back better than ever.”

Fast forward to 2014. Failace entered her senior year with high hopes and expectations.

“I felt as a senior and as a captain, I had to step up for my team,” Failace said.

Last year, Failace played for the Golden Bears, but she was limited in what she could do.

“I doubted myself a little,” said Failace, who played while wearing a bulky brace on her injured knee.

“You could definitely tell that she wasn’t 100%,” said Lyndhurst head girls’ soccer coach Kim Hykey. “She was wearing the brace and she just basically got through the year.”

But when practices began in earnest for the 2014 season, Failace was a different person and player. The bulky brace was gone.

“This year, it’s like, `What injury?’” Hykey said. “Her speed and confidence is back. It’s night and day to what she once was.”

“It upset me that people always came to me and asked me how I was doing,” Failace said. “I wasn’t able to run like I used to. I wanted to become better than I was.”

Failace scored two goals as a freshman, one as a sophomore and two as a junior. But no one could expect the explosion that she has enjoyed this year as a senior.

“She has been playing phenomenally,” Hykey said.

No one could have ever anticipated what Failace could accomplish this season – or for the last two weeks, scoring two or more goals in five straight games.

Failace scored two goals and added an assist against Leonia, had two goals against Queen of Peace, scored two goals and had two assists against Bergen Charter, had the three-goal hat trick against Dwight-Englewood and scored two more against Ridgefield.

For the season, Failace has tallied an astounding 20 goals and added five assists.

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

“I think I have much more confidence this year,” Failace said. “Going through physical therapy has made me stronger and gives me confidence that I can shoot with either leg. I can shoot from all different angles.”

Hykey said she remembers the turning point for her senior captain.

“When I noticed her turning point was in the beginning of the season,” Hykey said, “She wasn’t scoring much, but I noticed that she hustled and played well against Glen Rock. I don’t know if that gave her confidence, but from that point on, she got started and has been amazing. She has been making shots from ridiculous angles. I didn’t know she could do that.

Added Hykey, “She plays the left side (of the midfield) and has developed a left shot. Her left foot has become very good. She’s not afraid to take a shot with her left foot.”

Failace admits that she has fully recovered from the knee injury.

“I feel like I’m better than ever,” Failace said. “I feel less limited than I was. I’m much better without the brace. It feels great to be able to do this. I’m completely recovered.”

The Golden Bears are also enjoying success, with a 17-2 record and a top seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state playoffs that begin this week.

“She’s been a surprise, a pleasant surprise,” Hykey said.

Hykey likes the chemistry she has with fellow midfielder Amanda Fulcher. Another team captain, Giana DiTonto, has an incredible 31 assists.

“Amanda has done a great job distributing the ball,” Hykey said. “Jess has been getting open through the defense and making shots.”

Hykey also counts on Failace to be a leader.

“She’s awesome,” Hykey said. “She’s like having another coach on the field. She’s smart and knows what has to be done. She always tries to do the right thing.”

Failace also runs track and holds the school record for the 400-meter run as well as two records with Lyndhurst relay teams.

Failace is also a standout in the classroom. She’s currently ranked No. 2 in the Lyndhurst Class of 2015 with a grade point average of 4.16 and a score of 1810 in the Scholastic Aptitude Tests.

Failace has not made a commitment to college. Because of her experience in the field, she wants to become a physical therapist and will attend an accelerated six-year program in college.

She’s undecided about the school and whether she will play soccer in college. “I might run track and play club soccer,”

Failace said. “I’m not ready to give up playing soccer.” Failace also has a reputation off the field.

“She’s a goofball,” Hykey said. “I will come to my office and find 75 Post-It stickers on my wall that say, ‘Jess is the best.’ I don’t even have to read them to know who’s done it.”

“I just want to leave my mark when I go,” Failace said. “I like having fun. People meet me and they think I’m quiet and shy, but I’m actually quite the opposite.”

So the fun-loving captain is enjoying life once again – and scoring goals at will.

“It all made me a stronger person,” Failace said. “I am absolutely better than ever. I was asked if I wanted to have plastic surgery to hide my scars on my knee. I want them there forever as a reminder of what I’ve been through. They made me who I am.”

Kearny is ‘Soccertown, USA’ for a reason

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Boys’ and girls’ teams both win Hudson County Tournament championships

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

Kearny is certainly called “Soccertown, USA” for a reason.

The Kearny High School boys’ and girls’ soccer teams both won their respective Hudson County Tournament championships Sunday afternoon.

The girls’ team won their sixth straight Hudson County championship with a 3-0 victory over Memorial.

Then the boys’ team finished off the clean sweep by defeating North Bergen in their championship game by a 2-0 score.

It’s definitely a reason for celebrations at Kearny High.

Kearny girls’ head coach Vin Almeida had some concerns, because his team was trying to defeat Memorial for the third time this season – and there’s an old sports adage which states that it’s very hard to win for a third time against the same team.

“Memorial over the last several years has become much improved and they’ve become a dander in the county,” Almeida said. “They have tough competitors who fight until the last minute. It was a challenge to play them. It’s always tough to get that third one. They have some good players, but our girls were able to shut them down. They didn’t produce many threats.”

Almeida credited his veteran group of midfielders for their prowess defensively, namely Amanda Eustice, Kathleen Dos Reis, Taylor Munro and Amber Crispin.

“They were asked to play as a unit and cover for each other,” Almeida said. “They had to be patient and did a great job of taking away everything.”

For Eustice, the victory was certainly redeeming, considering she missed all of last season due to a knee injury.

“It was a huge goal for me,” said Eustice, a senior. “I made sure that I came back and made a difference. I made sure each time I stepped on the field that it counted. I know now that you never know when it’s going to go. I missed it all last season. I wanted to be alongside my teammates and couldn’t, so to come back and make a contribution really feels great. We have a six-peat. How awesome is that?” Eustice said that it was a goal from the start of the season to go for No. 6 in a row.

“We wanted to be the first class to win all four years,” Eustice said for the rest of the seniors. “To finish off our senior year with another county championship is just awesome. We worked very hard for this.”

Senior Barbara Paiva scored a goal, the 34th goal of her season, breaking the single season scoring record in the process. Crispin and Natasha Magee scored the other goals.

Kearny boys’ head coach Bill Galka knew that his team was going to have a tough time with North Bergen.

“We knew that they were a good team and it was certainly going to be a battle,” Galka said. “We felt better playing them on a bigger field (at Harrison High). If we opened up the field, it was to our advantage. It would benefit us all around.”

Photos by Jim Hague The Kearny girls’ soccer team won the Hudson County Tournament for the sixth straight time. Front row, from l., are Amanda DeSousa, Eliza Rodrigues, Amanda Eustice, Barbara Paiva, Taylor Munroe, Kathleen Dos Reis and head coach Vin Almeida. Second row, from l. are Megan McClelland, Dana Green, Nicole Sanchez, Salma Bouzidi, Ryelle Seda, Breanna Costa, Isabel Fernandez and Laura Vilar. Third row, from l., are Sydney Viscuso, Sydney Pace, Natasha Magee, Amber Crispin, Merrin Keim and Rachel Nieto. Back row, from l., are Cindy Guzman, Lily Durning, Victoria Van Riper, Brianna Rodriguez and Nawal Farih

Photos by Jim Hague
The Kearny girls’ soccer team won the Hudson County Tournament
for the sixth straight time. Front row, from l., are Amanda DeSousa,
Eliza Rodrigues, Amanda Eustice, Barbara Paiva, Taylor Munroe, Kathleen
Dos Reis and head coach Vin Almeida. Second row, from l. are
Megan McClelland, Dana Green, Nicole Sanchez, Salma Bouzidi, Ryelle
Seda, Breanna Costa, Isabel Fernandez and Laura Vilar. Third row, from
l., are Sydney Viscuso, Sydney Pace, Natasha Magee, Amber Crispin,
Merrin Keim and Rachel Nieto. Back row, from l., are Cindy Guzman,
Lily Durning, Victoria Van Riper, Brianna Rodriguez and Nawal Farih

 

Senior Danny Vicente, who was not with the program last year as he was part of a soccer academy, scored both goals in the win over North Bergen. Vicente, who missed most of the week because of a rib injury and illness, came off the bench to score the game’s first goal on a header, then later added a penalty kick.

“I knew I was going to play, but I didn’t know how much,” Vicente said. “This was the county championship. It’s my senior year and I wasn’t going to miss it. It was a good feeling to share this with my friends. I didn’t think I’d score at all. But to come off the bench and lead the team is amazing.”

Senior goalkeeper Sebastian Ferreira echoed Vicente’s sentiments.

“It’s a perfect story line,” Ferreira said. “It’s a perfect setting for us. You can’t write it any better than that. To win this again makes it so much sweeter.”

The Kardinals won for the third time in the six-year history of the county tourney. They last won in 2012.

Galka credited the work of his backline, namely Michael Almeida (no relation to the coach), Adrian Velazquez, Andrew Quintos and Damian Kolodziej for their defensive work.

“Adrian really stepped up and won a lot of balls for us,” Galka said. “That got us going. They’ve all been solid all year.”

The seniors all had it in mind that they wanted to win the county title after losing last year in the semifinals.

“They all said that it was a goal to win the county tournament,” Galka said.

Almeida also credited his defensive line, namely goalkeeper Laura Vilar and defenders Dana Green, Lisa Rodrigues and Salma Bouzidi for their efforts.

“We thought by now that someone might have caught us sleeping,” said Almeida, whose team is 85-0-1 against Hudson County opponents over the last six years. “It’s a tribute to our girls, because we never let our guard down.”

Eustice said that her comrades actively cheer for the boys’ team.

“We are all good friends,” Eustice said. “We always talk to each other. Our goals are always the same. Both teams are extremely close. Some of my closest friends are on the boys’ team.”’

“It’s always good when the girls win, because if they win, then we’re expected to win,” Ferreira said. “It’s always a good feeling when we both win.”

Like it was destined to be, in the beautiful world called “Soccertown, USA.”

Harrison native Martino a credit to athletics, academics

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Although he’s a key player on one of the top high school football teams in New Jersey, Tyler Martino believes that his work in the classroom is far more important.

“I always think academics are far more important than football,” said Martino, a Harrison resident who plays football at St. Peter’s Prep. “I want to make a good living when I’m done playing football. I don’t have the size to play football for a long time. So academics have always come first and foremost. It’s the reason why I went to (St. Peter’s) Prep in the first place, to get a great education.”

Last week, Martino received the ultimate honor as a student/athlete. He was inducted into the National Honor Society, the lone member of the Prep grid team to become a member of the NHS.

“It means a lot to me,” Martino said. “Usually, people say that athletes don’t do well academically. But I’m proud to represent my team, my hometown. I’m the only one from Harrison in my class to go to Prep. It’s a great honor.”

Prep head football coach Rich Hansen had nothing but praise about his undersized senior running back.

“He’s a great kid who works very hard,” Hansen said of Martino. “He makes the most of his ability and is in there every day, grinding it out, making contributions. He definitely helps us be more competitive. He’s one of those players where height and weight don’t matter. It’s not a big distraction. I’ve had other smaller kids who played big roles.

Added Hansen: “Tyler has that competitive fire. He’s a tough minded kid. He’s the kind of kid who you have to find a place on the field for.”

Hansen was asked about Martino’s induction into the National Honor Society.

“That’s what this is all about,” Hansen said. “He has that ultimate balance, the combination of athletics and academics. Every single student is challenged when they come to Prep. It takes a lot of maturity and mental toughness. For him to achieve what he did academically is the pinnacle. It’s what it’s all about.”

Martino stands only 5-foot-2 and weighs only 150 pounds. But that is not a deterrent to him. He runs like the wind – and shows that speed during the indoor track season, running the 55-meter dash.

“When you’re not blessed with size, you have to go harder than most,” Martino said. “I have to give 100% every play. I spend a lot of time in the weight room, so I can have somewhat of an advantage. I get really low and run hard and fast, so teams have a tough time trying to handle me.”

Martino spoke of his academic commitment.

“I have a couple of advanced placement classes, so it’s tough to come home after practice at 8 p.m. and then do my schoolwork,” Martino said. “Once I learned how to manage my time, it got a lot easier.”

Martino is also civic minded.

“I want to give back to Harrison,” Martino said. “I like to go help at the Pop Warner program. I try to stay as close to my community as possible. I love Harrison. We have a really close knit community.”

Despite his size, Martino has been looked at by some colleges.

“I’m being recruited a little,” Martino said. “I think I’ll be able to play somewhere in college.”

Martino is looking at Lehigh, Lafayette, Monmouth and Fordham.

“We’ll see what happens,” Martino said. “I think I’ll get my chance to play.”

Martino said that he’s blessed to be on one of the state’s best football teams.

“It’s awesome,” Martino said. “It’s crazy how good this team has become. We’ve been together for four years and it’s like a brotherhood. We have a really good chance to win a state championship. Everyone is so talented. When you play football at Prep, people want to come up to you and talk to you. It’s a great honor to play for Prep and it’s always been a lot of fun.”

Martino said that he is looking into studying business or engineering in college.

Needless to say, Tyler Martino is enjoying things right now.

“I’m living the life,” Martino said. “It’s great.”

Kearny’s Rodriguez becomes instant quarterback in big win

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

The entire Kearny High School football season was hanging in the balance. The Kardinals trailed Dickinson, 20-6, at halftime last Friday night, watching their faint hopes of finally qualifying for the NJSIAA state playoffs fade into the dark night.

With that, Kearny head coach Nick Edwards knew that he had to make a change, putting starting fullback Christian Rodriguez in as the Wildcat formation quarterback.

In the Wildcat, the quarterback takes a direct shotgun snap and then determines to either run the ball or throw a pass.

“I knew we were struggling and I knew we had to step up,” Rodriguez said. “I loved the idea of playing the Wildcat. I liked being the general of the offense. I know that there’s a responsibility, but I loved it.”

Rodriguez said he had one reaction when Edwards told him he was going in as the Wildcat signal caller.

“It is very tough,” said Rodriguez, who was once a quarterback earlier in his life. “But I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

“We have the Wildcat package and Christian is the one to run that,” Edwards said. “He’s a strong kid with good speed. He also has good vision. He’s played about three years at quarterback in his life, so we knew he could do it.”

So Rodriguez took over the signal calling responsibility in the second half of the Dickinson game. The results were staggering.

Rodriguez carried the ball 12 times for 120 yards and completed five passes for 73 yards. More importantly, he guided the Kardinals to 34 unanswered points in the second half, keying Kearny’s gigantic 41-20 victory.

And the Kards are in position for their first-ever state playoff berth. If they win this weekend against Bayonne, the Kards are in. Simple as that. A loss last week would have destroyed those hopes.

So for his all-around effort, Rodriguez has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Rodriguez said that he was up for the challenge to fill in at quarterback.

“I was once the starting quarterback and then I got moved to fullback,” Rodriguez said. “I was excited to get the chance to play quarterback again. It was fun.”

Football is always more enjoyable when your team is winning.

“He played a big part in the second half comeback,” Edwards said. “We had 230 yards rushing in the second half. He’s perfect at that position. The more experience he gets there, the better he is. If we need a short screen pass, he’s capable of doing it.”

Rodriguez said that the hardest part of the Wildcat offense is reading the opposition defensive formation.

“I have to try to find the reads,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t have anything distract me. I have to have the right vision so I can see the play develop.”

Rodriguez said that he has watched other Wildcat quarterbacks, like former New York Jet and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.

“I see them running it and it motivates me to want to do it as well as they did,” Rodriguez said. “It blew my mind how well we did it. We just ran the ball right in their faces and they couldn’t stop us.”

Rodriguez said that he never played organized football before entering Kearny High School.

“I was more into skateboarding,” Rodriguez said. “That was what I did.”

Rodriguez was also hanging out with a wrong crowd. It forced Rodriguez’s mother, Maria, to step forward and put her foot down.

“She wants me to go to college,” Rodriguez said. “I started to think I could play football in college. I learned my lesson and realized that I couldn’t hang out with the wrong kids. I had to make a change in my life.”

Rodriguez has played quarterback in a triple option offense, then a fullback and now a Wildcat QB. Defensively, Rodriguez has played linebacker and defensive end, but does not play defense when he’s calling the signals.

“I got a little taste of everything,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t mind, because I love playing football. I like being with my teammates. They’re like my family. That’s why I stuck with it.”

Rodriguez is also a member of the Kearny wrestling team in the winter months.

“It helps my conditioning,” Rodriguez said of wrestling after football season is over. “It makes me stronger.”

Edwards likes what Rodriguez brings to the table.

“He’s a very respectful kid,” Edwards said. “He’s always at practice and he’s a very vocal kid. He’s become a leader.” That’s quite a compliment for someone who is only a junior.

“He also does well in the classroom,” Edwards said. “He’s the one getting us through the season.”

And yes, if the Kardinals get a win this weekend, they’re in the state playoffs for the very first time.

“None of these kids ever thought of being in the state playoffs,” Edwards said. “If we do win, we’re in. We definitely will talk about it. By telling them about it, it gives them something to shoot for. It’s good that this team is getting some recognition. They’re also getting some good support from the school and their families.”

Rodriguez was asked what it would be like to be part of the state playoffs.

“That would be so awesome,” Rodriguez said. “Next year, we’ll be even better. But this has been a fun year. I never expected all of this. “

Rodriguez has hopes of majoring in business management in college at either Montclair State or William Paterson. Of course, football will be a part of his life.

“I would love to play in college,” Robinson said. “I want to keep playing. Whatever position they want to put me at, I’ll play it. But this has been an awesome year. It’s one of the best years of my life.” And maybe the best is yet to come for Christian Rodriguez.

Kearny defeats rival Harrison again, this time in overtime

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Defender Quintos becomes hero with golden goal

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

Andrew Quintos is a defender on the Kearny High School boys’ soccer team. He knows defenders rarely grab the headlines, because they rarely score goals.

However, Quintos has been recently finding himself in a position to put the ball in the net.

He scored three goals in a recent win against Memorial and had two more goals in a victory over Belleville. In fact, Quintos has tallied an astounding seven goals this season.

But none bigger than the one Quintos knocked home Sunday afternoon. In fact, it’s a goal that Quintos will hold dearly for the rest of his life.

Quintos got the ball off a mad scramble in the second overtime of the Hudson County Tournament semifinal against neighboring rival Harrison Sunday afternoon at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium and somehow knocked it home, giving the Kardinals a thrilling 2-1 victory.

With the win, undefeated Kearny (13-0-2) advanced to Sunday’s county tournament finale to face North Bergen, which upset St. Peter’s Prep, 1-0, in the other semifinal held at Harrison High School.

Quintos was asked to describe the game-winning play.

“The ball came right in front of me,” Quintos said. “I got there first before a Harrison defender could get to it. It was just my instinct. I had to get there.”

“There had to be about 19 or 20 players in the box,” Kearny head coach Bill Galka said. “The ball was bouncing back and forth.”

The winning play was set up by a corner kick from Calvin Carbajal, but was then touched about seven or eight times by players on both teams before it bounced back to Quintos.

“He just has a knack to get to the bouncing ball,” Galka said. “He somehow gets to it. He scored two the same way against Belleville. As our center back, he goes up for free kicks. He’s been getting goals from the back. It’s amazing.”

“Of course, it’s as big as it gets,” Quintos said. “I knew that the goal ended the game. There was a sense of relief and joy. We put a lot of hard work into it. It feels good to get to the finals. Last year, we were disappointed, because we didn’t win anything. This year, we have a chance to go far, so it makes winning important.”

Quintos knows the importance of the goal, because he gave Kearny its second win of the season against the rival Blue Tide. Kearny has never defeated Harrison twice in one year before. The previous win came at Red Bull Arena by a 3-1 decision Sept. 27.

“It’s something that gets built up for years,” Quintos said. “It feels great. To be honest, I couldn’t even have something like this in my thoughts. I’ll never forget it.”

Galka knew that Harrison was going to be a tough out, considering the two teams played a spirited game less than a month ago.

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny forward Calvin Carbajal scored a goal early on and almost had another during the Kards’ 2-1 win over Harrison Sunday afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny forward Calvin Carbajal scored a goal early on and almost had another
during the Kards’ 2-1 win over Harrison Sunday afternoon.

 

“They had a little bit more of a motivation, considering we won the first time, so there was a revenge factor,” Galka said. “So the way we looked at it, we had to play better than them. They were ready and put the pressure on us. We were up against it.”

The Kards were also without top ball distributor Marcello Matta, who was out with a groin injury.

Harrison head coach Mike Rusek thought that his team had a chance against the Kards this time around.

“I thought we battled hard with them at Red Bull Arena,” Rusek said. “We thought we could go in there Sunday and battle with them. I told our kids that it was our county championship (the Blue Tide were the defending champs) and we had to go there to defend our title. We had to go there and play like champions, which we did.”

Rusek said that it was a tough situation for his team to be in.

“I went back as far as I could and couldn’t find another time where Kearny beat Harrison twice in one year,” Rusek said. “It’s a different year. They got us twice.”

The Kardinals took the lead in the early going, when Carbajal scored in the eighth minute off a fine pass from Alexi Velasquez.

“Scoring early sometimes hurts,” Galka said. “You tend to get a lackadaisical feeling and let up. It might be easier not to score early. We had a long way to go in the game.” Midway through the second half, the Blue Tide tied the score on a goal by freshman Ney Moreno.

“It was a nice goal,” Galka said. “It really got some momentum going for them. We were defending pretty well, but it was a matter of survival.”

“We were pushing for a second goal,” Rusek said. “We played well in the second half. The wind was pretty strong and it played a factor, because we had the wind at our backs in the second half.”

With five minutes to go in regulation, the Blue Tide thought they had the game winner. Ali Lakhrif chipped one that eluded Kearny standout goalkeeper Sebastian Ferreira and appeared headed toward the goal.

“Ali chipped one from the 18 (yard line) and the ball hit the crossbar, the corner of the goal post and slid off to the side,” Rusek said. “That was tough.”

Kearny also had a chance to win the game, but Carbajal plunked one off the crossbar as well, sending the game to the overtime, eventually giving Quintos the golden opportunity to be a golden hero with a golden goal, a score of a lifetime.

“Unfortunately, when you lose on a goal like that, everything just stops,” Rusek said. “We started to think about penalty kicks already. The mind starts prepping for things like that. Then, suddenly, it’s over. You’re in shock, because you were not prepping for that. You stand there, like ‘What just happened?’ But that’s soccer.”

The Blue Tide dropped to 13-3 on the season, with two of the three setbacks to the local rivals and the other coming at the hands of Princeton.

Both teams will be forces to be reckoned with in the upcoming NJSIAA state tournament – Kearny in North Jersey Section 1, Group IV and Harrison in North 2, Group I.

“I told our kids that the only month where you have to worry about being undefeated is November,” Rusek said. “This was a good experience for us for the state tournament.”

The Kardinals have a county title to be won, facing North Bergen somewhere this weekend. The Kards defeated North Bergen, 2-1, in overtime a few weeks ago.

“We haven’t won in a while,” Galka said of the county tournament title. “We’re looking at trying to get it back again.”

As for the unbeaten mark this late in the season?

“We don’t mention it and certainly don’t talk about it,” Galka said.

Such are the superstitions of soccer.

Lyndhurst boys’ XC wins NJICColonial title

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

 

It had been three years since the Lyndhurst boys’ cross country team won a league championship, so Andre Francisco wanted to make sure that his team got a chance to enjoy the fruits of winning a title one more time.

“Since we won the last one our freshman year, we had to come back and win again as seniors,” said Francisco, whose second place finish overall led the Golden Bears to the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Colonial Division championship last week at the Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park.

“We knew we had a good team this year,” said Francisco, who finished second in 17:05. “We just wanted to make sure we got our championship.”

The Golden Bears were solid throughout the race, also placing fifth (Dylan Stanco in 17:23), sixth (William Hooper in 17:27) and seventh (Stephen Covello in 17:29). That consistency was enough to catapult the Bears to a resounding victory, defeating closest rival Leonia by an astounding 46 points.

“We felt like we had something to prove,” said Hooper, whose brother is the goalkeeper on the Lyndhurst soccer team. “We just got stronger as a team. We knew we were going to win going in. With the hard work we put in, we knew we were the best team.”

“We felt like it was our responsibility to win,” Stanco said. “We’ve been preparing for this since our sophomore year. It’s the strongest team I’ve ever been on.”

Covello agreed. “We’ve all been training hard together as a team since the summer,” Covello said. “We all have been working hard, doing double sessions, just to get better. We wanted to win this year and prove that we could become a Group I power house.”

“We wanted people to see that we have a great cross country program,” said Christopher Barreto, who finished 16th overall.

Beside the aforementioned seniors, the Golden Bears were helped by sophomore Xavier Locke, who fin ished 13th and junior Anthony Dell Aquila, who was 19th  overall in the race.

Lyndhurst head cross country coach Michael Pichardo was pleased with his team’s performance.

“We absolutely have a great group of seniors,” Pichardo said. “I had high expectations for this group this year. This is just the beginning. Winning the league was just the start of the journey. We want to win the county, the state sectionals and make it to the Meet of Champions.”

Pichardo likes the commitment he gets from his team.

“This is a very experienced team,” Pichardo said. “They won the state sectional (the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I) last year and have a chance for bigger things this year. We don’t have just five kids or seven kids. We have 10 kids who are willing to step up and do whatever it takes to continue the legacy of the program.”

Added Pichardo, “Andre was able to win the league as a freshman, but the others didn’t, so I was happy for them.”

Pichardo knows that bigger things will happen for this group.

“They’re hungry,” Pichardo said. “They get the history and tradition of the program. They all know their roles. They want to do something special.”

Pichardo knows that the next steps, which include the Bergen County Championships this Saturday at Darlington Park in Mahwah, will not be easy.

“Winning the county would be an honor,” Pichardo said. “But we’re right in the mix. And if the stars align, we have to be in the discussion for the state sectional and the Groups. The championship season is just starting now and the first step has been won. It’s a long journey, but we have a chance to get everything we want. We have a great group of kids who are totally dialed in. I can’t ask for anything else.”

“We still want to accomplish more,” Covello said. “We’re not satisfied. We want to leave more of a legacy.”

Still, leaving a league title banner on the wall of the gym won’t be too hard to swallow.

“It’s amazing,” Stanco said. “It’s going to be a great feeling to see that go up and know that we all had a part of that.”

One win from six straight: Kearny girls’ soccer rolls to finals

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

The Kearny High School girls’ soccer team is just one win away from an amazing sixth straight Hudson County Tournament championship.

The Kardinals advanced to the title game with a resounding 11-0 win over Hoboken in the county tourney semifinals Sunday at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium in Jersey City.

The Kards will now face Memorial in the tourney title game this Sunday at a site to be determined, quite possibly the same location.

The Kardinals received yet another stellar performance from senior forward Barbara Paiva, who is well on the way to re-writing the school’s record books.

Paiva tallied an incredible five goals in the win over Hoboken, giving her 33 on the season, tying the school mark set by Stefanie Gomes (now at Montclair State) a few years ago.

Lily Durning added two goals while senior midfielder Amanda Eustice had a goal and three assists. It was a complete domination, as the Kardinals continue to roll.

“Hoboken had a nice game against North Bergen to get to the semifinals, but they lost a lot of girls to injury,” said Kearny head coach Vin Almeida. “So they were a little light handed to face us. It was a tough situation for us to play them in the semifinals, but in way, it was fortunate, because we were able to get a lot of girls on the field.”

Almeida said that he was impressed with Paiva’s performance.

“She’s really on a roll right now,” Almeida said. “She scored some nice goals. She’s a solid finisher. She’s really heating up at the right time.”

Almeida said that he was also impressed with the play of Eustice, who missed all of last season due to knee surgery.

Photos by Jim Hague TOP: Kearny senior defender Dana Green (12) passes the ball during the 11-0 win over Hoboken in the Hudson County Tournament semifinal win over Hoboken Sunday. BOTTOM: Senior midfielder Amanda Eustice (10) controls the ball during tourney contest at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium in Jersey City Sunday. Eustice had a goal and three assists.

Photos by Jim Hague
TOP: Kearny senior defender Dana Green (12) passes the ball during the 11-0
win over Hoboken in the Hudson County Tournament semifinal win over Hoboken
Sunday. BOTTOM: Senior midfielder Amanda Eustice (10) controls the
ball during tourney contest at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium in Jersey City
Sunday. Eustice had a goal and three assists.

 

“She’s getting the ball to our scorers, serving the ball to where the girl can finish,” Almeida said. “It makes things a lot easier. She’s been doing that a lot lately. She’s playing in a spot where she never played before (defensive center midfielder) and she’s handling it well. She’s doing a lot of the dirty work that goes unseen. But that leads to our success.”

Needless to say, Almeida was pleased with the incredible performance.

“It’s a great feeling to be in the finals and hopefully, we can win another county championship,” Almeida said. “That was the goal coming in.”

The Kards will now face Memorial, a team that they have defeated twice already this season by 3-1 and 4-0 margins. Almeida knows the old adage that it is very difficult to beat the same time three times in a season.

“Memorial will certainly not be a pushover,” Almeida said. “We have to be sharp to beat them. We can’t let our opponent get one up on us. We have had some good tests against them.”

Memorial features standout forward Mayensy Vargas, who has 31 goals this season, so the county final will pit two of the state’s leading scorers in Paiva and Vargas.

“We shall see,” Almeida said. “It’s two of the top goal scorers playing against each other. It should be very exciting.”

Almeida knows that history is hanging in the balance. There aren’t many soccer programs in New Jersey that can lay claim to six county championships in a row.

“We just have to keep our composure,” Almeida said. “We have to come out and play our game. We just have to stay focused. We’re feeling pretty good. We’re confident, but cautious.”

Perhaps history is in the making on Sunday.

Nutley wins SEC XC championship

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First league championship for cross country program in 32 years

 

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Before the current cross country season began, Nutley head coach Gerald Ryan believed he had the makings of a special team.

“I had an inkling that if we stayed healthy and if we could stumble across one or two freshmen who would become pieces to the puzzle, then we could contend for a league championship,” Ryan said.

Well, that’s exactly what happened last week, when the Maroon Raiders won the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division championship at Branch Brook Park in Newark.

The Maroon Raiders won by nine points over runner-up West Essex with Glen Ridge third.

It marked the first time that Nutley had captured a league championship in boys’ cross country since 1982, when the Maroon Raiders won the old NNJIL crown.

Ryan, a proud Nutley alum, was 10 years old the last time Nutley won a league championship.

“I was in fourth grade,” Ryan said. “It’s been a while. It’s really great for the kids. The sense of determination grows every day in these kids.”

Leading the way is junior Luke Michels, who won the overall individual title in 17:12.

“Luke pulls everyone along together,” Ryan said. “He has a disciplined work ethic. He’s always pushing himself and wants to be able to pull the rest along.”

Michels believed that the Maroon Raiders would be successful at the league meet.

“I really thought we could do this,” Michels said. “We prepared all summer for this and we just went all out. We’re all one big unit. We have pasta parties together all the time. We feel connected to each other and we’re willing to help each other out.”

“Luke understands the team concept,” Ryan said. “He’s not concerned about himself as much as he is with the others on the team. He was in a tough spot, being out there all by himself.”

Michels won the race by a full 47 seconds. “When you’re running by yourself, it’s hard to push yourself,” Ryan said. “At the mile mark, he was already in the lead by 15-to-20 seconds.

There was no one there with him. At that point, you can’t even hear footsteps. But he’s running well.”

Ryan believes that Michels should be in the hunt for an NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III title at Greystone Park in Morris Plans in a few weeks.

“He’s run Greystone already (at the Greystone Invitational last Friday) and finished fifth overall in 16:37,” Ryan said. “So he should be in the mix there.”

“It’s been a real confidence booster,” Michels said. “I’m looking forward to the sectionals and hopefully moving on to the Groups (at Holmdel Park). That’s my goal and I feel like I can do it.”

Sophomore Eric Vogler was next for the Maroon Raiders at the SEC meet. Vogler finished fifth overall in 18:08.

“He ran track for us last spring, but didn’t run cross country last year,” Ryan said. “His attitude has really impressed me. He’s a hard worker who is willing to do anything for the team. He really has emerged as a runner and has been very consistent.”

Freshman Jimmy Quinn was next for the Maroon Raiders, placing 13th overall in 18:41.

“I went to high school with his dad, Jim,” Ryan said of the younger Quinn. “I’ve known Jimmy growing up, but I definitely never expected what we’re getting from him. He’s been a pleasant surprise. I think he feeds off Luke a little and pushes himself to be like Luke.”

Senior Steve La was right behind Quinn, finishing in 14th place in 18:47.

“He’s always working,” Ryan said of La. “I think that’s the MO of the entire team. Steve has been around the program for a few years and is a great kid. I’m glad to see that the hard work he’s put into the sport is beginning to pay off.”

Junior Michael Conca was next in line, finishing 15th , right behind teammates Quinn and La.

“The Conca family name has been running for Nutley since the 1970s,” Ryan said. “Michael just falls in line with the rest of his family. Mike started late this year, but has worked himself back into running shape and is now making a contribution.”

Junior Anthony Castronova was 26th overall.

“He’s the vocal leader on the team,” Ryan said. “He has a great attitude and gives 100% every race.”

Freshman Gerard Dimayuga was 28th overall.

“He’s been a big surprise,” Ryan said. “From the first day of practice, he’s shown a lot. He learned how to push himself and has matured fast. He’s making big contributions to the program.”

Ryan is soaking up the team’s success. He’s been the head coach for eight years and coaching track in the district for 18 years.

“This definitely gives me a little sense of accomplishment,” Ryan said. “It’s something that can never be taken away. Records come and go, but there will be a banner up in the rafters. It will be on T-shirts and jackets that we won the league. It’s great for the kids and a great accomplishment for our program. Nutley is not one of the better known spots for runners.”

Michels is also pleased that the team will be forever remembered.

“It’s really amazing being put next to the 1982 team,” Michels said. “It’s really awesome.”

It’s also pretty awesome to make a little history in the process.

 

Lyndhurst girls’ volleyball: Making strides toward respectability

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

 

Alan Clements enjoyed an excellent career as a volleyball coach, first at Fair Lawn High School, where he still teaches, then on the college ranks at Bergen County Community College, then Felician College and finally Mercy College in New York, where he spent three years.

But then Clements walked away from coaching the sport he loved – because of two other people he loved more.

You see, Clements is a single father, raising his son and daughter on his own.

“They were a junior and senior in high school and they were starting to search for colleges,” Clements said. “So I had to get away from coaching for a while.”

But after both of his children had settled into college, they pleaded with their father to do one thing.

“They said, ‘Dad, you have to get back into it,’” Clements said. “So I started looking.”

A little more than a year ago, Clements made a few phone calls to friends in the volleyball ranks. He found out that Lyndhurst needed a new head coach.

“I knew that Lyndhurst was rebuilding,” Clements said. “But I like building things. It’s not the place most coaches would go, but I thought I could blend in and build something.”

When Clements arrived last year, the Lyndhurst girls’ volleyball program was in transition.

“But I never had a group of girls who worked harder,” Clements said. “We were basically starting from scratch. These girls bought in and had a summer program. They went to camp together.”

The Golden Bears won a total of nine matches last season, but had almost a complete turnover from last year. Most of the starters on last year’s team graduated.

Clements knew that this year’s team was ready to work.

“We scheduled the first practice at 3:30 p.m. because I still work in Fair Lawn,” Clements said. “We got out early that day and I went straight to Lyndhurst. When I got there at 2:15, I found 29 girls sitting outside in the heat, waiting to practice. That showed me they were eager. Then, after practice was over, they asked if they could stay and keep going. They’re not great volleyball players, but they’re dedicated athletes.”

Most of Clements’ roster never even played the sport of volleyball before they enrolled at Lyndhurst.

“I joined the sport because I wanted to do something new,” said senior outside hitter Rachel Martin. “I always played soccer before high school. But I wanted to do something different.” Michael Rizzo, currently a vice-principal and a former assistant volleyball coach as well as the school’s bowling coach, taught a lot of the current members of the Golden Bears when they were in eighth grade. Rizzo encouraged many of them to consider playing volleyball – and they did.

“I really thought it would be fun,” said Kathleen Totaro, a senior defensive specialist. “Rizzo was the one who brought me in, because he sounded like he knew what he was doing.”

“I wanted to try something new things in high school,” said senior Jessica Shortino. “Volleyball just seemed so intense. Coach Rizzo was so enthusiastic about me playing.”

Others liked what the sport offered.

“I liked the intensity of it,” said senior settler Samantha DaSilva. “I loved diving on the floor after the ball. The game is real quick. I loved the pace of the game.”

“I just like being involved,” said senior setter Emily Young. “My sister played volleyball, so I knew about the sport. Rizzo helped by putting the bug in my ear.”

But there was no guarantee that the newcomers would be successful.

“We knew it was going to be tough, because none of us had experience,” Young said. “We were all starting from scratch. We were building a team.”

So the new coach was inheriting new players who all had the same goal.

“We wanted to do something special,” Shortino said.

As they all entered their senior year, the Golden Bears wanted to make their final season their best.

“I always feel like we’re going to have a successful season,” Clements said. “That’s just the way I feel. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make the state playoffs and the county playoffs.”

Seemed like a lofty goal for a team that won only nine matches last year. But the Golden Bears have defied the odds and have already won 10 times this year.

“I think we have a group of overachievers,” Clements said. “They work so hard all the time. They are good role models. The freshmen actually look up to them. It’s all good. They want to learn the right way to play and are doing some really nice things. Other coaches are amazed with what we’re doing, but I always had faith. I think we’re where I thought we would be.”

The players are enthused about their prospects.

“It feels great,” Martin said. “We never had a winning season before. I think we’re setting an example for those younger than us. “

“It’s almost surreal,” Totaro said. “As a senior, it’s great that we’re finally able to win. I’m excited for the entire program, because I know the program will succeed after we leave.”

DaSilva agreed.

“No one expected us to do well,” DaSilva said. “This is such a change from years past.”

“Every senior wants to go out with a bang,” Young said. “We’re proving everyone wrong.”

Led by a coach who always believed in his team.

“I get up every morning and can’t wait to get here,” Clements said. “I love my job in Fair Lawn, but these girls are like my second family. They all have great attitudes and want to play. I never have a discipline problem with them. It’s been great.”

So have been the results. The Golden Bears have a winning volleyball season. That says it all.

Kearny’s Paiva enjoying epic scoring season

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Barbara Paiva was born in Brazil, entering a family that had a strong background in the sport of soccer. Her father, Adao, was a premier soccer player there. Her uncle, the late Achilles Reis, was a professional player who had a stint with the Brazilian National team.

One would think that Paiva would naturally gravitate toward the sport as well.

But that wasn’t the case.

“I was into karate,” said Paiva, who came to Kearny when she was seven years old and started playing soccer two years later.

“I thought I should give soccer a try,” Paiva said. “I always watched the sport. My dad always played. I figured, ‘Why not? I should try it.’”

Paiva tried out for the famed Kearny Thistle youth soccer program and didn’t exactly enjoy instant success.

“When I first started with it, I never expected to actually play,” Paiva said.

But Paiva became dedicated to the sport and used her father as a powerful instructor.

“I worked on the game with my dad,” Paiva said. “I always used to practice with him. He told me that I had to run more, that I had to be fast to play, so he would make me run sprints. He always made me run and I thank him every day for it.”

Adao Paiva also taught his daughter incredible ball skills.

“We used to watch Ronaldinho videos and my dad used to bring me to the park to work with the ball,” Paiva said.

It was that dribbling skill and ability to use both feet that caught the attention of Kearny High School girls’ soccer head coach Vin Almeida.

“I remember Barbara being in sixth grade and she would hang out at Harvey Field (the home field for both the Kearny boys’ and girls’ soccer teams),” Almeida said.“I used to see her juggling the ball on the side and she had such outstanding touch with the ball. I had to make sure that she came to Kearny High School. We’re very fortunate that she came.”

Incredibly, Paiva wasn’t sure she would be able to play varsity soccer.

“When I first tried out, I thought I had no chance to play,” Paiva said. “But (former assistant coach Lauren) Roemer told me that I could do it and she gave me a lot of confidence. I just started picking it up and after a while, I realized that, hey, I could play.”

Paiva has been a mainstay on the Kearny girls’ soccer program since she arrived a little more than three years ago.

As a sophomore, Paiva helped the Kardinals win the Hudson County Tournament championship, scoring four goals in the title game against Bayonne.

But that was nothing compared to what Paiva has produced this season as a senior.

Paiva has been a goal-scoring machine this year. In one game against Peddie a few weeks ago, she tallied five goals in one game.

Last week, Paiva scored nine goals, including three in a game twice against Harrison at Red Bull Arena and again against Union City in the quarterfinals of the Hudson County Tournament, taking the first step toward leading the Kardinals to their sixth straight county crown.

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

On the season, Paiva has now tallied 24 goals and seven assists in 13 games, leading the Kardinals to an impressive 11-2 record thus far. She scored 25 goals all of last season and she’s within reach of the school’s single season goal record set by Stefanie Gomes three years ago.

“Yeah, I’m pretty amazed at what I’ve done this year,” Paiva said. “But I’m not worried about any record. It’s not about me. It’s for the team. I’ll do anything to help the team. But I’m not even thinking about that (a record). I kind of just go with the flow and don’t let anything get to me.”

Almeida said that he is not surprised at all by Paiva’s scoring explosion this season.

“To be honest, I expected a lot from Barbara this season,” Almeida said. “I always knew that she was really skilled. She has a lot of speed and with her ability with both feet, she is able to put it all together. I thought she could take it to another level this year. With her speed and she’s super skillful, she brings a lot to the table. When she’s clicking on all cylinders, we’re a pretty good team.”

Almeida is impressed with Paiva’s ability to shoot with both feet, a rarity in girls’ soccer.

“She’s amazing,” Almeida said. “Her right foot has always been strong, but her left foot has become very good. She can punish you with both feet. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”

Paiva said that she also worked hard to be able to shoot with both feet.

“Every day, I work on shooting with my left foot,” Paiva said. “I work on that in my yard, so whenever I score a goal with my left foot, I say, ‘Yeah, Dad, look at that.’ He worked on that with me, too.”

It’s safe to say that Paiva was born to play the sport.

“Yeah, it’s in my blood,” Paiva said. “It just took me a little while to realize it. Everyone else around here started playing before I did.”

Paiva has aspirations to play soccer in college. She has interest in Rutgers (coached by Kearny native Mike O’Neill), as well as Monmouth and the University of Delaware. St. Peter’s University has expressed interest in her.

“That would really make my day,” Paiva said about her chances of playing on the next level.

Paiva is already a well respected player around the state. She spent a few years playing club soccer for US Parma and now plays for the storied STA program in Morristown.

For now, her focus is solely on the Kardinals and a pursuit of both a Hudson County and NJSIAA state title.

“I just hope she’s able to keep it going,” Almeida said. “She has it all, speed, strength, technical ability. She’s definitely a better player than she was last year, in terms of her mentality and maturity. She’s also better physically. She’s just having a great season.”

One that Paiva and Almeida hope that continues straight through the rest of this month and into November.