Kearny’s Batista approaching impressive milestone

Photo by Jim Hague/ Kearny senior forward Almir “Junior” Batista.


By Jim Hague

He was born with the name of Almir Batista, just like his father, but at an early age, Almir Batista became known as “Junior.”
“Since my father had the same name, my mother just always called me Junior,” Batista said. “It just stuck.”
And the name of Junior Batista may very well stick in the Kearny High School soccer record books for a very long time.
Batista is rapidly approaching the all-time school record for goals in a career. The record of 65 was set by two-time Parade All-America honoree Sergio Ulloa a decade or so ago. Batista now has tallied 63 career goals, with the 23 he has scored this year. He’s three away from immortality.
“It would really mean a lot to me, because there have been so many great soccer players from Kearny,” Batista said. “It’s almost awe-inspiring to be that close to the record.”
There was one special moment in this current season that was beyond awe-inspiring – and that was the incredible goal Batista scored against Harrison at Red Bull Arena. The goal took place almost a month ago, but many soccer fans are still talking about it, because it was that amazing.
Right after Harrison scored the go-ahead goal, Batista took a chance with the ball placed for the restart right near midfield. From nearly 60 yards away, Batista fired a shot and it sailed right into the net for the game-tying goal that gave the Kardinals the chance to earn a 2-1 victory.
“He has the knack to score goals, from six yards or 60,” Kearny head coach Bill Galka said. “And that’s the truth.”
“I still can’t believe it,” Batista said. “I’ve had plenty of flashbacks about that goal. I still can’t believe I had the opportunity to do that. I had a good feeling it had a chance to go in. At least it was on target and that gave it a bigger chance of going in.”
As far back as Junior Batista can remember, he’s been scoring goals. He took after his grandfather, who was a standout player in his heyday in Brazil, and began playing on a club soccer team in Newark at the tender age of 4.
“It just came natural to me,” Batista said. “I started young. And I always scored goals. I was put at forward and everyone just kept me there.”
But when Batista arrived at Kearny High School, he was not immediately placed on the varsity as a freshman.
“I played for the freshman team,” Batista said. “I wasn’t chosen for the varsity. I understood that we had a lot of seniors back then that were on the team.”
But Galka realized that he had a special player, even back then.
“When he was a freshman, he had a great physique,” Galka said. “He was strong and had a great soccer body, even for a freshman. We knew he would always develop into someone special. He had the talent and ability to score goals.”
So when Batista joined the varsity as a sophomore, he began to score goal after goal and just kept going.
“He has that ability to score,” Galka said. “He really has a nose for the goal. He has great speed and great physical ability. It’s just a knack.”
Batista continued that knack on Saturday, when he scored two more goals to lead the Kardinals to a 3-1 victory over Ferris in the Hudson County Tournament quarterfinals, setting up a contest with Union City in the semifinals and keeping alive the possibility of another showdown with Harrison.
For his efforts, Batista has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
While Batista has continued his goal-scoring prowess this season, he’s also become more of a team player, trying to get his teammates involved.
“Coming off the season he had last year (scoring 24 goals), there was going to be a lot of attention on him,” Galka said. “Being a marked man like he is, sometimes he has to get others goals with his assists. He’s been very unselfish this year and has been getting others involved, laying balls off to others.”
Galka said that a good example of that unselfishness came in the big win over Harrison, when he started the game-winning play by eluding three defenders, then passing the ball to the wing, setting up the goal that gave the Kardinals a 2-1 win.
“I’m depending a lot on my teammates more,” Batista said. “I’m laying off the ball to them and giving them more open space to work with. I’d love to have the ball all the time, but if I’m marked, I still have to make the plays and give them more opportunities. I only had one assist all of last year. I have five this year, so I’m doing a better job passing the ball.”
“We always tell players with that ability that sometimes they have to be better passers, especially with all the pressure on them,” Galka said. “You can’t always do things yourself. You have to get others involved. Junior’s done very well with that. He’s getting the ball to others and that has been very positive.”
Galka knows that having a proven sniper is a huge advantage going down the stretch, as the games all get important now. There’s the Hudson County Tournament, where the Kardinals are the defending champions, and then there’s the NJSIAA Group IV playoffs, where the 14-2 Kards should earn a high seed.
“It’s very important to have someone like Junior,” Galka said. “All teams want that. We’re conscious that we’re at the pivotal part of the season and Junior’s very capable of scoring at any time. If he’s well marked, it’s a bonus, because we have a couple of other players who are dangerous.”
But none like the pending all-time leading scorer.
“It’s been a little harder to do it in three years, but it’s really something special,” said Batista, who hopes to play in college someday, but will need some work academically to do so. “There have been a lot of great players in Kearny. It would be amazing to be the best.”
That title may occur any day soon.

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