After Sandy, time to get back to business for local sports teams

Photo by Jim Hague
Queen of Peace girls’ soccer coach Mike Flynn (far right) points out some defensive strategy during practice Sunday morning. The Golden Griffins, like all of the other local teams, tried to get back to business as usual after a week off due to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Dave Nankivell spent most of the past week going from one residence to another. The goal for the Harrison High School head football coach was simple.

“We were trying to get some sort of electricity and heat,” said Nankivell, who now resides in Essex County, an area that was still without electricity at press time, taken down by the ferocity of Hurricane Sandy.

At that point, coaching football was the furthest thing from Nankivell’s mind. But he still tried to keep in contact with his players during the week-long diversion from sports.

“We had to rely on social media, because some places didn’t have phone service,” Nankivell said. “We needed the week off to get a little healthier.”

Queen of Peace girls’ soccer head coach Mike Flynn didn’t want to see a break in the action. That’s because his Golden Griffins are a surprising 12-5-2 heading into the NJSIAA Non-Public B state tournament. Flynn’s young team had been playing incredibly well. Hurricane Sandy was not a welcome visitor in more ways than one.

“Without a doubt, I’m more than just happy,” said Flynn, whose team faces Montclair Kimberley Academy in the opening round of the tourney. “In one respect, I’m happy we had a break, because we played seven games in nine days before the storm. So a little rest is good, I guess. But not this good. We wanted to keep playing.”

Flynn had some major concerns about the weather.

“Thank God, everything was good here,” Flynn said. “But my brother in Belmar lost his entire basement. Up here, we’ll survive.”

Flynn said he had a tough time communicating with some of his players, who reside in towns like Bayonne and Hoboken, communities that were still without power at press time.

“I couldn’t get a hold of them,” Flynn said.

But Sunday morning, Flynn held a practice on the James Zadroga Memorial North Arlington Recreation Field. The Golden Griffins were getting ready to get on with life as normal as possible.

“We have to get together before we play,” said Flynn, whose team was slated to face MKA in Montclair on Monday. “We can’t go out there cold.”

The Golden Griffins have been led by the play of junior forward Marissa Dundas, who is currently third in the state in scoring with 34 goals.

“She’s been amazing,” Flynn said. “She had three goals in a game against New Milford recently and they’re a very good team. The two Mastrofillippo girls (twins Michaela and Michele) have been doing a great job of getting her the ball and she’s been knocking them in. But she’s not doing it by herself.”

Another reason why the Golden Griffins have been playing so well has been the performance of junior goalkeeper Lia Rodriguez, who never played soccer at all before last year and has now developed into a top-flight keeper. Rodriguez had an astounding 28 saves in a recent loss to Northern Highlands in the Bergen County Tournament.

“It was the first time I saw the opponents’ fans cheering for the goalkeeper on the other team,” Flynn said. “She’s been our shining star all season. It’s really been an amazing ride.”

And it was back to work Sunday morning.

The North Arlington football team suffered major damage last year after Hurricane Irene. The field house at “Rip” Collins Field was flooded, destroying much of the Vikings’ equipment and furniture inside the coach’s offices. Much of the team’s shoulder pads and helmets had to be sent back for reconditioning. Not to mention, the rising waters of the Passaic River made Collins Field unplayable for games or practices.

This time, things were a little different.

Vikings head coach Anthony Marck, who resides in Emerson Boro, was knocked without power at his home, but his wife and three kids were all safe. The Vikings’ football headquarters was also spared from significant damage, unlike last year.

“The credit goes out to the custodial staff, who all came together and made sure that we were prepared,” Marck said. “Other than the water on the field, we were fine. Everyone in the district really came together and worked together. They all had a pretty good plan in place. I always said that North Arlington is a pretty resilient town. I’m from there and it’s why I came back to coach there and it’s why I’m still there.”

Marck said that his football team treated the week like it was a bye week.

“I’m always the optimist, the glass always half full kind of guy,” Marck said. “I can take the positive out of anything. We’re coming off a big emotional win over Queen of Peace and it would have been nice to come off that and play last week. But we’re making steps in the right direction. I spoke to my seniors and they’re all fine, ready to go. We were just able to take some time off to come together and move forward.”

The North Arlington boys’ soccer team is also enjoying a highly successful season, posting an 11-4-1 record thus far, so head coach Jesse Dembowski was another who didn’t want to see any stoppage of play.

Dembowski, a North Arlington resident, was glad to be safe, only having to endure a power outage for three days.

“I’m safe and so is my family, but we didn’t have any flooding from the river, thank God,” Dembowski said. “I’ve been in constant contact with my players, to let them know what’s going on, so they could mentally prepare to come back. It’s unfortunate that our field (in Riverside County Park) suffered flood damage, so we’ve been talking to everyone to try to get practice in.”

The Vikings were set to begin play in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I bracket against Science Park of Newark on Monday, but that was based on the students returning to classes.

“It’s been at a huge disadvantage to us, not being together, not having a place to practice or play,” Dembowski said. “If we play at the (Zadroga) Recreation field, then it’s almost like a neutral site, because it’s a little smaller and we’re not used to playing there. It’s very different, because we were mentally prepared to play last week. Having the week off, I really don’t know what to expect. I also have no idea what kind of team we’re facing, because I didn’t get a chance to see Science Park play.”

All in all, it could have been worse for everyone. The North Arlington boys’ soccer team is thankful to be enjoying such a fruitful season.

“We’re doing much better than I expected,” Dembowski said, “We really came together as a team and worked well together at the end of the season. We’re just going into the state playoffs and we’ll play our hardest and hope things work out.”

Much like the way things worked out for everyone who battled the storm and survived Hurricane Sandy last week.

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