Kearny girls’ soccer team rolls on

Photo by Jim Hague The Kearny girls’ soccer team should be one of the state’s premier teams once again this season. Front row, from l., are Jillian McCourt, Savannah Iverson, Rachel Nieto, Victoria Van Riper and Sydney Viscuso. Back row, from l.,, are head coach Vin Almeida, Briana Serrano, Ryelle Seda, Meagan McClelland, Laura Vilar, Sydney Pace, Merrin Keim, Kaleigh Howard and assistant coach Matt Sleece.
Photo by Jim Hague
The Kearny girls’ soccer team should be one of the state’s premier teams once again this season. Front row, from l., are
Jillian McCourt, Savannah Iverson, Rachel Nieto, Victoria Van Riper and Sydney Viscuso. Back row, from l.,, are head coach
Vin Almeida, Briana Serrano, Ryelle Seda, Meagan McClelland, Laura Vilar, Sydney Pace, Merrin Keim, Kaleigh Howard and
assistant coach Matt Sleece.

There are things you can count on happening every year at this time. You put the beach chair in the garage, you get out the rake to take care of the leaves and you watch the Kearny High School girls’ soccer team win game after game.

Sure enough, the Kardinals are off to another great start this season, winning four of their first five games, losing only to perennial state power Westfield.

“I think we have a nice team,” veteran Kearny girls’ soccer head coach Vin Almeida said. “We have a lot of sophomores and juniors, which gives us a nice mix. The girls are extremely coachable. When you have younger players, they have the pressure to try to prove themselves. Sure, experience is nice, but when you have the desire like these girls have, it overcomes experience. They want to win. They play hard and compete.”

Almeida likes what he’s seen so far.

“They practice hard and they’ve played hard in the games,” Almeida said. “They’ve put it all out there.”

One of the key performers for the Kardinals in the early going has been senior forward Amber Crispin, who is off to a sizzling start, scoring nine goals in the first five games.

“She should be considered among the best players in the state,” Almeida said of Crispin, who also has five assists and is currently ranked seventh in all of New Jersey in goals and points. “She’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s fast, strong and her technical ability is tremendous. She has a power leg and can score from 35 yards out with either leg.”

Almeida said that Crispin scored a goal last week against Union on a direct free kick “that was just outstanding,” Almeida said.

“It was a free kick bomb,” Almeida said. “She has the desire to dominate.”

Crispin has a few colleges on her radar, but nothing serious as of yet.

“Even though she’s a senior, there have only been a few schools to contact her,” Almeida said.

There will be more. That’s a certainty.

The Kardinals’ starting goalkeeper is sophomore do-everything Meagan McClelland. The multi-talented McClelland, who is also a sensational basketball player, could actually play anywhere she wanted to on the soccer pitch.

“She’s a fantastic athlete,” Almeida said. “She really could play in the field if she wanted. Her feet are amazing. She’s also great at giving directions. She’s very knowledgeable about the game.”

McClelland has recorded shutouts in each of her last three outings against Bayonne, Memorial and Union.

The Kardinals feature the “four-across” defensive formation. Sophomore Jillian McCourt, the niece of former Kearny great and current Monmouth University head coach Rob McCourt, is at one center back position. Junior Victoria Van Riper is the Kardinals’ other center back.

The other defenders are junior Merrin Keim and sophomore Natasha Magee.

Almeida doesn’t mind that the Kardinals don’t have a ton of experience in their back line.

“It’s really not that big of a concern, because the girls are very intelligent back there,” Almeida said. “They all understand their roles and positions. They’re doing a great job. They’re working together as a unit.”

And they will remain a close knit contingent through next season as well.

“It’s nice to have a group like that for a while,” Almeida said.

Junior Sydney Pace, who has been plagued with injuries her first two seasons with the Kardinals, gets a chance to fully display her potential this year. Pace suffered a serious knee injury last season and eventually required surgery, putting her on the sidelines for the entire campaign.

“She’s been fully cleared now,” Almeida said. “She’s looked very good.”

Pace, whose older sisters Stefanee and Samantha were also Kearny soccer standouts, is the anchor of the Kardinals’ midfield.

Senior Ryelle Seda, junior Brianna Rodriguez and sophomores Bre Costa and Savannah Iverson are all key performers in the Kearny midfield.

“They all have terrific ball skills,” Almeida said. “They also get to a lot of balls in the air with headers. It makes things a lot easier, knowing we’re going to control the ball in the midfield.” It also make the situation easier having a prolific goal scorer like Crispin, who should have a tremendous senior campaign.

Junior Lily Durning, who had a four-goal game at the end of last season, and junior Isabel Fernandez share time at the other forward slot. Fernandez has already tallied two goals and added three assists thus far this season.

“Lily had a nice little streak at the end of last year,” Almeida said. “We are hoping for more of the same. Isabel was injured and missed the second half of the year, but she has lightning speed and will help us tremendously this year.”

The Kardinals have a very deep bench and the girls will get a chance to perform. Players like seniors Alexis and Ashley Castaneda, the twins, who will contribute. Alexis is a midfielder, while Ashley is a defender.

The Kards also have senior Briana Serrano in the midfield, senior Laura Vilar as McClelland’s backup in goal, junior Rachel Nieto as a top defender, sophomores Caitlin Mead and Gianna Hoch as forwards and sophomore Sydney Viscuso, who unfortunately suffered a knee injury last week that will require surgery and keep her on the sidelines for the remainder of the season.

The Kardinals are excited about facing neighboring rival Harrison this Saturday at Red Bull Arena, with kickoff slated for 11 a.m.

The two boys’ teams will have their showdown at the local soccer palace soon after the girls’ game is completed, making it a perfect day for soccer in the area.

“Everyone is super excited,” Almeida said. “I know I wish we could get a coaches’ game and I could get on the field.”

As for the season, it could be a memorable one for the Kardinals, as they pursue an incredible seventh straight Hudson County Tournament championship.

“There are some obstacles there,” Almeida said. “But it’s absolutely the goal. We want to win the county and win the state championships. If we put a nice run together, then anything can happen.”

It sure can.

Learn more about the writer ...

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”