Lyndhurst’s Luna comes of age in a hurry

Photo by Jim Hague Lyndhurst sophomore forward Mia Luna.
Photo by Jim Hague
Lyndhurst sophomore forward Mia Luna.

When the 2015 girls’ high school soccer season was about to begin, Lyndhurst head coach Kim Hykey didn’t know where she was going to get the 50-plus goals that the Golden Bears lost to graduation when Jessica Failace (Sacred Heart) and Gianna DiTonto (Felician) headed off to play college soccer.

Hykey knew that she had a super midfielder returning in Amanda Fulcher, who scored 18 goals and added 22 assists for a team that finished with a stellar 19-3 record a year ago. However, the rest of the scoring punch was in complete question. Hykey even considered changing her coaching style and philosophy to compensate for the apparent lack of goal scoring.

However, sophomore striker Mia Luna was waiting in the wings.

Luna did find the back of the net nine times last season as a freshman, so the potential to be a top goal scorer was there.

“I know I got a chance to be there with the varsity last year,” Luna said. “Even though I didn’t start, I wanted to show Coach Hykey what I was made of.”

Hykey remembers her first encounter with Luna.

“I remember when she was in seventh or eighth grade and I was saying to myself, ‘I can’t wait to coach this kid,’” Hykey said. “I could see right away that she had great feet and she had a lot of talent and potential.”

So in the back of Hykey’s mind, she hoped that Luna could evolve into the goal scorer that the Golden Bears would sorely need with the departure of Failace and DiTonto.

“I knew Mia would have to pick up some of the scoring slack,” Hykey said.

But when the season started, things didn’t exactly turn out the way Hykey planned.

“Mia started off the year slowly,” Hykey said. “She wasn’t the player we thought she could be.”

When the Golden Bears started off the season with a 2-1 loss to New Milford, Luna almost felt responsible.

“I just knew I had to get better,” Luna said. “I knew that I had to try harder.”

Luna did manage to score her share of goals in the early going, scoring six goals in the Golden Bears’ first nine games.

But a week ago, something just clicked in Luna and she became a goal scoring machine.

A lot of it had to do with the Golden Bears’ upcoming schedule.

“I knew that we were going to play New Milford again and I had to play better, especially against them,” Luna said.

Luna has simply exploded as a goal scorer in the last week. The streak started last Sunday, when she scored both of her team’s goals in the Golden Bears’ upset win over Indian Hills in the opening round of the Bergen County Tournament.

It marked the first win for Lyndhurst in the Bergen County Tournament since 2004, back when Hykey was playing for Lyndhurst.

Two days later, Luna scored another goal against Leonia, setting up the Golden Bears’ revenge match with New Milford.

In that contest, Luna scored an astounding four goals, leading the Golden Bears to a resounding 6-1 victory. It gave Luna seven goals in three games – after scoring just six in the prior nine.

“It was overwhelming,” Luna said. “I was actually crying during the game. I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I knew it was in me, but I couldn’t believe what I did.”

Hykey was also startled by the onslaught.

“She’s been lights out,” Hykey said. “I wondered where was this Mia all year? I knew that this was the kind of player I thought she could be. She just needed confidence and needed to be a little more aggressive. Playing with confidence is huge for her.”

Although the Golden Bears lost in the Bergen County Tournament to Paramus Sunday via penalty kicks after playing to a scoreless deadlock, Luna’s goal onslaught has catapulted her into the ranks of the elite.

Luna is currently sixth in the entire state among sophomore goal scorers – all after the incredible assault she inflicted upon three teams – one of whom had defeated the Golden Bears in the season opener. So Luna was able to get the revenge she so coveted.

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

Hykey just loves what Luna brings to her team.

“She brings a lot of energy,” Hykey said. “Everyone else feeds off her. When we played Indian Hills, it was a big game and she got the team really pumped up. Then she scored the goals and set the tone for the rest of the week. When Mia wants to be on, she’s on. She’s a difference maker. You can see it in her.”

Hykey also thinks that this is just the start for Luna.

“She’s very talented,” Hykey said. “She has great feet. She’s also great in the air. She’s able to get her head on corner kicks, a lot like Abby Wambach (of the World Cup-winning United States women’s soccer team). She doesn’t have blazing speed, but she’s quick. She’s also strong and aggressive. If she stays focused and on top of her game, she can play at a high level. She’s definitely going in the right direction now and we know we have a good goal scorer.”

Luna is also a big factor for the Golden Bears’ mental psyche when the game is not even on.

“She has quite the personality,” Hykey said. “She’s not reserved by any means. She loves to laugh and loves to make the others laugh. She gets everyone going.”

Luna said that it’s just her personality to be fun loving.

“I’m extremely energetic,” Luna said. “I like to make my teammates laugh. I’m always excited. If someone is in a bad mood, I try to cheer them up. I’ll tell them a very funny joke. If someone needs a joke, then they come to me.”

Luna was asked about her array of jokes and she quietly laughed.

“I can’t tell them in the newspaper,” Luna chuckled. “Some of them are dirty. But I just get pumped with my team. I love being around them.”

Luna credited Fulcher, who had six goals and four assists on her own during the past week, for a lot of the success Luna has had finding the back of the net.

“Fulch gave me all the amazing passes so I could score,” Luna said. “I couldn’t do it without her. I couldn’t do anything without my team. They’re always there for me. They’re amazing.”

Hykey was asked if Luna can keep up her torrid scoring pace.

“I sure hope so,” said Hykey, who remains the school’s all-time goal scoring leader for both boys and girls. “The fact that Mia was able to do what she did against quality teams means a lot. She’s only a sophomore. She’s really falling into line nicely.”

Luna is ready to make a big splash for the rest of the season – and the next two that follow.

“Of course, I have a lot more confidence now,” Luna said. “I’m confident I can keep this going. It’s actually really nice to get noticed.”

And as for being The Observer Athlete of the Week?

“I was really hoping that this would happen one of these years,” Luna said. “I’m really honored this has happened. I’m excited about everything.”

Although she’s only a sophomore, Luna hopes that this latest barrage could lead to the possibility of college recruiters finding her in the same fashion they found former teammates Failace and DiTonto.

“I really would like to play soccer in college someday,” Luna said. “I hope this can help me get noticed. It’s really a great feeling.”

Seven goals in a week could make anyone feel just marvelous.

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.”