NA girls’ soccer: Winning easier with superstar Seca

Photo by Jim Hague The North Arlington girls’ soccer team has posted a solid 8-2 record thus far this season. From l. are Carlie Mullins, Nicole Guerra, Kaitlyn Cappuccino, Callie Evanchick and head coach Dan Farinola.
Photo by Jim Hague
The North Arlington girls’ soccer team has posted a solid 8-2 record thus far
this season. From l. are Carlie Mullins, Nicole Guerra, Kaitlyn Cappuccino, Callie
Evanchick and head coach Dan Farinola.

Before the 2015 girls’ high school soccer season kicked off last month, North Arlington head coach Dan Farinola found his team somewhat in a state of flux.

The Vikings graduated standout players Taylor Barth and Sarah Palma. Farinola knew that the two senior leaders would be sorely missed.

“They’re tough to replace,” said Farinola, who has begun his second season as the head coach. “They were impact players, quality players.”

When you lose two standouts from a team that won 14 times a year ago, it’s not an easy road.

The terrain then got a little rockier for the Vikings, when superstar senior Joanna Seca was selected once again to play with the Portugal elite 19-and-under national team. Seca, who has already given a verbal commitment to play next fall at Temple University, was going to miss a good portion of the season due to the commitments in Portugal.

Seca had 29 goals and collected 21 assists last season in what was truly an All-State caliber campaign.

“We’re a different team when she’s on the field,” Farinola said. “She sets everything up for us. We usually spent the time looking to find out where Joanna is.”

So the season started without the two standouts lost to graduation and the best player overseas playing for the Portuguese nationals. It didn’t seem promising at all.

But Farinola had faith in a new influx of freshmen that were entering the program.

“This class of freshmen is very talented,” Farinola said. “When you include the girls we had coming back from last year with the freshmen, the prospects looked pretty good. I thought we could easily do what we did last year and maybe be even better.”

Sure enough, Farinola was right, because the Vikings have posted an impressive 8-2 record in the early going – with one of the setbacks coming at the hands of powerful Mahwah in the opening round of the Bergen County Tournament.

The Vikings currently sit in second place in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Meadowlands Division, trailing front-running Hasbrouck Heights by one game.

Seca returned to action seven games ago and has definitely made her presence felt, collecting 10 goals and 11 assists in those seven games. She tallied four goals in a win over Saddle Brook and had three goals and two assists last week in a win over St. Mary’s of Rutherford.

Seca also had three assists in wins over McNair Academic of Jersey City and Weehawken, displaying her play-making abilities.

“She just makes us run so smoothly,” Farinola said.

But obviously, the Vikings won matches without Seca, so they all had to be doing something right. It wasn’t a one-player band. Even Michael Jackson had his brothers when he first started dancing and singing.

Sophomore forward Kaitlyn Stajek has been a mainstay all season, tallying 10 goals and adding four assists. Combined with Seca, Stajek gives the Vikings a potent 1-2 scoring punch.

“She had 14 goals and eight assists last year, so we knew she could be productive,” Farinola said. “Last year, she benefitted a lot by having Seca marked so closely. She’s the primary goal scoring threat up top.”

Freshman midfielder Savannah Smith has been a pleasant surprise. Smith has scored seven goals and added six assists, not showing any signs of freshman anxiousness. She’s the primary member of the highly touted freshman class that Farinola spoke about.

“She’s a very talented player,” Farinola said. “She can do everything on the field. She scored two goals in our first scrimmage and has just done a fantastic job for us.”

Sam DiPopolo has also been a player of impact this fall, collecting five goals and five assists.

Alexis Tetto is yet another freshman who has come in and contributed right away. Tetto, a midfielder, has four goals and three assists.

“She’s a natural lefty,” Farinola said. “She’s a fast athlete on the outside. She really has impressed me with the way she’s stepped up.”

Junior Kelly Lennon is another member of the Vikings’ talented midfield. Lennon, who transferred from Queen of Peace last year and played only half of the season due to the transfer rules, also has scored four goals and has added five assists.

Junior Nicole Guerra is the first forward off the bench for the Vikings. Guerra has added a goal to the cause.

The Vikings’ defensive unit is another reason why the team has been so successful. Having an All-State caliber player like Seca can tend to take a lot of the attention, but the Vikings’ defense has been solid.

Jessica Gilmour is the team’s goalkeeper. A year ago, Gilmour was thrust into the role of being the starting keeper. Now, with a year under her belt, the senior is a confident leader in net.

“I’m excited about the way she has been playing,” Farinola said of Gilmour, who had six shutouts last year and is looking to top that this year. “I thought she would have a big year.”

Sophomore Carlie Mullins is the team’s sweeper.

“She’s a solid player who plays soccer all year round,” Farinola said of Mullins. “She’s a confident player and a good leader for a sophomore.”

The stopper is junior Kaitlyn Cappuccino.

“She was new to soccer last year, playing for the very first time,” Farinola said of Cappuccino. “But she’s a solid athlete.”

Cappuccino also competes in basketball and for the North Arlington crew team.

“She’s a good marker,” Farinola continued. “I can put her on anybody.”

Junior Melissa Torres, a three-year varsity starter, and junior Callie Evanchick are also solid defenders.

Evanchick has settled into her role as a defensive player.

“Before this, we moved her all over,” Farinola said of Evanchick. “She’s a good athlete as well.”

Both Torres and Evanchick also play basketball.

The Vikings seem to be ready for the stretch drive of the season, with a possible league title in reach and a high seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs that will begin in a few weeks.

Farinola was certainly right. With or without Seca, his team was going to contend. With her, the Vikings are definitely potent and a team to watch.

“It’s my second year, so the girls now know my system,” Farinola said. “They know how I coach. We’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

And the Vikings are headed toward possibly being even better this year than last, despite the losses to graduation and the loss of time of their best player. That is remarkable in itself.

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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.”