Although she’s still just 25 years old and not that far removed from her playing days at Kearny High School, Ariana Ruela is the head coach of a prestigious women’s soccer program at Rutgers- Newark.
“I never dreamed it could happen to me this quickly, especially not at 25,” said Ruela, who is enjoying her first year as a college head coach, leading the Scarlet Raiders to a 12-4-1 record and more than likely a berth in the New Jersey Athletic Conference playoffs, which are set to begin in two weeks. “But being a head coach was definitely one of the paths I wanted to go in,” Ruela said.
Ruela has been coaching for the last 10 years. That’s right, she began her coaching career with the famed Den of Lions soccer program when she was just 15 years old.
“I got my license to coach back then,” Ruela said. “I was coaching the Den of Lions U-8 (8-years-old and younger) boys’ team. The most awkward thing is that those kids are now all in high school. When I was still in high school, coaching is what I wanted to do. I fell in love with inspiring kids. I love helping them get better.”
However, when Ruela left Kearny after a highly successful playing career and went off to play NCAA Division I soccer at James Madison University, coaching was not exactly on her mind.
“I wanted to get into the field of international affairs,” said Ruela, who graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Affairs from James Madison in 2012. “I now have my master’s in global affairs (from Rutgers-Newark). It’s something that I really got involved in. I spent the summers in Brazil in the Coaches Across the Continents program.”
Ruela was a brilliant player for the Kardinals, tallying 67 goals and collecting 56 assists during her fine career at Kearny. Ruela also had a chance to play with the Portugal U-19 program, enhancing her international resume.
“I’m half Portuguese and half Norwegian,” Ruela said. “Go figure that mix.”
But branching out and having a diverse career was always the goal.
“I guess I’ve always traveled a lot,” Ruela said. “When I went to JMU, I already knew what I wanted to study, how I could relate to the world in everyday living. I really didn’t see myself doing anything else.”
However, Ruela has managed to get involved in other things as well.
She is currently employed by the New York Red Bulls as a clinician and physical trainer in the Red Bulls’ training program.
“I was just a college kid looking for a job,” Ruela said. “I saw an advertisement that the Red Bulls were looking for someone. I figured, ‘I’m from Kearny and it’s right next door.’ So I gave it a shot and got the job. It’s very demanding, but it’s a good thing.”
How does anyone juggle that kind of a schedule – coaching, working, going to school?
“It’s the one thing I have to thank my mom (Tory) for,” Ruela said. “She taught me how to manage my time well. She was able to push me harder than anyone. I think knowing how to handle it is good and made it easier, because I am a little bit all over the place. I’m very organized, but there are times where I wish there were more hours in the day.”
Two years ago, then-Rutgers- Newark head coach Bill Bustamante asked Ruela to join his coaching staff as a graduate assistant.
“Billy was my club soccer coach,” Ruela said. “So we go way back. We were just talking one day and he asked if I would be interested in the grad assistant job.”
It enabled Ruela to work toward her master’s while coaching soccer with the R-N women’s program.
“It just sort of took off from there,” said Ruela, who joined the R-N staff in 2013. Ruela was an assistant coach last season. When Bustamante left the program last summer, R-N athletic director Mark Griffin didn’t have to look far for Bustamante’s replacement.
“Ariana’s experience with the team and her extensive playing and coaching background make her a great fit for this transition,” Griffin said. “She has been a integral part of the success and improvement we have seen over the last two years, and I believe she will continue to push our program to the next level.”
Ruela didn’t hesitate to accept the offer to become the head coach.
“It wasn’t even a second thought,” Ruela said. “I didn’t have much time to think about it. It totally came out of left field and completely unexpected, but I accepted the challenge. It’s not something I pursued, but it’s something I definitely wanted. I love challenging and developing young adults.”
Ruela has inherited a roster that is perhaps the most talented in the history of the program, led by two players in Cristina Estremera and Sara Corson who have Division I playing experience. The fine regular season mark could lead to a berth in the upcoming NCAA Division III tournament next month.
“We have an extremely talented and hard-working group,” Ruela said. “I feel like they’re ready to take the next step.”
So here she is, a Kearny girl, all of 25 years old, heading a college soccer team.
“It’s surreal how this all happened so quickly,” Ruela said. “I had to get to work right away and had to keep things going the right way. We’re having a pretty good season. I just keep climbing up the mountain. It’s really awesome to see things going in a positive direction. There is a sense of satisfaction to see the hard work I put in and the obstacles I had to get past pay off.”
And Ruela doesn’t foresee her life changing any time soon.
“I love it,” Ruela said. “For me, I’m the happiest when I’m on the field.”
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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.”