Lyndhurst girls’ soccer: Loaded for Bear

When graduation time comes every June for the Lyndhurst High School girls’ soccer team, the Golden Bears don’t bother to rebuild. They just reload.

“On paper, this could be the best team we’ve ever had,” said Lyndhurst head coach and new mommy Kim Hykey, who gave birth to her first child, son Jake, two months ago. “We have a lot of strength in our frontline. We lost two key players from our defense, but the others are four-year starters, so we’re still strong. I like this team. I think we have a really good outlook. We just have to do what we need to do.”

The Golden Bears were 18-2-2 last year, but even with an improved schedule, they could take the leap and be a 20-win team this season.

Sophomore Isabella Castagnetti is the team’s goalie and she’s one of the very best net minders in all of Bergen County. Castagnetti, the daughter of former head coach and current assistant Joe, already has a national championship to her credit. Castagnetti was the goalie for the IMG Soccer Academy that claimed the 15-and-under national title earlier this summer.

“I’m hoping it carries over,” Hykey said. “Winning a national championship with her club team is great. It looks like she’s getting more confident, more acrobatic with her playing, more springy. She does have a strong leg. She’s like a beast back there. She just loves playing goalie. She’s a vaulter and jumper for us in the spring and that helps her overall strength.”

Castagnetti, who is also an excellent student, is already getting look-sees from Boston College and Princeton. Mind you, she’s just a sophomore.

“She’s one of the top students in her class,” Hykey said. “She has a lot of things going for her.”

Senior Kelsie Kearns has been the team’s sweeper and it’s there where she has already been recruited by Iona, where she will play next fall.

But Rachel Bocage has been excellent at sweeper and Kearns can move up to the midfield with her powerful leg.

“Rachel has done well there and plays there with her club team,” Hykey said. “She has good feet. I want to see if she has the leadership to play there all the time.”

The stopper is senior Claudia Engles, who returns to that position.

“She’s a bulldog back there in the middle,” Hykey said. “She has the personality you need back there. I think she can play at the next level, so we have to see.”

The other defender is senior Caitlyn Blake, who was a forward last year, but the Golden Bears have a glut at forward, so Blake becomes a defender.

“She’s left footed, so we need her back there,” Hykey said. “I think she really wasn’t comfortable up top. She’s fit more to be a defender. She has good size and good feet and I like that. She’s also very strong.”

The center midfielder is senior Amanda Fulcher, who has a chance to be one of the very best players in all of Bergen County, at least with the Group II schools. Fulcher had 24 goals and 20 assists last year.

“She likes to be the center of attention on the field, which is so different than her personality,” Hykey said. “It’s not indicative of her real personality.”

Seton Hall, Siena and East Stroudsburg are some of the schools that are looking at Fulcher.

Olivia Cairns is another senior midfielder, but she plays more of a defensive role.

Gabrielle Carrion is another senior midfielder who will do some damage this season.

“She has improved so much since she played with (club team) Pasco,” Hykey said. “The way she touches the ball and the way she moves her feet. She has a strong leg. She can take over back there. We needed her to play with a little finesse and she’s doing that. I really think she’s coming into her own. She’s super athletic and can do whatever she wants athletically.”

Giulia Pezzolla is the other midfielder. The sophomore can do a multitude of things.

“She’s probably our all-around best athlete,” Hykey said. “She can be very good. Last year, she led the state in freshman assists with 18.”

Junior Mia Luna is one of the forwards. Luna exploded last season as one of the top strikers in the area and really helped to put the Golden Bears over the top offensively.

“Her body has filled out in a good way,” Hykey said of Luna. “She’s older and stronger. She’s solid all the way around. She’s ready to have another impressive year, but she’s no longer going to surprise anyone. She knows she has to work much harder, but I still expect her to score 20 goals.”

Luna earned the distinction of being an Observer Athlete of the Week in each of her first two seasons.

Junior Grace Cappiello is the team’s other top forward. She scored six goals coming off the bench last season.

“She always had the idea that she was a midfielder, but we put her up top and she handled it well,” Hykey said. “She said that she never thought of herself as being the one to score. But she can shoot and score a bunch. She’s definitely a finisher. She should be a scorer. I’m excited to see what she can do and what she’ll end up with.”

Issy Pimenta is another senior forward who played a little last year.

“She has her moments and flashes,” Hykey said. “She’s a good option up top.”

Other key players include senior defenders Maya Calvi and Kristy Arias and senior midfielders Danielle Anthony, Taylor Sanchez and Jennifer Wartel.

“Maya is a hard worker who wants to improve,” Hykey said. “She’s a body banger. She brings a physical presence. Danielle is another hard worker. Taylor is very athletic. Jen has been working her way up the ladder.”

The Golden Bears are going to know how good they are early. They face Ridgewood, Pascack Valley and Dwight-Englewood among their first five games.

“We have a lot of kids who have been with us for four years, so the experience should matter,” Hykey said. “We want to win the state sectional (North Jersey Section 2, Group II). That’s our goal. We’ll see how we do.

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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.”