The Kearny High School girls’ soccer team has captured the last seven Hudson County Tournament championships and has done significant damage in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV tourney.
And from the looks of things, the Kardinals should be ready for another great season, almost as good as last year’s 21-4-1 mark.
“Every year is different,” veteran Kearny head coach Vin Almeida said. “But we have a good core group back, so I’m pretty positive and excited about this group.”
But the Kardinals will surely miss the offensive production provided by Amber Crispin, The Observer Female Athlete of the Year last year who took her speed and scoring ability to Iona College.
“It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge, trying to replace Amber,” Almeida said. “But we don’t need one person to replace Amber. We can fill her space with a larger scale of people. We have girls who contributed who will have bigger roles. I’m pretty confident with the girls we have. Even though we lost Amber, we have so many other people who can score and make it difficult for others to stop us.”
Starting from the backline forward, the Kards were primed to be rock solid in net with junior net minder Meagan McClelland, one of the top keepers in the state last year.
But McClelland was given the opportunity to train with the USA Soccer 17-and-under team and is still in the process of trying to make the national team, which would be a great honor, much like what recent Kearny Hall of Fame inductee Jen Pettigrew did her senior year at Kearny before heading to Seton Hall.
“It’s bittersweet for us, because we only want the best for Meagan,” Almeida said. “We’re excited for her that she’s getting this chance to represent Kearny on a national level.”
If McClelland makes the national team, she will miss most of the season for the Kardinals. If she fails to make it, she will return sometime in October.
In the meantime, freshman Catherine Canaley will take over the net minding duties.
“She’s doing well,” Almeida said. “She has the defenders in front of her, but she’s handled getting thrown into the frying pan pretty well.”
The Kardinals’ backline seems like they’ve been together forever. Maybe it’s because they’ve all played together since their young days in youth soccer.
Senior Victoria Van Riper is a four-year varsity performer. So is fellow senior Merrin Keim.
Junior Natasha Magee is also a returning starter in the defensive back line, joined this season by senior Sydney Pace, who was moved from midfield back to defense.
“We’re keeping her back there, but she can slide into the midfield,” Almeida said. “She’s become more of a defender. It’s an option we’re exploring.”
Also getting time among the defenders are juniors Jillian McCourt, who saw a lot of time at center back last year, and junior Kayleigh Howard.
Seniors Sydney Viscuso and Rachel Nieto add to the depth of the backline.
It’s a solid group, one to build the foundation of a team around.
“It makes things more comfortable knowing that we have them back there,” Almeida said. “They’ve been around together for a while. There’s a lot of flexibility among them and that’s one of the nicer things.”
The Kards also have a lot of depth in the midfield.
Sophomore Gabriella Rodriguez returns to the midfield. Rodriguez had a masterful freshman year, scoring more than 20 goals.
“We could put her up front if we needed,” Almeida said.
Senior Briana Rodriguez, Gabriella’s sister, is the team’s main distributor from the midfield. Senior Jane Amadeo is in the mix in the midfield.
“She has that never-say-die Amadeo spirit,” Almeida said. “She’s a winner.”
Junior Bre Costa also returns in the midfield, joined by junior Savannah Iverson.
Up front, the Kardinals return senior Lily Durning, who emerged as a major goal scoring threat late last season, especially in the county tournament. Durning scored 17 goals and had nine assists last year.
“She’s the team leader,” Almeida said. “She helps to connect the forwards with the midfielders.”
Senior Isabel Fernandez is another proven goal scorer. She also had 17 goals and added 11 assists last season.
Juniors Caitlyn Mead and Gianna Hoch are solid contributors to the front line.
“We like to keep people fresh, so we substitute a lot,” Almeida said. “As the game permits, if we get a good rotation, we stick with it. But if we have the depth, we might as well use it. We have the kind of team to do that.”
The Kardinals open on Saturday, Sept. 10 against Bayonne.
“We have a team with enough experience,” Almeida said. “We have good chemistry and camaraderie. I like that. I think this is a team that will be good enough to make a push in the states.”
And also be ranked among the state’s very best all season.
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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.”