Kivlehan begins new season as Kearny coach while awaiting birth of daughter

Stefanee Pace Kivlehan had mixed emotions about the apparent end of the professional baseball season.

After all, the Kearny High School head girls’ soccer coach was about to get her husband Patrick home after spending the summer playing for the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League, the Class AAA affiliate of the New York Mets.

When Patrick Kivlehan didn’t receive a call-up to the majors on Sept. 1 to coincide with Major League Baseball teams increasing their rosters to 40 players, the Kearny High coach figured her husband would be home when the couple’s first child, a girl, was scheduled to be born later this month.

Or so she thought.

The Mets traded Kivlehan to the Arizona Diamondbacks, so Patrick was off to spend the final month of the baseball season in the middle of a pennant race.

It left Stefanee, the former Kearny High soccer legend, to coach her team while awaiting the arrival baby Kylee.

Pace Kivlehan was hard at work, albeit eight months pregnant, coaching her team to get ready for the 2018 season.

The Kardinals were 19-5 in her first season as head coach, culminating in the Kardinals’ ninth straight Hudson County Tournament championship.

For all intents and purposes, the Kardinals appear loaded to make it 10 straight, even if the head coach will be busy becoming a mommy for the first time later this month.

“I thought we could have been a little more successful last year,” Pace Kivlehan said. “We managed to lose a couple of game in the last minute. But I’m feeling pretty confident about this team. I’m excited to have the group of girls I have. They’re now used to the way I do things, so that helps.”

Pace Kivlehan said that she has been helped tremendously by assistant coach Kevin Santos, the former North Arlington standout player, who will lead the program when Pace Kivlehan takes her maternity leave.

“Right now, I’m trying to do as much as I can,” Kivlehan said. “When the time comes for me to leave (Sept. 26 is the due date), we should be fine.  We’ll see what happens.”

The Kardinals, who began their season with three wins in their first four games, welcomes back junior Cat Canaley as the starting goalkeeper. Canaley was thrown into the role when expected starting net minder Meagan McClelland was spirited away to play for the United States National Team. McClelland, the 2017-2018 Observer Female Athlete of the Year, is currently the starting goalie at Rutgers University.

Canaley emerged as a standout goalie and is expected to be solid in net again this season.

“She’s taken on a big-time leadership role,” Kivlehan said. “I think she learned a lot playing under Meg. She has a powerful leg. Everyone on the team wants to work hard for Cat. She has a great personality.”

When Canaley is not in goal, then sophomore Emily Rutzler will fill in.

“Cat is the full-time starter, but Em will see time,” Kivlehan said.

The Kardinals utilize a “four-across” defensive set.

Junior Julie Castillo and junior Katie Santana are the anchors to the backline.

“They started there last year,” Kivlehan said. “We moved Katie to the middle of the defense and she’s done a good job.”

The other defenders are senior Kristi Alejandro, the talented player who was a forward last year after transferring from Bayonne, junior Julia Iglesias and junior Caitlyn Natosi.

“Kristi has an attack mindset and has handled the move well,” Kivlehan said. “Julia had a phenomenal preseason and is doing an awesome job. Caitlyn is very versatile and can play anywhere.”

The center midfielders are senior Karina Teixeira and senior Gabriella Rodriguez. Teixeira scored a goal in the season-opening win over Hoboken and Rodriguez, who scored eight goals and had 20 assists last season, is still recovering somewhat from offseason ankle surgery.

Senior Nathaly Horvaht, juniors Kristina Yaya and Sam Osorio and sophomore Kylie Fisher are the team’s other midfielders. Yaya had a goal in the win over Hoboken and Fisher scored three goals in a win against Union City.

Junior Skyler Matusz, who broke the school’s single season goal scoring record when she knocked home 40 goals last year, returns. Matusz scored four goals and had an assist in a 5-1 win over St. Dominic last week.

“She’s gotten stronger and has a lot more confidence,” Kivlehan said. “She’s really going to take over this year and lead the team.”

Junior Allison Canales, who scored 16 goals last year, is another talented performer on the forward line.

“Allison and Skyler play awesomely together,” Kivlehan said.

Sophomore Julia Viscuso is another forward who will see considerable time in the Kards’ 4-3-3 alignment. Viscuso also found the net in the win over Hoboken.

Junior Kelsey Santana is another forward. Santana scored two goals in the first game of the season, so it looks like she will be in the mix for playing time the rest of the season. Kelsey and Katie Santana are part of triplets. The third member of the family is brother Adrian, who plays for the Kearny boys’ soccer team.

So it looks as if the Kards will be poised to make a run at a 10th straight county title in October. By then, the coach and expectant mother expects to be back on the sidelines and maybe Dad will be home from playing in Arizona.

“Every year, we keep getting better and better,” Kivlehan said. “We had a good preseason and the girls have worked really hard. I’m really excited to see what we can do.”




The Kearny girls’ soccer team opened the 2018 season with three wins in four games. Front row, from left, are Katie Santana, Gabriella Rodriguez and Julie Castillo. Back row, from left, are head coach Stefanee Pace Kivlehan, Caitlyn Natosi, Cat Canaley, Samantha Osorio and Karina Teixeira. Photo by Jim Hague




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.”