Maroon Raiders off to solid soccer start

For Tom Tolve, the 2017 boys’ high school soccer season represented a year of transition.

You see, Tolve, the former Nutley High School soccer standout who went on to have a fine career at Drew University, had just taken over, albeit late, as the new head coach at his alma mater, replacing his former coach Marcellino Marra, who became the athletic director at neighboring Belleville High.

Tolve was one of the youngest head coaches in New Jersey, getting the reins of the Maroon Raiders at just 26 years old.

So Tolve got the job late in the process, had to go from being the assistant coach to head coach in the unexpected blink of an eye and had to learn all the proper steps of being a head coach in the process. It wasn’t easy.

“I had to take the learning steps last year,” Tolve said. “Luckily, I had Dan Cicchino with me. He had been around the program forever and was Marra’s head coach in high school. So Dom knew what he was doing. We also had a young team last year and we had eight starters coming back this year.”

Tolve felt better about everything – including himself – heading into the 2018 season.

“I think we already knew what we were made of,” Tolve said. “We were very confident with each other and more comfortable. We were able to play some of our best soccer, being more comfortable with the ball on our feet. We’re able to play naturally. We’re able to control games and possess the ball more.”

The results were obvious right from the outset of the season.

The Maroon Raiders faced powerful Seton Hall Prep in the 2018 opener. The Pirates began the new season as the No. 2 ranked team in the entire state, courtesy of, but the Maroon Raiders wanted nothing to do with that poll.

“We were up, 3-2, and controlling most of that game,” Tolve said of his upstart Maroon Raiders.

Unfortunately, the Maroon Raiders let the lead slip away in the closing minutes of the second half and fell 4-3 to mighty Seton Hall Prep.

“I think that game gave our kids the idea that they could realistically play with anyone,” Tolve said. “We requested the schedule maker in the league (the Super Essex Conference) to put us against Seton Hall to start the year. That game set the tone for the rest of the season. We’ve been cruising since then. That was the whole point of putting Seton Hall first. We wanted to see what we could do.”

Tolve said that the Maroon Raiders have been beaming since that loss, winning four straight matches, including a big 2-1 win over Belleville Saturday morning in Belleville.

“Now I can see the confidence,” Tolve said. “They know what they can do. They can compete with anyone. They believe in themselves and that’s a really big thing. They believe in themselves and they believe in each other. They’re very confident. The mental part of soccer is sometimes overlooked. But they’re confident that they can compete with anyone and that’s helping us.”

What is also helping the Maroon Raiders is the play of their senior goalkeeper and captain Brandon Syto.

Syto was just learning how to play the position last year. In fact, he was still learning how to play soccer, never having played until his sophomore year at Nutley.

“He was a raw goalkeeper,” Tolve said of Syto. “But he’s a good kid and a quick learner. He learned from any mistakes he made and has developed into a phenomenal keeper. He’s more composed in net now. He had a great year last year and I expect him to have a great year this year. I think having the year last year helped him grow as a goalkeeper and I think he’s developing his skills. He gets off good punts and makes good saves.”

Syto had 12 saves in a win over Payne Tech, 10 in a victory over Technology of Newark and collected seven saves in the win against rival Belleville last week.

The Maroon Raiders’ defensive line is solid, led by senior captain Adam Sachri, who started there last season. Sachri serves as the team’s sweeper and sophomore Joe Cook is the Maroon Raiders’ stopper.

Senior Christopher Salisbury, a three-year starter, is on the backline, as well as junior Chris Kruse, who also started there last season. So the Maroon Raiders’ strength is definitely the backline with all experienced players there.

“They’re all very good role models on the field,” Tolve said. “They lead the way and show others the way how to play. They play very well together. They’re very composed with the ball.”

Tolve expects nothing short of perfection from a player of Sachri’s talents and abilities.

“He’s the leader of the defense,” Tolve said. “I expect him to step it up back there.”

The Maroon Raiders have a host of options in the midfield.

Senior Abhineet Jain is a two-year starter at center midfield, but he plays more of a defensive role there.

Senior Austin Sweeney is the main cog of the offensive attack from the center of the field, but Sweeney has been hobbled of late by an ankle injury.

“He’s more of the attacking midfielder,” Tolve said. “He’s very creative with the ball and can shoot with either leg. He’s a good attacking player.”
Sweeney earned All-Super Essex Conference and All-State honors last year. He has scored a goal and added four assists this season while playing with the injured ankle.

Junior J.P. Maruri, who had a goal and an assist in the win over Belleville, is another attacking offensive midfielder for the Maroon Raiders.

“J.P. is the biggest threat we have,” Tolve said. “He’s strong with both feet and he’s dangerous that way.”

Sophomore Nick Kirby is another solid midfielder who plays in the middle of the field.

“He started every game for us last year,” Tolve said of Kirby, who scored a goal against Newark Tech. “He’s a very talented player. He was a sweeper last year for us and we moved him up.”

Tolve likes the way his midfield plays.

“We have a very deep midfield,” Tolve said. “We try to interchange them a little to keep them going. We are always getting guys going to the net. We have to work to get those guys to put the ball in the net.”

Up top, the Maroon Raiders can call upon senior Javier Argudo, junior Dean Polewka and sophomore Charlie Contini, who scored the Maroon Raiders’ other goal in the win over Belleville.

“Contini is very skillful with the ball and can be very dangerous,” Tolve said.

Senior Garrett Groeling is perhaps the Maroon Raiders’ most dangerous offensive threat. Groeling has five goals and three assists so far this season and found the net 10 times last season.

“He’s a pure striker,” Tolve said. “He is going to find the net. He has a hell of a leg and gets his head on the ball a lot.”

In the season opener against Seton Hall Prep, Groeling had three goals on three shots. Now that’s efficient.

“We also have Javier or Charlie up front around the ball,” Tolve said.

Needless to say, it’s been a great start for the Nutley boys’ soccer team, winning four of their first five games.
“We have very high expectations with this team,” Tolve said. “There’s not a team around that we can’t compete with. We’re going to shock some people in the state. We’re not on everyone’s radar, but we’re a team that can do a lot of damage in the county and state playoffs.”

Look for the Maroon Raiders to make some noise down the stretch of the season in the Super Essex Conference, the Essex County Tournament and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III.




The Nutley High School boys’ soccer team should be a solid contender in 2018. Front row, from left, are Joe Sasso, Nick Kirby, Adam Sachri and Joe Cook. Back row, from left, are head coach Tom Tolve, Carlos Telles, Christopher Salisbury, Brandon Syto, Chris Kruse, Charles Williamson and Dominic Contella. Photo by Jim Hague






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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.”