Proud day in NA, as Smith & McKenna sign college letters

When Eric McKenna and Savannah Smith were growing up in North Arlington, they dreamed together of eventually becoming college athletes.

The two long-time friends and classmates eventually became stalwarts in high school athletics – Smith as a soccer player and McKenna as a three-sport athlete (soccer, bowling and baseball).

Last week, McKenna and Smith fulfilled their lifelong dreams when they officially became scholarship athletes at local colleges.

McKenna signed a baseball scholarship letter with Caldwell College, while Smith also remained local by signing a letter to play soccer at nearby Bloomfield College.

Although McKenna was an All-NJIC performer in soccer and was a mainstay on the North Arlington High School bowling team that captured a state sectional championship last February, he always aspired to be a baseball player in college.

“I always wanted to play baseball, but I never really thought about becoming a scholarship baseball player,” McKenna said. “About a year or so ago, I realized that I had a future as a pitcher.”

McKenna played for the Gamers Group in Kenilworth last summer and gained notoriety there as a pitcher. He also pitched for Complete Performance Baseball Academy.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” McKenna said. “No one from North Arlington ever gets this kind of opportunity for baseball.”

North Arlington head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono realizes the enormity of McKenna’s signing.

“It’s a proud moment for the program,” Marcantuono said. “I’m very happy for the family. It’s like hitting the lottery for them. Something like this brings more status to the program. You get more recognition when you have a scholarship player.”

Marcantuono said that McKenna developed nicely as a pitcher.

“Any time you have a scholarship player, it’s big,” Marcantuono said. “He developed into a top-notch pitcher. He’s going to be a good college pitcher. I think they know that at Caldwell. It’s so good to see one of your athletes go on to the next level. Little old North Arlington got one. I think this helps our players develop the interest that they can play beyond high school. I would like to keep that tradition.”

McKenna, who is a two-handed bowler, gets ready for a bowling season that begins this week. He will be more than ready for his final baseball season come March.

“I think this relieves some of the stress that I had,” McKenna said. “I don’t have to worry about where I’m going now.”

McKenna said that he dedicated the scholarship to his parents.
“They’re the ones who brought me to every practice, to every game,” McKenna said. “This is my way of giving back to them. It feels good. I’m looking forward to pitching in college.”

Smith, North Arlington’s all-time leading goal scorer with 107 career goals, was weighing other offers when Bloomfield came back with a solid scholarship package.

“I visited the school in May and was one of my top options,” Smith said. “I really wanted to go to Bloomfield. I like that it’s a smaller school. I’m more comfortable with a smaller school. I also wanted to stay close to home.”
Smith said that she received a tour of Bloomfield College from the soccer coaches at the school.

“I also got to see a couple of their games,” Smith said. “I think it’s a good fit for me.”
North Arlington girls’ soccer coach Dan Farinola, who ironically coaches McKenna in bowling, was happy for Smith.

“I’m really proud of her,” Farinola said. “She showed the most growth of any player I’ve ever had. She might be undersized, but no obstacle ever gets in her way. She’s the hardest worker I’ve ever had. She scored 107 goals and I don’t think that record will be broken anytime soon.”

Smith had to recover from a torn ACL in her knee as a sophomore to return to set the school record.

“I think after my injury, I think I became more determined to get back so I could play in college,” Smith said.

“She did whatever she could to get back,” Farinola said. “She knew what was ahead for her. She was in the weight room all the time. She did all the little things you need from a player. She worked to where she could shoot with either foot. She’s also one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen.”

Farinola believes that Smith is an impact player.

“I think she’s going to play right away,” Farinola said. “She’s going to help them. I think she’s had a great learning experience to get ready for the next level.”

Smith said she was happy to share the moment with her good friend McKenna.

“Eric and I have both worked very hard,” Smith said. “We both really deserve this. It’s crazy to think we both did it. The hard work definitely paid off.”




North Arlington High School athletes Savannah Smith (left) and Eric McKenna (right) sign their National Letters of Intent with local colleges, Smith to play soccer at Bloomfield College and McKenna to play baseball at Caldwell College. 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.”