Belleville boys’ soccer: Going strong at 6-0

The Belleville High School boys’ soccer team won only three games in all of 2018.

That might be some cause of concern for the Buccaneers and head coach Gary Polewka.

However, Polewka never let last year’s record get in the way for his preparations for the 2019 season.

“Going into the summer, I thought that this team had a lot more skilled kids than we had last year,” Polewka said. “So I was very optimistic going into the season. I expected the seniors we have to step up. They had a taste of winning as sophomores and wanted to get it back again one more time. I tried to tell the other kids that winning is fun.”

Well, things are a lot of fun with the Bucs this season thus far, because Belleville is the proud owner of a 6-0 record. The Bucs defeated a South Jersey Group IV power in Perth Amboy in their second game of the season and last week added a win over East Orange for good luck. The Bucs have already doubled their win total of a year ago and appear to be rolling along right now.

“I think we have a pretty good team,” said Polewka, who is in his third season as the Belleville head coach. “I think we have a good balance.”

Leading the way is senior goalkeeper Fernando Besantez, who is in his third season as the starting net minder for the Bucs. Besantez was an All-Super Essex Conference selection in each of the last two seasons and appears headed for postseason honors once again this year.

“He’s focused,” Polewka said. “He’s hoping to play at the next level. He’s working well so far this season and working well with his backline, setting up walls and making plays.”

The Bucs utilize the “four-across” lineup in their defense.

Junior Johan Capellan and sophomore Ariel Guaman are the two center backs.

“Johan worked all year with his club team on being a defender,” Polewka said. “He’s taking on the position well.”

The outside backs are returning starters Christian Cumbe and Lucas Fonseca. Cumbe is a junior and Fonseca is a senior. Fonseca is a three-year varsity starter. There’s nothing wrong with having experience at the defender slot.

Junior Bruno Lopes and freshman Gerber Coreas are two other defenders who will get plenty of playing time this season.

“When we put those guys in, we don’t take a step down,” Polewka said. “They’re all going to see quality minutes.”

Senior Bryan Guarquila was the team’s Most Valuable Player last season. He returns to his position at center midfield.

Senior Kevin Manjarrez is a four-year starter in the Buccaneer midfield.

“He’s played a big role for us since I’ve been here,” Polewka said.

Manjarrez has six goals and two assists thus far. He had two goals apiece in wins against East Orange and Barringer.

Junior Fernando Fajardo missed all of last season due to a leg injury, but he’s returned this season and scored two goals and added three assists.

Sophomore Jonathan Ruiz is another addition to the Belleville varsity at midfield.

Sophomore Brendon Diaz is a solid player at forward. He has scored two goals this season. Junior Kevin Riera had nine goals as a freshman two seasons ago. Polewka is hopeful that Riera can find the nets like he did as a rookie.

“He has to find the right places to be in,” Polewka said.

Junior Jonathan Sanchez is a versatile performer who can play either midfield or up front at striker. Sanchez has three goals and two assists in the early portion of the season.

“He has a lot of speed,” Polewka said. “His speed opens up a lot of things, especially up top.”

Senior midfielder Bryan Guerra is a team captain at the midfield slot. Junior Luis Juca-Cadena is a transfer from Irvington who has played right away and added some stability in the midfield. Juca-Cadena is another fast player who has good ball skills.

So despite the poor record a year ago, Polewka had hopes and aspirations of piloting a good season this year.

“We are definitely looking to see if we can get double digits in wins,” said Polewka when the season began two weeks ago. “We hope to contend in the (SEC) Colonial Division, the division we won two years ago.”

Sure looks as if the Buccaneers are in contention for another league title this 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.”