When the Kearny High School girls’ soccer team won their seventh, then their eighth, then ninth Hudson County Tournament championship, the word “Dynasty” was thrown around – and no one meant Linda Evans, Joan Collins and John Forsythe.
Well, now that the Kardinals have captured their incredible, almost unthinkable 11th HCT title in a row, that the tourney has been alive for 11 years and the Kards have won all 11 championships, what does one dare to call what the Kardinals have achieved? A super-dynasty? A mega-dynasty? A dynasty of grandiose proportions? A larger than life dynasty?
Whatever you want to call it, the Kards did indeed win their 11th straight Hudson County Tourney title with a 3-0 win over Bayonne in the championship game last Thursday in Jersey City.
The Kardinals (16-4) remain undefeated against Hudson County rivals in those 11 years since the start of the tourney. This year, none of the three teams that the Kards faced in the tourney scored against the Kards’ sensational senior goalkeeper Cat Canaley, who made 15 saves in the tourney, keeping the opponents at bay.
The Kearny girls were asked if there was a level of pressure when you get into ungodly number territory like 11 straight county titles.
“I think they definitely feel it,” said Kearny head coach Stefanee Pace Kivlehan, who has been in charge for the last three of the 11 county crowns. “No matter who they play, they can feel it big time. There are the jitters and excitement.”
The Kards all agreed with their coach.
“We knew Bayonne was going to come at us hard,” said senior defender Caitlyn Natosi. “The teams are coming in harder and better, so we had to show we can do better. It was a Kearny girls’ soccer thing. You go to the finals of the county tournament and win.”
But now that the Kards won?
“Oh, it’s relieving,” Natosi said. “The pressure is off. We kept the streak going.”
Fellow senior and standout defender Julie Castillo also spoke of the pressure that comes with winning 10 in a row and going for No. 11.
“We’re just expected to win it every year,” Castillo said. “So most definitely there’s pressure in the finals, right up until the game starts. But once you start playing, the pressure lessens up. You just go and play the game.”
That’s what the Kardinals did, getting a goal early and then collecting two more before halftime, giving the Kards (16-4) the comfortable cushion.
Kylie Fisher, Julia Viscuso and super scorer Skyler Matusz each tallied a goal in the win. For Matusz, it was the 30th goal of her All-State caliber season. For Viscuso, certainly no slouch with 14 goals and 12 assists. It was Fisher’s fifth goal of the season to go along with eight assists.
Kivlehan, who was an All-American player during her days at Kearny High, has enjoyed Matusz’s ascent up the all-time scoring list. Kivlehan finished her career with an even 100 career goals. Matusz has gone past that number and is in hot pursuit of the overall school record of 108.
“She’s had a phenomenal season all around,” Kivlehan said. “But that is what has been so good about this team. We don’t have to rely on Sky to get the goals. We have Viscuso and (Emily) Horvaht and a really tough defensive unit. We do have a lot of talent and a lot of depth. We’re not relying totally on Sky. We’re taking the pressure off her.”
Kivlehan said that she’s most proud of the defensive unit.
“I think our offense gets a lot of the credit, but our defense doesn’t get the credit it deserves,” Kivlehan said. “That unit has held down a lot of the top offenses in the state. Our defense has come up big.”
And it’s never been more evident than in the county tournament, when the defense put up three straight clean sheets for Canaley, giving her 11 shutouts on the season.
“When we lost Katie Santana to injury for the season, we needed to find the defensive players to step up,” Kivlehan said. “Maci Covello had a reputation of being a big scorer. We taught her how to play defense. (Julie) Castillo has done a phenomenal job back there. Natosi and (Samantha) Osorio have been steady all year. I’m very confident with them, These girls handle the pressure so great.”
Osorio knew all about the pressure.
“Of course, there was pressure,” Osorio said. “But there wasn’t a second where I doubted this team. I could tell Bayonne was hungry, so we had a job to do. We wanted to defend our title and add another year. When you think about 11 (straight) it’s insane. I got to experience that. It’s crazy to think that Kearny is capable of achieving something that great.”
Osorio was asked what she was thinking as the clock wound down.
“I couldn’t have been more proud,” Osorio said. “We did it again. We kept the streak alive. And we’re leaving the streak in good hands.”
And as for the Joan Collins-Heather Locklear reference?
“We’re 100 percent a dynasty,” Osorio said. “I’m going to talk about this for the rest of my life. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
The Kearny girls’ soccer team shows everyone what the streak of Hudson County Tournament championships now stands at with their index fingers of their hands. Of course, it’s 11 straight after defeating Bayonne, 3-0, to clinch the tourney title and move on to the state tournament this week against Bergen Tech. Photo by Jim Hague
From left, senior captains Kelsey Santana, Skyler Matusz and Cat Canaley display the Hudson County Tournament championship the Kearny girls’ soccer team captured last Thursday by defeating Bayonne, 3-0. 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.”