Observer Sports 2019: Year of the Golden Bear — Lyndhurst state title run earns top spot in Top 10 Sports Stories

It’s safe to say that the final year of the decade was extremely memorable in local sports. There were countless stories that filled The Observer’s sports pages in 2019. There were triumphs and tragedies. There were champions and there were setbacks. Newsworthy accomplishments and achievements recognized statewide, not to mention locally. Here’s a look at the Top 10 Sports Stories for 2019 for the Observer circulation area.

1-Lyndhurst wins NJSIAA state sectional football title; NJIC title winners as well

The Lyndhurst High School football team enjoyed one of the best football seasons in the history of the school. The Golden Bears won their first 11 games, including a 26-7 victory over Parsippany to capture the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group II state championship. It marked Lyndhurst’s first state championship since 1983. The Golden Bears also won the NJIC league tournament championship, defeating Park Ridge. 34-12, in the NJIC title game. It was Lyndhurst’s first league title of any kind since 1997. The Golden Bears’ standout running back Piotr Partyla, nicknamed “The Polish Assassin,” rushed for a state-best 2,356 yards and 34 TDs, numbers that perhaps will never be duplicated in Lyndhurst history. Partyla was named First Team All-State by the Newark Star Ledger. The town capped the Golden Bears’ great season with a victory, tickertape parade through the streets of Lyndhurst in December. It was truly the Year of the Golden Bear.

2-Kearny’s Cardenas wins second straight NJSIAA wrestling title

Kearny native Jacob Cardenas achieved the unthinkable last March, capturing his second straight NJSIAA state wrestling championship, becoming the first Kearny wrestler ever to win two state championships. The Bergen Catholic senior, now wrestling at Cornell University, defeated Kyle Jacob of Paramus, 6-3, to win the 195-pound state championship at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, successfully defending the title he captured in 2018. Cardenas finished the 2019 season with a 41-2 record and an overall career mark of 121-20. No question, it was one of the finest wrestling careers in New Jersey history.

3-Lyndhurst’s Guerriero earns Associated Press All-America honors

It was a year to remember for running backs from Lyndhurst, as former Lyndhurst High School great and former Observer Male Athlete of the Year (winning the award in 2015-2016) Petey Guerriero earned Associated Press All-America first team honors for his outstanding play for the Monmouth University football squad. Guerriero, a finalist for the Walter Payton award, given to the top college running back, led the nation with 1,995 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. Guerriero was only the second Monmouth player to ever earn All-America honors. Guerriero set new school records for yards in a season and in a career and still has one season remaining with the Hawks.

4-Harrison’s Sowe signs contract with Red Bulls II squad

After scoring a school-record 37 goals and adding 31 assists in his final high school soccer season at Harrison High School in 2018, Omar Sowe signed a professional contract to play for the New York Red Bulls II squad, just a stepping stone away from the main Red Bulls squad that plays its home games at Red Bull Arena located in Harrison. Sowe, who was named the New Jersey Section 2 soccer player of the year in the beginning of 2019, played 12 games with the Red Bulls II team in the United Soccer League. At age 19, Sowe still has a bright future with the Red Bulls’ organization.

5-Veteran QP coach, administrator Abromaitis dies

Ed Abromaitis spent 38 of the 63 years he was on the planet at Queen of Peace High School, first as an athlete, then later a coach and finally as an administrator, mainly as the athletic director. Abromaitis, the Kearny native who also spent most of his life as a resident of Kearny, died suddenly in September. Although QP closed in 2018, Abromaitis still left a legacy of athletic greatness at the school. He is sorely missed by everyone who knew him.

6-Harrison QB Desosa has game to remember

In early October, Harrison High School senior quarterback Mateo Desosa had an incredible game against Secaucus, a game where Desosa’s unbelievable prowess will not soon be matched. In that game against Secaucus on Oct. 4, a 46-35 win for the Blue Tide, Desosa completed 18-of-32 passes for an astounding 447 yards and four touchdowns passing. Desosa also carried the ball 11 times for 174 yards and three TDs. Quick math makes the totals 627 yards and seven TDs in one game for the Blue Tide signal caller. Those are numbers that won’t be matched soon.

7-Kearny’s Borges gets drafted by Colorado Rapids of MLS

The Major League SuperDraft in January certainly had its local flavor, when Kearny native Marcello Borges was selected by the Colorado Rapids in the second round, the 28th pick overall. Borges, who played soccer throughout high school for the New York Red Bulls’ soccer academy, then went on to play for the University of Michigan, decided to forego his senior year at Michigan when the chance to get drafted arose. Although Borges didn’t stick with the Rapids, gaining his release from the squad after only a few months, his selection in the draft is certainly newsworthy, as Borges became the first player from the soccer-rich area to sign an MLS contract since Kearny’s Hugh MacDonald, the first-ever Observer Male Athlete of the Year, signed with the Red Bulls in 2006.

8-Lyndhurst’s Jorge earns spot with Team USA baseball squad

Although she’s only 16 years old, Lyndhurst native Alexia Jorge earned a spot with the Team USA national women’s baseball team and spent most of July and August traveling with the nation’s top female baseball squad. Jorge, mostly a catcher by trade, played several positions for Team USA, including a stint on the mound as a pitcher. Jorge has a bright future with Team USA moving forward, but still has another year remaining as a high school baseball player.

9-NA’s Manzo-Lewis signs contract with San Antonio of AAFL

North Arlington native Anthony Manzo-Lewis thought that perhaps his professional football career was over when he was released by the San Diego Chargers in August of 2018, after signing a free agent contract with the Chargers earlier that year. But the American Alliance of Football League, also known as the AAFL, came forward and offered Manzo-Lewis, a fullback who played his collegiate football at the University of Albany, a contract. At the time, the deal was believed to be a three-year contract. But the AAFL folded abruptly in April, leaving the league’s players without a place to play. However, when Manzo-Lewis signed his contract last January, he became the first professional football player ever from North Arlington.

10-Kearny girls’ soccer team wins 11th straight Hudson County Tournament title

The Kearny High School girls’ soccer team just kept its dynasty rolling along, as the Kardinals captured their 11th straight Hudson County Tournament championship, defeating Bayonne, 2-0 in the championship game. The county championship marked the end of the road for senior striker Skyler Matusz, who scored 35 goals during her senior season, ending her career with 104 career goals as she heads off to play at American University next season. It also marked the end for head coach and alum Stefanee Pace Kivlehan, who resigned at the end of the year for family reasons. Pace Kivelhan also scored 100 goals in her career as a player.

Just missed list

There were other stories that just missed out of being among the top 10 stories of the year. Kearny’s Maria Laverde won the Hudson County cross country championship, the first Kearny girl to capture the county cross country title since Erika Alzamora in 2012; Belleville High School won seven football games, the highest win total for the Buccaneers in almost 40 years; Kearny had three athletes (Melissa Waters, Xavier Reyes and Julie Castillo) all win Hudson County indoor track and field championships; Nutley’s Marty Higgins and Courtney Wilde each scored their 1,000th career point in basketball; three Kearny wrestlers (Jacob Baeza, Kyle Ostanski and Matthew Mauricio) won District 11 wrestling championships; Lyndhurst/North Arlington’s Dylan Weaver finished third in the entire state in wrestling at 145 pounds; Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium in Newark was torn down, ending a brief 20-year run; Belleville resident Bobby Alessio won his sixth straight state title in youth gymnastics; North Arlington captured its second straight state sectional championship and standout Eric McKenna won the Bergen County individual title; Nutley’s Mike DiPiano, Sr., a kidney and pancreas transplant survivor, was selected to represent donor awareness at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena and Nutley’s Steve DiGregorio was honored at the Franklin Steak House for his years of service as the head football coach at Nutley High.

All in all, it was another great year of sports in 2019 in the Observer circulation area. There’s more to come in 2020.

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.”