Sylvia takes over as new coach, but Kardinal girls soccer rolls on

It’s a new era for the Kearny High School girls’ soccer team, as former boys’ assistant coach Mike Sylvia has taken over for Stefanee Pace Kivelhan.

“I did a little bit of double duty,” Sylvia said. “This wasn’t something that I had planned. But when the position opened up, I thought it was a great opportunity. My roots are firmly set in Kearny. I thought I could move in pretty well. I know most of the core group pretty well. I’ve taught some of them. I think they know my style and know my personality. I’m happy that they have someone they knew.”

It certainly appears as if the Kardinals have responded well to their new coach. Just three games into the Mike Sylvia era and the Kardinals are on an absolute roll, outscoring their opponents by a total of 31-0 over the three games.

That’s called making a splash.

But to the new head coach, soccer is more than putting the ball into the back of the net.

“I believe in building character,” said Sylvia, who gained his reputation as being a solid goalkeepers’ coach. “I believe in having values and what it means to be a Kearny soccer player, what it means to wear the Kearny crest, the Kearny badge. I want the players to do everything like it’s the last time they’ll ever play the game.”

So far, it looks as if the message has hit home.

Sylvia is so fond of goalkeepers that he’s kept three on his roster for the 2020 season.

“Working with these girls and my goalkeeping background, I know what they have to do,” Sylvia said. “So we get on the field before everyone and train earlier before practice. I think we get a lot from that. We’ve had a good goalkeeping tradition here with players like Jen Pettigrew and Meaghan McClelland (both of whom had stints with the United States National Team). I hope to stoke that flame a little.”

The Kardinals will utilize all three in sophomores Natalie Osorio and Gabriela Matias and freshman Aracely Vazquez in goal. Natalie Osorio is the younger sister of Samantha Osorio, last year’s Observer Female Athlete of the Year.

“It’s definitely an advantage for us to have three,” Sylvia said. “It poses challenges for the opponents and it makes us better.”

Certainly can’t argue with the results.

“We’re so well rounded there,” Sylvia said. “Nat is so athletic. Aracely is a natural. Gaby is a leader.”

No need for worries in net for the Kardinals. Matias has won the starting spot for now.

The Kardinals will utilize a three-player formation in the back, keyed by the extremely athletic and talented Maci Covello at center back.

“I think she’s impressed everyone with the way she plays,” Sylvia said. “You see it in basketball. She’s just a competitor. She’s way mature beyond her years. She wants to be a positive influence on everyone. She’s a leader already.”
Covello has scored three goals and added an assist so far.

Junior Andrea Toledo is another fixture on the backline.

“She’s as tough as nails,” Sylvia said. “She’s a big vocal voice on the field.”

Senior Mariana Martins is another key defender.

“We’re looking to her to anchor the defense,” Sylvia said.

Senior Kylie Fisher and junior Carley Natosi are other solid defenders. Natosi currently leads the team in assists with four.

Junior Abby Crispin, the younger sister of former Observer Female Athlete of the Year Amber Crispin – notice a trend here – is the team’s center midfielder.

“She’s just outstanding,” Sylvia said of Crispin. “She’s a creative playmaker. She’s going to do well this year.”
Crispin is already doing well with three goals and three assists thus far.

Senior Alexis Teixeira is another standout in the midfield, along with the Schivel twins, juniors Tatyanne and Gabriela.

“I like the idea of putting the two of them next to each other,” Sylvia said. “They play where I ask them. They have great attitudes.”

The forward line features sophomore Emily Horvaht, who has absolutely exploded onto the scene this fall, scoring eight goals in the three games, including an astounding six in a win over Memorial of West New York.

“She’s definitely a strong, physical player,” Sylvia said of his team’s leading scorer. “She’s tough.”

Senior Julia Viscuso, the team’s top returning scorer from a year ago who had seven goals last year, already has three this season.

“She’s our fastest sprinter,” Sylvia said. “She has the potential to have a breakout year. She’s very good attacking one-on-one.”

Sophomore Paige Raefski and sophomore Julia Araujo are also fixtures on the front line. Both young ladies have tallied three goals apiece this season. Seems like there are a lot of Kardinals with three goals.

“I like to play with three attackers,” Sylvia said. “Paige is really fast and is a good finisher. Julia Araujo just never stops working.”

Needless to say, things are going well for the Kardinals, that Sylvia hasn’t skipped a beat in his new role.

The Kardinals will see what they’re made of this week. After a showdown with West Orange on Monday, they have games against perennial rival Bayonne Wednesday and Union City on Saturday morning at 11 a.m., with all games at the high school field.




The Kearny Kardinals are off to a sizzling start, winning all three of their matches thus far by a combined score of 31-0. Front row, from left, is Gabriela Schivel, Tatyanne Schivel, Kylie Fisher, Evelyn Benavides and Mariana Martins. Back row, from left, is Maci Covello, Gabriela Matias, Aracely Vazquez, Natalie Osorio, Andrea Toledo and head coach Mike Sylvia. 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.”