Belleville wrestlers bounce back strong

The Belleville High School wrestling team started off the truncated and abbreviated season with a dismal five straight losses.

That might drive most teams to the brink of despair, especially in a shortened season.

But the Buccaneers have rebounded nicely from their rugged start and have won their last four matches in a row, including convincing wins over Union City and Newark East Side in consecutive days last week on Friday and Saturday.

Also through the dual meets, the Belleville girls’ grappling gang, spearheaded by sisters Alisa and Soraya Safforld, advanced all the way to the finals of their respective region tournaments on Saturday in Union High School.

Alisa Safforld, a senior, advanced to the title bout in the 107-pound weight class, while younger sister Soraya, the sixth seed in the 114-pound bracket, also advanced to the finals. Both sisters will take silver medals to the state championships that were held over the weekend at Phillipsburg High School. Alisa Safforld took home second in the entire state at the state championships, which is quite an accomplishment.

“Alisa is our most decorated wrestler,” said Belleville head coach Joe Pizzi. “She was fourth in the state last year and third in the state in 2020. She hopes to top her previous accolades in this year’s state tournament.”

And that she did with the second place finish,.

Soraya Safforld, a junior, has shown Pizzi a lot.

“She’s really grown this year and proved that by placing third in the recent Bergen County Girls’ Tournament,” Pizzi said. “She has been wrestling flawless and looks as though she’s on a mission.”

Ilana Williams is a 100-pound freshman and the third sister of the Safforld-Williams clan.

“Ilana is new to the sport, but she is very strong willed and very resilient,” Pizzi said. “We are looking forward to her future with us here.”

A look at the Buccaneers’ lineup is as follows:

Freshman Jakob Ferrer is a 106-pounder.

“Jakob is a tough and extremely aggressive wrestler who also excels in the classroom,” Pizzi said. “We are very excited about this young man and his work ethic. He is a great teammate and a soldier on the mat. He is extremely exciting to watch and exhibits traits and attributes of an old school wrestler.”

Junior Lorenzo Tafuri is the Bucs’ 113-pounder.

“Lorenzo is probably our most improved wrestler from last season,” Pizzi said. “He works extremely hard on and off the mat and even battles through injuries. He is another wrestler with outstanding academics and has been one of our leaders that the younger kids look up to.”

Freshman Leo Tinakee is also a mainstay at 113 pounds.

“A tremendous wrestler with a focused attitude and desire to win, Leo came up through our recreation program and wrestles with intensity and technique. I am looking forward to his future with us.”




Rocco Negron is the team’s 120-pounder.

“Rocco is another extremely talented freshman who came through our recreation program,” Pizzi said. “He is a very technical wrestler and has beaten some top senior wrestlers in our county so far this season. He takes pride in his presence as a wrestler and represents our team in a big way showing toughness and a fearless attitude.”

Senior Tobias Lopez is the Belleville 126-pounder.

“Tobias is one of our few seniors after graduating 15 seniors last seaso”n,” Pizzi said. “He is a young man who has sacrificed a lot through his years with us and pays in blood sweat and tears. He’s an extremely tough young man who leads by example and backs down to no one.”

Franco Russomanno is the team’s 138-pounder. Russomanno is also a freshman.

“This is a young man who is truly coachable and wrestles with a chip on his shoulder,” Pizzi said of Russomanno. “His toughness and willingness to learn each day makes him a truly likeable young man among the staff. He gets better with each match and we are already seeing major growth from him in the short few weeks we’ve had together.”

Matias Lopez is the team’s 145-pounder and younger brother of Tobias.

“Matias is in only his second season on the mat and  he has shown us how important work ethic is as a wrestler,” Pizzi said. “He has lost about 40 pounds over the last year and has become an extremely versatile young man.”

Fernando Collado is a 152-pound sophomore.

“Fernando has come a long way from his freshman year,” Pizzi said. “He is a tough wrestler who leaves it all on the mat. He wrestles with controlled aggression and has become an important piece in our lineup.”

Junior Diego Viera is the team’s answer at 160 pounds.

“Diego came to us with no experience at all,” Pizzi said. “He has shown major growth over the last two years. He’s a quiet young man who leads by example both on and off the mat.”

Junior Christian Vitale, who also plays football and baseball for the Buccaneers, got some varsity time at 160 pounds.

“Christian is a raw competitor,” Pizzi said. “He’s an extremely athletic kid and we’re happy to have him contributing in a variety of ways.”

Junior Ethan Lopez answers the call at 170.

The team’s inspiration is 220-pound sophomore Angelo Dorainvil.

“Angelo was originally a football player who came to us with an open mind and a big heart,” Pizzi said. “He has really taken to the sport of wrestling and is excelling as a 2nd year wrestler. We have high hopes for Angelo and it is truly a joy to coach him. He is always asking questions and looking to make improvements racking his brain to perfect his craft.”

Matt Amante is one of the team’s lone seniors. He’s also the team’s heavyweight.

“Matt is a quiet leader and does all the right things,” Pizzi said. “He is a true teammate and will do anything for his brothers and sisters on and off the mat. He excels in the classroom and well and has done a tremendous job for both football and wrestling in his years with us.”

Needless to say, it’s been a dramatic turnaround for Pizzi and the Bucs as the season winds down.




The Belleville High School wrestling team has made a dramatic turnaround, winning four straight after losing the first five. From left are seniors Alisa Saffold, Matt Amante, head coach Joe Pizzi and Tobias Lopez. Safforld finished second in the girls’ state championships in the 107-pound bracket over the weekend at Phillipsburg High School. 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.”