Nutley girls’ soccer: Living in the tough world of the SEC

Mike DiPiano knows full well that the schedule maker is never kind to the veteran Nutley High School girls’ soccer coach.

“Our schedule is not forgiving,” DiPiano said. “We’re in the same league (the Super Essex Conference-American Division) with some of the best teams in the state.”

DiPiano is not kidding. The Maroon Raiders reside with teams like Montclair, West Orange, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Livingston and West Essex, teams that will be ranked among the top 20 squads in the state.

“We have West Essex and West Orange right out of the gate,” DiPiano said. “We’re going to be tested right away. But we play everybody and we’re not afraid of anybody. We know that we have to put up or shut up. We have to make the next step. We have a good group of seniors who come into this season with lofty expectations. It’s their turn and they’d like to win something before they go. Our conference is tough, our county (the Essex County Tournament) is tough and our state section (the Maroon Raiders go back to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III bracket this year) is tough.”

Needless to say, the Maroon Raiders are walking into tough waters, but they are ready for the challenge.

Leading the way is junior goalkeeper Catalina Robson, who has been the starter in net for the last two seasons.

“She’s a very talented keeper,” DiPiano said.

Ironically, Robson’s backup is her sister Brielle, a freshman. Sophomore Ellie DeSantis is another net minder in the Maroon Raiders’ camp.

“We’ve hadn’t had depth like this at goalkeeper,” DiPiano said. “We have three who can get the job done. I’m toying with ideas of using all of them.”

Junior Taylor Hughes returns to her role as the team’s sweeper and junior Emma Chimento is the team’s stopper.

“They’re both very tough,” DiPiano said. “They give us toughness in the middle of the field.”

Senior Rachel Echeverria is a defensive wing with offensive skills. She’s a speedy defender who has been a three-year starter.

“She helps us out tremendously out wide,” DiPiano said. “She’s very skilled.”

Junior Cameron Coffaro is a converted forward that has been shifted to the backline.

“I like what I’m seeing from her,” DiPiano said of Coffaro. “She adds some skill there and makes us more dangerous.”

Another defender is senior Allie Huelbig who will fit into the mix on the backline.

DiPiano said that the Maroon Raiders are blessed to have three players who can handle the duties of center midfielder.

Senior Sydney Hess, senior Olivia Real and freshman Brooke Yero are all capable ball handlers and ball strikers in the midfield.

“Hess and Real have started since their freshman year,” DiPiano said. “Brooke has a very bright future ahead of her.”

Senior Rebecca Echeverria, Rachel’s identical twin, is also a midfielder who led the Maroon Raiders in goals last year with eight.

Emma Kirby is a junior transfer from Florida who is fitting in so well with her new surroundings.

“She comes from a soccer family,” DiPiano said of Kirby. “She is going to help us.”

On the front line, senior Mackenzie Albert has tallied more than 50 goals in her career. She has already accepted a scholarship to Iona College and will play soccer there next year. But before she heads off to New Rochelle, she has one final go-round with the Maroon Raiders. Albert is one of the best two-way players in the tough and rumble world of the SEC American.

Seniors Natalie Rufino and Mikalya Schoch are experienced players who have been with the varsity for all four years.

“They all have the ability to put the ball in the net,” DiPiano said. “They have played a lot and also scored goals.”

Junior Marcella Blancato is what DiPiano called “a hybrid.”

“I can put her all over the field,” DiPiano said.

The Maroon Raiders have a deep bench that includes seniors Nikki Cicchetti and Sydney Silver and juniors Isabella Ortega, Rebecca Reid and Mia DiPiano, the coach’s daughter.

The Maroon Raiders won eight times in last season’s wild truncated slate. Even in the SEC American, the Maroon Raiders should win more times this time around.

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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.”