Bucs learn all about trials in SEC Liberty

Gary Polewka knew that things would be a little bit tougher for his Belleville High School boys’ soccer team in 2021, especially after the Buccaneers won the first NJSIAA state sectional championship in the school’s history last season.

The Super Essex Conference uses a fluctuating scale based on a team’s success. If you lose a lot, you get moved down to a lesser competitive division. But the Bucs did well, so they got bounced up to the SEC’s Liberty Division, in the same pairing with powerhouses like West Essex, Columbia, Newark Academy and Verona.

With a young roster, Polewka had to figure that the Buccaneers would have a bit of a struggle in 2021.

“We were lucky enough to win a trophy last year,” Polewka said. “I’m very happy that the kids won and had a good time. But me and my staff knew that it would be tougher. It is what it is. We’re a team. We think we belong in the Liberty.”

The Buccaneers lost 12 seniors to graduation after last year’s state championship season.

“We’re young,” Polewka said. “We’re so young. We’re going to try to build things up again. We have a good freshman class. But we were expecting this.”

The Bucs started the 2021 season with matches against Verona, Seton Hall Prep and West Orange, three teams that all won their respective state sectional championships last year. Needless to say, the Bucs have struggled, posting a 1-6 record after seven outings.

“What hurts with this group is that there is really no vocal leader,” Polewka said. “This group is just a little too quiet. With this team, they have to be 100 percent 100 percent of the time.”

The Bucs are utilizing two goalkeepers in juniors Logan Kutlu and Jason Penaloza. Both are sharing the time fairly equally.

The Buccaneers have suffered a host of injuries to their backline.

“Three of the four starters are hurt,” Polewka said. “I would love to be able to play a sweeper and stopper, but we have to play four-across in the back.”

And the Bucs are using five regulars to fit the four defensive back positions. All five are underclassmen.

Junior Leo Salomone is the player with the most amount of experience, having been a starter for the last two seasons. Junior Isaiah Mosquera is the other center back.

“If we play with our backs to the wall, we could have had a sweeper and stopper,” Polewka said of the more popular positioning.

The Bucs have three players who play outside back slots in juniors Gerber Coreas and Justin Vicuna and sophomore Josh Nodong.

The Buccaneers have two talented players at center midfield, namely senior Brendon Diaz and junior Ivan Garcia, who had two assists in a game last week.

“We like what we see in him,” Polewka said. “He’s made some nice passes.”

The senior Matheo Aragon and junior Adonys Aguirre are the outside midfielders.

“Aragon has crazy speed,” Polewka said. “He runs up and down the field like a thoroughbred.”

Up front, the Bucs use senior Jonathan Ruiz and junior Jonathan Villar. Ruiz was the team’s leading scorer a year ago, tallying six goals.

“Villar is a strong kid who is built like a linebacker,” Polewka said. “He opens up lanes for Ruiz.”

Off the bench, Polewka can look to junior Favio Moreno at forward, senior Mario Rodriguez and junior Nicolas Rios at midfield and freshman Eric Castillo at either midfield or defender.

Using Castillo has really intrigued Polewka.

“The kid understands the game,” Polewka said of Castillo. “He knows where to be. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
As for the rest of the season, who knows?

“I know a lot of the kids are disappointed and sort of dejected,” Polewka said. “I knew this was going to be an uphill battle this year. But we have some games upcoming that we will be more competitive. We’re going to try to get a few more wins to get into the state tournament (the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III). We’re behind the 8-ball a little bit now, but I think better days are ahead.”
It only can get better from here.




The Belleville boys’ soccer team is trying to recover from a 1-6 start to the new season. Front row, from left, are Nicolas Rios, Gerber Coreas, Isaiah Mosquera and Charles Chabla. Back row, from left, are head coach Gary Polewka, Leo Salomone, Jason Penaloza, Logan Kutlu, Paul Almasri and Joshua Nodong. 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.”