Nutley sends eight athletes to college

NUTLEY – When a school celebrates National Letter of Intent signing day, it usually is reserved for just a handful of student/athletes.

But that wasn’t the case this year at Nutley High School, where eight seniors got the chance to celebrate their special day together. It was an impressive array of athletic talent and academic prowess.

Three members of the Nutley softball program, namely Failyn Stoeckel, Lia DiMaio and Sydney Hess, all signed their letters on the same day. It’s astounding to think three girls from the same high school softball team could go on to play in college, but that’s what the Class of 2022 from Nutley softball can boast about.

Stoeckel, the standout pitcher, signed her letter to play at NCAA Division I Rider University. DiMaio, the speedy infielder, is headed to Georgian Court. Hess is headed to Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.

“I think it’s because we’re all really dedicated and push ourselves to the limit,” Hess said. “It’s really great to share this day with someone like Lia, who has been my closest friend since grammar school. We quickly had a nice connection with Failyn when she moved to Nutley. It means a lot to me to share the day like this.”

Hess will major in occupational therapy at Sacred Heart.

“Originally, I thought I was going to play soccer in college, but then I saw myself playing softball,” said Hess, a standout catcher. “It’s not a bad deal at all.”

Stoeckel, who will major in sports marketing and business marketing at Rider, said that she always envisioned taking part of a signing day celebration.

“It’s definitely the moment I always saw happening,” said Stoeckel, who earned Third Team All-State honors last year. “It was always a dream of mine. It really hasn’t sunk in yet that all three of us are going. Signing the letter makes me feel a little relieved that it’s official. It’s really cool that all three of us are here together for this. It gets me excited for the coming season.”

DiMaio will major in biology with the hope of becoming a forensic scientist in the future.

“It’s a great feeling to be with them today,” DiMaio said. “I consider them more like family. To be able to share this with my teammates is amazing.”

Two girls’ soccer players signed on to college. Natalie Rufino is headed to Montclair State to play soccer and major in exercise science. Mikayla Schoch is headed to John Jay to major in criminal justice and forensic science. The two have been best of friends since they were toddlers.

“We’re pretty much inseparable,” Rufino said. “She’s one of my closest friends. It’s just awesome to have a day like this. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think it’s pretty amazing. I think it’s great that it worked out so well for everybody.”

Schoch is amazed by the amount of athletes all going on to participate in athletics in college.

“It’s insanely impressive,” Schoch said. “We have a great athletic class. I was looking for a chance to play college soccer. This is a dream come true. It’s a great feeling.”

Rufino said that she was still disappointed that her soccer season ended because of a COVID-19 outbreak that forced both the Nutley football and girls’ soccer teams to forfeit out of their respective state tournaments.

“It still hurts,” Rufino said. “It would have been 10 times better if we had the chance to play. But I’m going to get the chance to keep playing the sport I love.”

Rufino will major in exercise science with the hope of being a physical therapist.

“I think being a patient made me realize what I wanted to do,” Rufino said. “Mikayla has been there for me through every up and every down. I think we got closer through soccer.”

Joe DeLanzo is a fine pitcher/hitter for the Maroon Raiders’ baseball team. He will fit in nicely with a Stony Brook program that already has former Nutley standout Josh O’Neill.

“It’s a dream come true for me,” DeLanzo said. “I’m going to get a great education and play for a great program. I always stay motivated to take my talents to the next level. It’s great to celebrate the day with my friends, with people I’ve known for a long time.”

DeLanzo said that he was also glad to get his college decision out of the way and he can now concentrate on baseball.

“I’m definitely more relaxed now,” DeLanzo said. “Stony Brook has been my dream school. I loved everything about it. I think this puts me in position to have a great senior year.”

DeLanzo said that he’s already in the batting cage and hitting the weight room in anticipation for the spring – and the years after. He will major in physical therapy at Stony Brook.

“I want to stay in sports somehow,” DeLanzo said.

Rocco Albanese and Matthew Pergola are teammates on the Nutley lacrosse team. Albanese is headed to Albertus Magnus, while Pergola is headed to Stevens Tech.

“I didn’t want to go far away,” Albanese said. “It’s a nice school in a nice college area. It’s a college town (New Haven, Connecticut). When I realized I was good enough to play college lacrosse, Albertus Magnus was a fine choice.”

Albanese said that he plans to major in finance at Albertus Magnus.

Pergola will major in engineering at Stevens, but he’s unsure of a specialty.

“It’s a great location for perfect student life,” Pergola said. “It’s close to New York. It was a dream of mine to play in college.”

Pergola had a great junior year, scoring 52 goals.

“I started playing in first grade because my older brother Ryan played,” Pergola said. “He’s the one who inspired me. It means a lot to me that Rocco is here. We have been friends and teammates since third grade. We have a good relationship and spent a lot of time together.”

The Nutley contingent is a major reason for the school to have a major sense of pride.

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.”