Nutley head coach Mike DiPiano really believes that last year’s girls’ soccer team was the one that was going to bring the school its first ever sectional title in girls soccer before a series of positive Covid tests forced the Maroon Raiders to forfeit minutes before their first round game.
And while 12 seniors from that 13-7 squad have graduated, DiPiano still believes that the talent is there to potentially challenge once again for that long sought-after goal.
“We have big shoes to fill because we graduated so many. But we have players here and the goal never changes,” said DiPiano, now in his 11th year as head coach. “We always want a sectional championship and to have that opportunity taken away last year, they really want to get it now.”
In order for Nutley to achieve that goal, it will be done with a style that emphasizes its strong defense. With three returning starters on the backline and a four-year starter at keeper in Catalena Robson, Nutley’s defense should be one of the best in a loaded Super Essex Conference American Division.
“You know what you have coming in and you have to go with what your strength is and I feel defensively and in goal, we’ll be strong,” DiPiano said.
Robson made 145 saves with eight shutouts a season ago. For good measure, behind her are two more goalkeepers that DiPiano feels are capable of starting for most teams in the area – Catalena’s younger sister Breele and junior Ellie DeSantis. Both DeSantis and the younger Robson are capable of playing the field as well.
Whoever is in goal will have the luxury of a veteran group of backs in front of them. Emma Chimento is a three-year starter at the stopper spot and Taylor Hughes enters her second season as the starting sweeper. Another returning defender, Cameron Coffaro, is a three-year starter.
“To have three girls that have played 50 games (of varsity soccer) is important,” said DiPiano. “They should be able to settle us down and give us some stability for the rest of the team.”
Adding to the depth is Bryanna Martins and Lindsey Guzman, who shared the fourth defensive spot a season ago and are talented enough to have DiPiano toying with the idea of playing some formations that will allow all five defenders to be on the field.
“We have five girls that can defend and we might play with five in the back at some points,” DiPiano said. “We did last year a little bit, we did tinker with that hybrid defense that we put in and it worked. I think because we return so many people we might stick with that and stick with our strength.”
The challenge will be replacing the 40 goals scored by girls lost to graduation. Sophomore Brooke Yero is the top returning goal scorer from last year with three and is being counted upon to take on a much bigger role in the midfield this season.
“She’s a dynamic player that can play with the ball at her feet,” DiPiano said about Yero, who started every game as a freshman. “She’s going to be asked to carry the load for us in the midfield.
“She played in the middle of the field last year, but she wasn’t the playmaker, but she has the ability to.”
Marcella Blancato, a track standout and the Raiders’ fastest player, is also a returning starter in the midfield. Emma Kirby and Abby Ruffino are also set to start in the midfield with seniors Isabella Ortega, Chimento and Martins all experience players in the midfield as well.
Junior Morgan Dolagahan is expected to be the starting forward and have the first crack at filling part of the void left by the graduation Mackenzie Albert who is now at Iona. Senior Mia DiPiano, is Nutley’s most versatile player and is sure to see time up top and well in the back depending on the matchups.
Nutley opens up the season on Sept. 8 against Newark Academy at 6:30 p.m. under the next lights at Tangora Field. The Maroon Raiders will once again face a daunting league schedule with road contests at West Orange, Montclair and Livingston, who are all likely to be ranked among the top 10-15 teams in the state this season.
The Raiders will also hold their annual Pink Out Game later in the season, though the date and opponent has yet to be decided. Each year, the team raises and donates on average a couple thousand dollars a year to Relay For Life as part of the event.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)