For the 13th season in a row, the Kearny girls’ soccer team celebrated a Hudson County Tournament championship on Friday night, Oct. 21. But unlike many of those other previous titles, the Kardinals road to a County title came with a level of adversity others hadn’t experienced.
That adversity made this championship all the more rewarding for a group, which endured more than its fair share of injuries, as well as a shocking five-game losing streak, before celebrating at Red Bull Arena following its 2-0 win over an improved Bayonne team.
“We’ve had an up-and-down season, we had the five-game losing streak, but we knew that we had to come out, show who we were in this game,”senior captain Maci Covello said. “We knew that we had to own Hudson County for another year again. Our hard work just showed and we’re really proud of the work we’ve put in.”
Covello, a three-year starter, delivered the exclamation point to the championship victory with an insurance goal in the 62nd minute when she took a feed from fellow senior captain Paige Raefski.
The second goal gave Kearny the extra breathing room it needed. Its depth was once again tested with standout defender Julia Araujo and breakout midfielder Olivia Ovello both came off due to injury in the second half.
Playing without two key starters was merely just the latest example of fighting its way back.
“We’ve seen it all this year already,” head coach Michael Sylvia said. “We’ve played with injury, we’ve played big games. We’re in a position where every time we play a strong team, it makes us better, whether we win or whether we lose.
“They’re resilient. They’re very resilient and it makes when they come back healthy that much more special.”
Kearny withstood Bayonne’s early offensive pressure. But when the young Bees made a mistake on the defensive end, Gianna Charney was there to capitalize, scoring on a rebound to make it 1-0 in the 22nd minute.
The goal was the fifth of the tournament for Charney, a senior who has emerged as another threat on offense heading into the state tournament.
“We knew that if Gianna could get in good spots, with the havoc that Emily (Horvaht) and Paige create in the middle and on the right, that she could get goals,” said Sylvia. “I’m just so impressed with her.”
From there, the Kardinals were in control as Maci Covello, Araujo and freshmen Kaela Ciccino and Mason Gryckiewicz effectively shut down the Bees offense and limited the work for keeper Gabriela Matias.
The tone was further set in the midfield with Olivia Covello, Araxiel Cardenas-Saenz and Arianna Carvajal.
Raefski, who had two assists, led the all-senior front line of herself, Charney and Horvaht.
“It’s always a great game every time we play Bayonne,” Sylvia said. “We knew that it was going to be a battle. They played hard, we played hard and I’m glad that we were able to come out of here with the W.”
On Monday, Oct. 24, after publication, pairings for the NJSIAA State Tournament are set to be announced. Kearny is fifth in power points in the North 1, Group 4 section and is projected to play Fair Lawn in the first round on Wednesday.
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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.)