The impact Maci Covello brings every time she steps onto the court or field of play was undeniable over the course of her four years at Kearny High School. Her leadership, while less quantifiable, was equally rare and valuable to her teams.
Whether it was on the sidelines, in group huddles, or even a brief one-on-one during practice, Covello showed an uncommon leadership as an underclassmen, which made her an invaluable presence off the field as well as on it.
“Maci’s been a captain since she was a freshman,” Kearny girls’ soccer coach Michael Sylvia said. “The (captains) armband that you wear is just a token of our appreciation. She’s been a leader since the day she walked into our program. She’s always been able to find a way to teach, to lead, to support her teammates on the field as well as off the field since she came into the program.”
“I saw her leadership back when she was a freshman, even though I only had her for six days her freshman year (before Covid canceled the season),” added softball coach Jim Pickel. “She really believes in everything she says and people did respond to her.”
When play resumed, teammates would respond and Maci certainly would as well. Covello dominated in all three sports she played, earning Third Team, All-State honors in soccer and First Team, All-HCIAL recognition in both basketball and softball.
Covello’s play and leadership makes her The Jim Hague Female Observer Athlete of the Year for the 2022-2023 school season.
The annual award has been renamed in honor of Hague, an acclaimed sports writer and longtime Kearny resident, who passed away on June 11. As part of Hague’s 20-plus year tenure as The Observer’s sports writer, he and the newspaper started presenting one male and female athlete in the area as the Athlete of the Year in the early 2000s.
It’s an award that honors those who play multiple sports, which truly personifies Covello, who was arguably the area’s best player in all three of her sports.
“Where can you find an athlete these days who is the best player on all three teams they play on?” asked girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill. “She’s hands down the best tri-athlete I’ve ever come across. She’s so talented in all of her sports.”
Covello was offered the opportunity to play both soccer and basketball at the same time at multiple local Division III schools. Instead, Covello will focus solely on basketball after receiving a scholarship to play at Division II Felician University in Lodi.
“She could play any sport she wants to in college,” Sylvia said. “She’s got such a good head on her shoulders that it wasn’t a matter of this is my favorite sport or that is my favorite sport, it’s really a matter of what’s the right fit for her and how we could support.”
At Felician, Covello will study education to teach math in grades K-8. As her coaches can attest, Covello already has plenty of experience with teaching younger girls.
“She just has it in her nature to really just not only be a leader, but help in any way she can to see the younger kids (through),” Hill said. “She would be able to explain it so easily to the kids a couple of years younger than her. She loved to help others and the key was that she was so approachable. Kids aren’t afraid to approach Maci because she’s so willing to lend a hand and help make others better because she honestly enjoyed that.”
“My goal was just to try to bring the best out of anyone and everyone that was on the team, a part of the program,” Covello said. “Anyone that I encountered, I wanted to bring the best out of. When you see a teammate (who might be struggling) with confidence issues, you want to help them out, make them feel they’re safe and strong where they are.”
As the oldest of three girls, Covello had plenty of experience, serving as a leader and role model for younger sisters Olivia and Gianna. Maci also credits her father, Steven, a longtime high school football coach, who is currently an assistant at Clifton, as her “hype man” before games and mother Angelica as the “calming influence.”
In soccer, Covello primarily played on the back line, often matched up against a top offensive player in the state due to the Kardinals’ independent schedule. But when the time called for an offensive boost, Sylvia would move her up front, where her strength and ability to get her head on the ball was key during restarts.
For the season, Covello scored seven goals, including one in the Hudson County final vs. Bayonne at Red Bull Arena and another in the state tournament at Livingston.
She finished with 24 career goals.
Such versatility also helped her on the basketball court where Covello could play any of the five positions in a pinch. A majority of her time was in the paint where Covello averaged 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game to help lead Kearny to a 22-7 record and its first ever trip to the Hudson County semifinals. She recorded double-doubles in state tournament wins over Ridgewood and Columbia to give Kearny a berth in the sectional semifinals for the first time in many years.
Covello became just the 10th Kardinal to score 1,000 points when she reached the milestone on Feb. 2, a moment Covello called the most memorable of her high school career. She finished with 1,076 points and 731 rebounds.
“If you asked me junior year, (I thought) I was going to play Division I soccer,” Covello said. “Then, when senior year came, I was looking at Division III schools where I could pursue both soccer and basketball because I was torn with my love for both sports.”
Softball may have always been considered Covello’s third sport, but you wouldn’t have known it as she hit .493 with 12 home runs, 45 RBI and 35 runs scored for Kearny. Despite having her freshman year wiped out by Covid, Covello finished with 100 career hits in just 216 at-bats, adding 24 homers, 97 runs scored, 92 RBI and 21 doubles.
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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.)