Kearny Thistle Paisley U19 girls make history, reach USYS National Presidents Cup final

From the moment Kearny Thistle’s George Nogueira put together the roster for the program’s Paisley Academy 19U Girls Team, he saw a group that wasn’t just capable of being special, but had the potential to do what no other Thistle team has accomplished.

“Deep down in my gut, I had a feeling we had something special,” said Nogueira of the group that first started training in mid-November following the conclusion of the high school soccer season. “As this team was put together, I had a hunch we had a special group.”

Those hunches formed in the chill of late fall proved prophetic in the sweltering summer heat.

In July, Paisley Academy’s 19U made it to the championship match of the US Youth Soccer National Presidents Cup in Wichita, Kansas. Despite rallying from a 1-0 deficit, Paisley’s quest for a national title came to an end in penalty kicks against Billings United Pink out of Montana.

Prior to that heartbreaking finale, Paisley stormed through the NJYS State Cup then in the Eastern Regionals, over an opening loss to win the regional crown. It marked the first girls team in the five-decade history of Kearny Thistle to qualify for the USYS Presidents Cup.

Upon returning home, the Paisley team, along with the Kearny Thistle Storm Black U16 Boys were honored during Kearny and Harrison’s Peruvian Day Parade.

“For Kearny Thistle, this is the furthest that any girls team has gone,” Nogueira said. “I always told them that this team was special and I wanted to make history with them. And we did. Obviously we came a little bit short of the big goal, but overall, there’s nothing to put our heads down about. These girls paved the way for future teams and set the bar.”

Headlining the talented roster was center midfielder Arancha Antunes, who will be playing at Manhattan College in the fall after an incredible four-year career at North Arlington where she posted 60 goals and 70 assists.

Antunes missed the regionals due to an ankle injury, but returned to full strength for the nationals and showed why she is a Division 1 talent.

“She’s an extension of us coaches. She’s a smart player, reads the game well, is crafty and can take anybody on 1-on-1,” Nogueira said. “She creates and you want a player of that level to create for everybody else and make it easier for everybody else and she does that. She’s a really special kid.”

Emerson Garrett, a sophomore at Verona and Kearny graduate Emily Horvaht also saw extensive time at center midfield, especially when Antunes was limited.

On the wings were a talented collection of outside midfielders with Verona juniors Isabelle Heimerle and Hayden Garrett, Eliza Haghighi (Mount St. Dominic), Kearny sophomore Nimah Devlin, Bayonne senior Emily Karlicki and North Plainfield graduate Sophia Chavez.

Horvaht, who scored 46 goals in a stellar career at Kearny and will play at Division 2 Nova Southeastern University in Florida, was the primary striker and thrived in the 9 Position.

“I’ve coached Emily since she was 10, 11 years old. I’ve seen her grow and mature as a player and a kid and she just has it all,” said Nogueira. “No one’s going to push her off the ball, she knows how to read the game and position herself. She’s another one I consider very special on the soccer field.”

North Arlington graduate and tri-captain Brenna Sullivan anchored Paisley’s defense as a center back. She and Secaucus graduate Daniela Peschetti was a formidable defensive tandem. When Peschetti, a Fairleigh Dickinson commit, went down with an injury, another North Arlington defender, senior Sophia Veloso, helped fill the void.

Ninette Martinez, a senior at Bayonne and a tri-captain started at one outside back spot along with Kearny senior Araxiel Cardenas. Kearny sophomore Izabella Szymanski and Sophia Hippe, a junior at Verona, round out the back line.

Goalkeeper responsibilities were shared by Kearny graduate Natalie Osorio, who will play basketball at Moravian, and Secaucus senior Mykailla Harper.

Sullivan also saw time as a holding midfielder along with Kearny junior Adrianna Rodriguez and Union High School graduate Yulianna Amador.

While making the Nationals was a new experience on the girls side, several members of Kearny Thistle’s Storm Black U16 boys team were used to the experience. Kearny Thistle won the national title the previous two years at the U14 and U15 levels, which featured many of this year’s U16 roster so expectations were understandably high.

This year’s group won the USYSM Eastern Regional title, something it didn’t do a season ago, to qualify for the nationals where it went 1-2 in group play.

In the NJYS State Cup, Storm Black overwhelmed its opposition by a 19-1 margin.

“It’s a good team, the roster’s talented, we’re athletic,” said Thistle Storm Black head coach Ronny Kolbinger. “We have competitive soccer players who want to be on the field. We thought we had a good chance and we proved it.”

North Arlington junior Jalal Qizilbash and Raphael Salazar, a sophomore at Science Park in Newark shared the goalkeeping responsibilities.

On defense, North Arlington juniors Justin Bunnell and Aidan Maleski, Kearny’s Hamza Ejjaki, as well as Kevin Chumbimune, Camilo Gutierrez Herrera and Raul Pineda Castillo comprised a backline that dominated as a unit.

Kearny’s Kevin McKenna, Belleville’s Wilberto Solorazano and Seosaph Whyte are the holding midfielders. Christopher Pereira from Harrison and Newark East Side’s Jason Carrillo were the center midfielders.

On the wings for Kearny Thistle Storm Black were Cyprian Niedbal of Lyndhurst, Jorge Carrion Ludena of Belleville and Matthew Sosa. Nicholas Stanzione of North Arlington and Aaron Ocana from Kearny served as the two strikers.

Ocana, Stanzione and Ejjaki were the team’s three captains.


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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 (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)