It was a finish that largely went unnoticed, but despite not qualifying for the state tournament last year, Belleville’s girls soccer team closed the the season with six consecutive wins and some momentum heading into the offseason.
“It was big for them (to finish strong),” second year head coach Jennifer Alves said about her team, which also got a taste of what it’s like to face some of the area’s top teams in the Montclair State Summer League before the season. “They were obviously upset with not making states. Last season was a tough one for us being in the (Super Essex Conference) Liberty Division. We had a few close games, close losses. As the season went on, we finished with the winning streak and our returners really looked forward to the season and picking up where they left off.”
The start of the new season has seen those winning ways continue as the Buccaneers opened with four consecutive victories, defeating Golda Och, Linden, Newark Tech and McNair by a combined score of 18-7.
Combined with last year’s finish, Belleville has won 10 in a row, a dramatic turnaround after starting last season, 1-11.
“They’re enjoying the fact that we started off 4-0,” said Alves, not sure how many of her players are aware of the streak. “They’re riding on this season high and I think some are forgetting about how he finished last year.”
One part of the team that has remained intact since last season has been the backline. Senior sweeper Julia Rasczyk is a four-year starter and leads the unit that also features returning starters Ashley Rodriguez at stopper and Arianna Navarrette at left back.
At right back, junior Sheyla Solano-Torres has filled in and done a fine job for the injured Valery Chumbimue, who when she returns will give the Bucs four returning starters on the back line.
“Having that be the one stable part of our team has been a lifesaver for us just having those girls that are familiar with each other and playing together,” Alves said. “Julia is a four-year varsity starter and a captain. She holds down the back line. Those other girls have stepped into their role and been amazing.”
It has helped ease the transition to varsity soccer for sophomore Emely Bartra, a first-year starter at goalie.
While Bartra is starting to make a name for herself, another sophomore, Roslyn Almodovar, is starting to emerge as one of the better midfielders in Essex County.
Almodovar, who had 10 goals and nine assists as a freshman, looks poised to smash those marks this year, already totaling seven goals and four assists, highlighted by a four-goal outburst vs. Newark Tech.
For good measure, Almodovar is also a strong defender making her equally comfortable as a holding midfielder if the situation warrants it.
“She reads the game so well and if she’s realizing they’re on the attack more she tends to stay more defensive and attacks when she can,” said Alves. “She holds down my entire midfield. She’s just a phenomenal player and she really reads the game so well and knows exactly what to do, when to do it. She needs very little correcting and is just an overall great player.”
Junior Leila Estrada joins Almodovar in the center midfield. Junior Kayla Solano-Torres, Sheyla’s twin sister, is on the right wing, with Katherine Espinoza (three goals) currently on the left. Sheyla Solano-Torres will return to see extensive time on the outside when the Bucs are at full strength. In addition, Angela Chavez, Sam Jara and Eliana Vazquez see minutes at midfield.
Junior Chayla Murdock (two goals, one assist) is a returning starter at one forward sport. At the other forward has been freshman Janaina Chauca, who has proven to be an immediate game-changer.
Chauca scored two goals in her first game and has five with an assist so far this season.
“She hit the ground running and has made an impression,” said Alves. “The sky’s the limit on her because she’s a great player.”
Michaelle Portilla and Dahianny Abreu provided added depth at forward as well.
Belleville looks to extend its winning ways against SEC Colonial Division foes East Orange on Thursday and Orange on Saturday. After moving down in divisions this season, the Bucs have upped its independent schedule as future matchups with Nutley, Bloomfield, Newark East Side and Cedar Grove await in October.
Alves also hopes those later games help serve as preparation for a state tournament appearance, something they didn’t get to experience a year ago.
“My starting returning varsity players feel (unsatisfied) because last year we didn’t get a chance at a state tournament game,” Alves said. “That left a bitter taste in their mouths and they’re really looking forward to this season with the group that we have and really trying to make a run.”
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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.)