With perhaps the youngest roster he’s had in his 12 years as Nutley’s head girls soccer coach, Mike DiPiano knew the Maroon Raiders would endure plenty of early growing pains.
“Two years ago, we graduated 11 seniors, last year we graduated 10 seniors. So 21 seniors in two years. It’s a three-year rebuild and it’s not easy,” DiPiano said. “These girls are working really, really hard with a tough schedule where we play four Top 20 teams.”
This past week saw the young Raiders rewarded for their work with victories over Super Essex Conference Liberty Division foes Science Park and Caldwell.
“It was great to have thisweek,” said DiPiano, whose team is now 2-7 following Friday’s loss to Cedar Grove. “We did need it and it was positive for them.
“They grow every game. We’re not upset with the results (so far) because they fight everyday and they’re starting to put together some good results.”
Helping ease the transition for a roster that relies upon four freshmen and seven sophomores are a pair of veteran goalkeepers in senior Ellie DeSantis and junior Breele Robson.
“They’re both very good goalies and we’re lucky to have both of them,” said DiPiano.
“They’ve been under a lot of pressure because some of these teams are a little better than us, but these two have given us everything that they have.”
On defense, seniors Bryanna Martins and Lindsey Guzman start in the center after sharing a spot in previous seasons. At the outside back spots as sophomore Daniela Gagliardo and junior Danielle Goode.
Senior Abby Ruffino and freshman Sophia McMullen also see extensive time on the backline as Nutley continue to mix and match in front of the goal.
At the cornerstone of everything the Maroon Raiders do is junior center midfielder Brooke Yero, a three-year starter.
“Everything we do goes through Brooke Yero. She’s our workhorse. We go forward through her,” said DiPiano, comparing her to current assistant coach and former four-year starter Emily DeAngelo. “Wherever the ball is, she’s around. She’s involved in everything we do offensively. When we have to defend, she’s causing mayhem and mistakes. We go through her.”
Senior Morgan Dolaghan is another veteran presence on a young midfield. Sophomores Rosa Harrington and Meya Ranges have seen extensive playing time as well as freshmen Thea DeFabbio and Skylar Florie.
While DiPiano is high on all four freshmen in the lineup, the one that has gotten off to the best start is forward Isa Harrington, who has three goals and an assist.
“She has the ability to beat a defender one-on-one. She has the ability to score from anywhere on the field,” DiPiano said. “She’s been a bright spot early on.”
Playing alongside Harrington is junior DJ Theodoulidou, who currently leads the team in scoring with three goals and two assists. Sophomore Makayla Albert serves as the backup up top.
Nutley enters perhaps its most challenging week of the season as it faced defending Essex County champion West Orange on Monday, then after a Wednesday tilt at Bloomfield, travels to perennial state power Montclair on Friday.
After that however, the schedule eases up for Nutley heading into the Essex County Tournament, which seeds on Tuesday. The Maroon Raiders have late season independent matchups with Hasbrouck Heights, Irvington, Belleville and Harrison before the state tournament.”
“If we can get better towards the end of the year and build for next season,
that’s what we’re striving for,” said DiPiano. “They come to work every day, it’s just a little bit of a struggle.”
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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.)