Wayne Hills Diary, Day 5: Demikoff challenges his team–Who Will Be The Next Chris Garrone? Athletic Trainer Scarpa has the ‘Fabulous Kicks’; Game Time just 24 hours away

Over the next 24 hours, I’ll be blogging updates on the Wayne Hills football team, as it prepares to play a HUGE game against arch rival Ramapo on Friday, Oct. 9, in Wayne. The 4-1 Patriots are seeking to get back on the winning track after losing a tough game on Oct. 2 to Pascack Valley, 23-20. Ramapo will be a tough assignment. The Raiders will come to town with a 3-1 mark. In it’s three victories, head coach Drew Gibbs’ team has averaged 45 points a game. The lone setback was a 32-28 loss to undefeated Old Tappan.

Days 1=4 of the Diary are up and posted on the blog, under the archives for October, 2015. Check them out, in case you haven’t tuned in yet.

THURSDAY, OCT. 8: The message has resonated all week. This was not the usual preparation for a Big North game. This has been Ramapo Week.

There’s a reason why Wayne Hills and Ramapo have put together a tremendous rivalry for over two decades. Both programs are solid and well coached. Championships are considered the goal in Franklin Lakes and Wayne. On more than one occasion, they’ve met for a state title.

There’s not rebuilding with these teams,  just reloading.

So when they meet on the gridiron , expect a battle, regardless of the records. And this year, the records are good. Hills is 4-1, Ramapo, 3-1.

Head coach Wayne Demikoff had been reminding his team all week long, that when it comes to a game like Ramapo, a player that perhaps wasn’t on the forefront, sometimes steps up and plays the game of his career.

“Last year, it was Chris Garrone,” said Demikoff, reminding his team that Garrone, a senior last fall, rushed for 234 yards on an incredible 43 carries, at Ramapo, as Hills won a thriller, 22-21. “Who will be this year’s Chris Garrone? Who steps up and plays the game of his life tomorrow?”

garroneChris Garrone, here carrying the ball, was a hard-nosed running back for Wayne Hills. He had a marvelous game against Ramapo in 2014 and graduated high school last spring.

Practice on the day before the game was good, but not great. The players were loose. The scout team did its share of taunting the starters during a two-minute drill and seemed to revel in stopping the first unit on a drive.

Assistant coach Pat Cosgrove is at practice, before he heads over to Franklin Lakes to see the Hills freshman play Ramapo in a battle of unbeatens. (For the record, Hills won a thriller, 27-26. Ironically, 10 years ago, the Hills varsity defeated Ramapo by the same score).

There was the usual fun among the coaches. Assistant coach Walt Johnson noticed a nice pair of sneakers on fellow assistant Erik Magrini, and decided it was to have some fun with Magrini, who is an expectant father.

“Nice shoes,” Johnson, the Czar of the special teams, said. “I hope that money didn’t go in place of taking care of the new baby?

“Have you started a college fund yet?

“I noticed you have a nice ($400.00) hair cut. Where’d that come from?”

Magrini takes it all in stride, reverting to his ‘Just here to save the program, Babe’, line.

As practice starts to wind down, ATHLETIC TRAINER Corinne Scarpa arrives, wearing an equally pair of nice ‘kicks’ (or sneakers), comparable to Magrini’s.

csAn example of Scarpa’s sneakers.

csScarpa on duty.

“Nike, World Cup,” said the even-keeled Scarpa of her snazzy footwear, as Magrini takes note of the shoes and nods in the affirmative.

Back to on-the-field stuff, the coaches had some good news in that junior tailback Luca Grave, who hurt his knee two weeks ago and missed last week’s game at Pascack Valley, has been practicing well and was listed as hopeful of playing against Ramapo.

Scarpa checks with Grave after practice, and when he says he feels good, she responds “fabulous”.

Line coach Anthony Vitale growls at me that there’s too much references to food, on his part, in this week’s blogs and not enough emphasis on his vast coaching skills. (To be completely candid, Vitale is as good as they get when it comes to coaching linemen).

Demikoff hurries off to Back to School Night at Wayne Hills High while most of the other coaches (Magrini, John Jacob, Vitale, Johnson and Mike Kelly), sit in the office and reminisce about coaching days gone by, with Johnson telling most of the stories.

They’re all pretty good accounts, and a nice way for the coaches to settle down, with just 24 hours left until kickoff.

“I think we’re ready,” said Jacob, the team’s offensive coordinator.

He then added, “At this point, we better be.”

Tick, tick, tick…


By mike051893

Wayne Hills Diary, Day 4: Intensity continues to amp, but team finds time to give back to local youth and Demikoff reviews film with parents

For the next two days, I’ll be blogging daily updates on the Wayne Hills football team, as it prepares to play a HUGE game against arch rival Ramapo on Friday, Oct. 9, in Wayne. The 4-1 Patriots are seeking to get back on the winning track after losing a tough game on Oct. 2 to Pascack Valley, 23-20. Ramapo will be a tough assignment. The Raiders will come to town with a 3-1 mark. In it’s three victories, head coach Drew Gibbs’ team has averaged 45 points a game. The lone setback was a 32-28 loss to undefeated Old Tappan.

Days 1, 2 and 3 of the Diary are up and posted on the blog, under the archives for October, 2015. Check them out, in case you haven’t tuned in yet.

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 7: After a longer-than-usual practice on Oct. 6, Wayne Hills head coach Wayne Demikoff didn’t want to wear down his team, with just two days left before the big game with Ramapo. Practice was a little over 2 1/2 hours, and while Demikoff wanted to keep the team somewhat fresh, the tempo of the practice required plenty of energy.

Assignments had to be done quickly, and players needed to run to, and from water breaks. Hitting was nominal. Instead, the focus was on finishing plays and preparing for Ramapo’s complicated offensive schemes.

hillsWayne Hills will rely on (left to right), Luca Catania, Sal Abbracciamento, Tom Skiba, Frank Petracco, Joe Kenny, Leyshawn Askew and Matt Varone, among others, in its game against Ramapo this Friday.

Demikoff’s stack of manilla cards are never far away, as he presented different offensive formations for the scout team to run against the starting defense.

“Good,” Demikoff would say. “Back in the huddle.”

That would continue throughout most of the drills. There would be the occasional wise crack from the head coach, mostly with some levity. Offensive coordinator John Jacob prided himself on being 10 minutes ahead in his work. During a drill, the Czar, Walt Johnson and lineman Leyshawn Askew talked about their favorite television show, ‘Friends’.

“One of my all time favorites,” said Johnson. “I couldn’t believe Leyshawn liked it, too. I didn’t think most of the kids ever watched that show.”

Friends tv show (2)Walt Johnson and Leyshawn Askew are both fans of the legendary TV show, ‘Friends’.

The staff was happy because the Hills sophomore team had won its game today against Roxbury. It’s been a good season for the program, with the freshman, sophomore and JV teams all unbeaten, so far, while the varsity had that one loss, last week, at Pascack Valley.

Defensive coordinator Jermain Johnson constantly reminded his players to talk on defense. “Read your keys,” he repeated on at least 10 occasions.

As practice wound down, Demikoff brought the team together.

“I’ve said it all week, it doesn’t get any bigger than this,” Demikoff reminded his team. “Normally, we condition after practice on Wednesday, but we’re playing Ramapo on Friday and I want your legs to be fresh. We’ve got everything in. Now, it’s a matter of refining it, and getting our mindset in the right place. Look around you. For the seniors, this could be your last home game. (The Patriots’ final three regular season games, after Friday’s game, are on the road).

“If we win, we’ll probably get a home playoff game. Like I’ve told you all along, we’re a 5-5 football team until we say otherwise. (5-5 was the team’s record the past two seasons).”

While practice was winding down, the Wayne Boys Club junior football team was getting ready to practice. A number of varsity players, including team captains Tom Skiba, Joe Kenny and Frank Petracco would spend time with the kids, working on drills, along with Demikoff.

After watching the youngsters practice, Demikoff hustles back to the school for the weekly film review of the previous week’s game with parents and fans. It’s a tradition started by former coach Chris Olsen, and Demikoff has continued it since he was named head coach in 2013.

It’s a long day for the coach, but, again, it’s Ramapo week. Perhaps assistant coach Joe Lane, a former Patriot standout from 2008-2011, put it best when the team came together after practice.

“Ramapo, baby,” Lane shouted.

That pretty much said it all.

By mike051893

Wayne Hills Diary, Day 3: LOOONNNGGG practice emphasizes need for physical and mental edge as Ramapo nears

For the next three days, I’ll be blogging daily updates on the Wayne Hills football team, as it prepares to play a HUGE game against arch rival Ramapo on Friday, Oct. 9, in Wayne. The 4-1 Patriots are seeking to get back on the winning track after losing a tough game on Oct. 2 to Pascack Valley, 23-20. Ramapo will be a tough assignment. The Raiders will come to town with a 3-1 mark. In it’s three victories, head coach Drew Gibbs’ team has averaged 45 points a game. The lone setback was a 32-28 loss to undefeated Old Tappan.

Days 1 and 2 are up and posted on the blog. Check them out, in case you haven’t tuned in yet.

TUESDAY, OCT. 6: It was, by far, one of the longest practices of the season. Following a meeting, the Patriots hit the field around 3:30 and weren’t off until nearly 7 p.m. The weather was picture perfect and as head coach Wayne Demikoff would say in his post-practice talk, there’s a lot of work to do.

After all, Ramapo is in town this Friday.

“This isn’t just any game,” Demikoff reminded his team. “Ramapo is coming here. Wayne Hills-Ramapo is as good as it gets when it comes to a high school football rivalry in New Jersey. This is your last (regular season) home game. If you guys want a few more home games next month (when the NJSIAA playoffs begin), you have to win on Friday night. It’s as simple as that. If not, we’re probably on the road for the playoffs.

“It’s up to you. Ramapo is good, they always are. We had a tough game with them last season (Hills won, 22-21, in Franklin Lakes). Do we rebound from Pascack Valley, or make the same mistakes we did last Friday? Again, it’s up to you.”

Special teams was a big focus in practice today.

sportMatt Sportelli is having a tremendous season for Wayne Hills, both as a lineman, as well as the team’s outstanding long-snapper on special teams. “He’s one of the best long snappers I’ve ever seen,” said the Czar, Walt Johnson, who tends not to extend compliments freely.

“Ramapo is always well prepared and have tremendous special team players,” said the ‘Czar’ of Wayne Hills special teams, Walt Johnson. “Everything we do has to be fast, and precise. No excuses, no mistakes. They’ll block point after attempts if we’re not ready. And they’ve got athletes who can make plays on specials. On the other hand, I think we do, too.”

Johnson has been coaching high school football for the better part of 30 years. And during a long practice, he always enjoys talking about some of the great players he’s seen, coached and coached against. “Craig Heyward may have been the best I’ve ever seen,” said Johnson of the one-time Passaic High legend known to most as ‘Ironhead’. “But we had a pretty good one here (at Hills) named Greg Olsen. Tommy Vigorito (a DePaul High legend who later played for the Miami Dolphins) was darn good. And Ramapo had Chris Hogan (who now plays wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills) and that kid was as good as they got.”

wjThe Czar, Walt Johnson and his special team players, including (left to right) Luca Catania, Brendan DeVera and Matt Sportelli.

Johnson has been around the Hills-Ramapo rivalry for a while. “We’ve had some good success against them since we started our (championship) run,” said Johnson. “But there was a time they had so many good athletes that we didn’t match up well with them, at all.”

Ramapo’s last win over Hills, in Wayne, came in 2004. Ironically, Hills would not lose again for nearly five years, running off the epic 55 game winning streak, that included five straight state championships. Hills avenged the 2004 regular season loss to Ramapo in the playoffs that season and are 9-1 against the Raiders since. The only loss in that 10-game run still sends shivers down the spines of the Hills coaches who are still on the current staff. It came in the 2009 NJSIAA sectional championship game at snowy Giants Stadium, when Ramapo won, 16-8, ending the five year run of state titles for the Patriots.

“Probably one of the toughest losses we ever had here,” said Demikoff.

There have been some epic games in the series, including the 2005 encounter, in Franklin Lakes, when Hills trailed, 26-7 at halftime before rallying to win, 27-26.

The coaches still have some time to have fun in practice, usually at the expense of each other. When offensive coordinator John Jacob asks if any of the stations were running behind, Demikoff noted that special teams went over by two minutes. Johnson, in mock horror, countered it was only a minute over, and if Demikoff wanted to fire him, that would be fine. (The two are always kidding each other and Johnson likes to say that he needs to ‘steal time’ in a typical practice for extra work on special teams).

Jacob, who has maybe the driest sense of humor on the staff, shoots back and says he’s owed a few extra minutes to run the offense, and Demikoff, a defensive guru, will say that defense wins championships. It’s back and forth, and keeps what could be a mundane practice up beat.

As the players trudge to the locker room after practice, assistant coaches Anthony Vitale and Mike Kelly are exchanging recepies for a good chicken dish, as well as tasty meatballs. Vitale loves a good chicken with papryka and lemon and was bragging about how his young daughter made him soup. The conversation is pretty in depth, and anyone listening was sure to be hungry.

Demikoff realizes the practice was long and says to his coaches that it won’t be as extended, on Wednesday. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some raised voices if the intensity level isn’t what is expected.

Again, Ramapo is coming to town…in just three days.


By mike051893

Wayne Hills Football Diary, Day 2: After meetings and practice, coaches gather late into the night, preparing for Ramapo

For the next four days, I’ll be blogging daily updates on the Wayne Hills football team, as it prepares to play a HUGE game against arch rival Ramapo on Friday, Oct. 9, in Wayne. The 4-1 Patriots are seeking to get back on the winning track after losing a tough game on Oct. 2 to Pascack Valley, 23-20. Ramapo will be a tough assignment. The Raiders will come to town with a 3-1 mark. In it’s three victories, head coach Drew Gibbs’ team has averaged 45 points a game. The lone setback was a 32-28 loss to undefeated Old Tappan.

MONDAY, OCT. 5: For a Wayne Hills football player, the thought of playing Ramapo generally amps up the intensity factor. The Wayne Hills alumni usually take part in the preparation, as well, with former players welcomed back to talk to the current team, either before or after practice.

Wayne Hills-Ramapo has produced some great games, including state championship finals. The last playoff game between the two was in 2009, when Ramapo defeated Hills in a driving snowstorm at the old Giants Stadium, 16-8. After Hills defeated Ramapo in a 2011 regular season game, 31-24, the two teams didn’t play in 2012 and 2013. The rivalry resumed last year, with Hills traveling to Franklin Lakes and winning a thriller, 22-21.

It is indeed Ramapo Week at Wayne Hills. The game has so much meaning that head coach Wayne Demikoff elected to have the traditional Senior Night ceremonies before the home opener in September, rather than hold it on Friday, before Ramapo. (This is Hills’ final regular season home game, which is when Senior Night is usually held).

The loss to Pascack Valley last Friday night was a tough one, but there’s little time now to dwell on it, past film review and correcting mistakes, in practice.

Demikoff sees me as practice is beginning and asks the usual question. “Hey Mike. What are you hearing out there?”

After a few minutes, practice begins. The players are in ‘uppers’ and the work for a little over two hours is more technique and special teams-oriented.

skibaWayne Hills will need a big effort from senior captain Tom Skiba, among others, in Friday’s game against Ramapo.

Mondays are a long night. Following practice, the coaches meet in Demikoff’s office for a night of film review and scheme talk. Demikoff sits at his desk while most of the staff sits at a large conference room table. Assistant coach Pat Cosgrove reviews Ramapo’s starters with Demikoff, giving height and weight for each player.

Freshman coach Chris Dowling is always the most-welcomed man of the night, as he arrives with two large boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as the Box ‘O Joe and various condiments. Gone are the days when then-assistant coach Jon Goldstein would have the Monday meetings catered, so most of the coaches bring their own dinner to eat while reviewing film.

The team’s trainer, Corinne Scarpa, peeks her head in to give Demikoff some injury updates. Paramount is the status of junior tailback Luca Grave, who hurt his knee 10 days ago and missed the game at Pascack Valley. Grave is making progress, and he’s hopeful of practicing during the week.

These meetings are generally 75% serious and 25% laughs, but with Ramapo the opponent, that percentage is up to 95-5.

Demikoff and offensive coordinator John Jacob are bantering back and forth on defensive alignments, along with defensive coordinator Jermain Johnson. The verbiage would make no sense to a lay person, but in this room, it’s as common as a Dick and Jane story book.

The doughnuts that Dowling brought are now being passed around, and assistant coach Erik Magrini, a former Patriot, is quite impressed. Assistant coach Anthony Vitale is very pleased with the french crullers.

While film is being reviewed, the various coordinators are in mini meetings with their staff, going over individual assignments. It’s organized chaos, with the occasional wise crack.

With the lights back on, Demikoff grills his assistants on different formations and how they’d handle it. There are three former head coaches on the staff, Jacob, Johnson and Magrini, as well as the legendary special teams guru, the Czar, Walt Johnson, who is back on the staff after a two-year retirement.

There’s plenty of experience in the room, but with that comes a lot of opinions. Among the pressing concerns is the fading white board, which has plenty of old marks and is beginning to fade.

Late in the meeting, Magrini gets a call about mentoring a student in driving. While Demikoff is figuring out a defense, there’s Magrini, asking whomever is on the phone whether the prospective student has ever driven before. Erik usually gets the brunt of jokes about his part-time work as a driving instructor.

Around 10 p.m., Demikoff looks up and says “okay, let’s get going. Tomorrow’s another day.”

Four days ’till Ramapo.



By mike051893

Wayne Hills Football Diary, Day 1: Film review of team’s first loss to Pascack Valley; Focus now on huge assignment in Ramapo

For the next five days, I’ll be blogging daily updates on the Wayne Hills football team, as it prepares to play a HUGE game against arch rival Ramapo on Friday, Oct. 9, in Wayne. The 4-1 Patriots are seeking to get back on the winning track after losing a tough game on Oct. 2 to Pascack Valley, 23-20. Ramapo will be a tough assignment. The Raiders will come to town with a 3-1 mark. In it’s three victories, head coach Drew Gibbs’ team has averaged 45 points a game. The lone setback was a 32-28 loss to undefeated Old Tappan.

So, with that said, Wayne Hills head coach Wayne Demikoff spent last Saturday, Oct. 3, reviewing film with his players. The tone had already been set.

Demikoff was not in the best of moods as he reviewed the film, prior to meeting with his players.

“This wasn’t about playing a close game with Pascack Valley,” said Demikoff as he downed a large cup of coffee. “It was about winning the game. We didn’t do it. And watching this film, the mistakes are annoying, but correctable.”

The Patriots were without one of its best players for the Pascack Valley game in junior tailback and defensive back, Luca Grave, but Grave’s absence never came up in post-game conversations. (Grave hurt his knee a week earlier. He’s hopeful of playing against Ramapo).

7c223d3046913d3c674724d6e4e8f446Wayne Demikoff is in his third season as head football coach at Wayne Hills, after 14 season as an assistant coach there. Demikoff is 14-11 as a head coach at Hills. The Patriots have won six of its last seven games, heading into this week’s game.

“We had plenty of chances to win,” said Demikoff. The coach will watch the film and growl, on occasion. “Are you kidding me?” he says to himself. “How did we miss that play?”

The players are in the weight room, getting a morning workout, before film starts around 11:30 a.m. Offensive coordinator John Jacob, defensive coordinator Jermain Johnson and line coach Anthony Vitale are going over film clips on various desktop computers, with each coach noticing something different in their assessments.

Jacob sees opportunities the offense missed on a messy, rainy night.

“Accountability,” he continually says while watching. Vitale, ever the technician, sees a missed block, or a player out of position. All of the mistakes are being reviewed, in advance of the players coming in for the meeting.

All the coaches agree on one thing. Senior lineman Matt Sportelli was outstanding in the game for Wayne Hills last Friday.

“He’s in on every play,” said Demikoff. “That kid never stops working.”

get-attachmentWayne Hills players are working hard toward adding another championship banner at the school. The program has won eight crowns, starting in 2002, continuing from 2004-2008 and then in 2010 and 2011.

When the players arrive, the mood is set quickly.

“You guys are just a little too loose today,” Demikoff says. “You lost last night. I don’t want t hear how it was a close game, or that you guys battled. We should have won, but Pascack Valley made a few more plays. That’s why they’re a championship team. They made the extra play, we didn’t.

“We don’t have moral victories here.”

Demikoff’s message in the lockerroom at Pascack Valley before kickoff a night earlier was that the Patriots aura for winning titles had probably ended in the 2012 playoffs in the same venue. (Pascack Valley defeated Hills, 20-11, in Hillsdale, ending a streak of eight straight appearances in the state sectional final). And if Wayne Hills was truly ‘back’ as a championship contender, it would return to the scene and win.

Film review on Saturday was critical, but the players take it the way a team with high aspirations should receive counsel. Often, Demikoff will stop the film and ask a player where he should have been lined up. The player responds with the assignment.

In the long run, the purpose of film work is to correct mistakes, for the players to see what they did wrong, so that when practice resumes the following Monday, they can adjust those errors.

“The film doesn’t lie,” Demikoff says on numerous occasions.

Jacob, who is often passionate in his review, oversees the offensive film while Demikoff and Johnson go over the defense. Long-time coach and former player Mike Kelly sits in the back of the film room, adding his perspective.

“Put your egos away and play for the team,” Jacob implores the players. “Do you know how good you can be if you do that? We didn’t even play well last Friday and you lost by three points to the number 11 team in the state. Can you imagine how good you’ll be when you play to the level you’re capable of??”

Vitale is running the film on the computer and he’ll often chime in with comments on different blocking schemes.

“Dude, where should you be?” he’ll ask a lineman.

There will be line talk, with comments like…

“Right shoulder.”

“Jam him.”

“That’s not how we practiced it.”

When the film work ended, Demikoff had a simple message.

“Our pass coverage has to get better,” he said. “You’re going to see a team on Friday that can throw the ball and score in a lot of ways. They’re really good. Either you’re ready to meet that challenge, or not. This is your last (regular season) home game (Hills’ last three regular season games are on the road, at Teaneck, Paramus and Wayne Valley).

“If you want some more home games, that comes in the playoffs, and if you want that, then this Friday is as big as it gets.”

The players quietly exit around 1:45 p.m., but Demikoff and Johnson’s work is just beginning.

“Let’s go to my office,” Demikoff says to his D-Coordinator, as the two will start reviewing film of Ramapo.

Demikoff has another large cup of coffee in tow while Johnson has picked out his favorite doughnut, which he had eyed out earlier in the day.

It will be a short weekend, with practice on Monday that will begin a big week of preparation.






By mike051893

Belleville’s Guy was a Charismatic, and All-Essex player, in 2015

Belleville has had a marvelous history when it comes to high school softball. In the 1980s, the Bucs had one of the most dominant programs in Essex County, reaching the county finals nine times while winning three championships.

Former head coach Carl Corino won over 500 games there and at one time was the state’s all-time, winningest coach.

Belleville has also won a pair of state sectional championships, as well as numerous NNJIL crowns, and has had countless All-County and a number of All-State players, spanning four decades.

guy 2Guy was a tremendous defensive player for the Bucs, playing third base.

So, with that said, let’s give some kudos to Belleville’s senior Sarah Guy, who put together a solid four-year career as, first, a pitcher, then a third baseman for the Bucs. Having covered the program for the last 35 years, I can say, without hesitation, that Guy could have played on any of those great teams from the past.

guySarah hit a big homer in this game, at Caldwell, in the first round of the Essex County Tournament. (Softball photos courtesy of Jeanne Lombardi)

Belleville coach Chris Cantarella, who has been around some tremendous players at BHS, first as an assistant to Corino and, for the last 10 seasons as the head coach, also felt Guy was a unique player.

“Sarah is the one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached,” said Cantarella. “She’s so instinctive in every part of the game. She’s a throwback to a different era here. Sarah could have played on any of those great teams we had in the past.”

I always enjoy tagging a stud race horse name to a really good Essex County player, and in Sarah’s case, it’s Charismatic, named after a great horse and the perfect characterization of Guy’s energy and passion on the softball diamond.

 guy horseThe other Charismatic, which was Guy’s ‘stud’ name in softball.

Guy started her high school career in 2012 as Belleville’s starting pitcher. That year, the Bucs were in the Super Essex Conference’s American Division, playing against some of the better teams in North Jersey.

“Sarah stepped into a tough situation and played very well that season,” recalled Cantarella. “There was never an easy game. Livingston, Mount St. Dominic, Bloomfield, Nutley. You name it. And then she hurt her back the following year, which moved her to third base. She played tremendous defense and in her last two years, was outstanding at the plate.”

Guy had 40 hits and drove in 22 runs as a junior, then batted .537 this year, with 39 RBI and 40 runs scored.

She’ll be attending Montclair State University this fall, where Guy will continue playing softball, probably at third base.

“I appreciate how she played and all the things she did in the field,” said Cantarella. “Sarah was a special player in this program.”

By mike051893

Mount St. Dominic is the Essex Team of the Year; Oh Pitcher of the Year; Stacevicz Player of the Year; Anderson is Stud of the Year; Coach of the Year to CG’s Agnor and Harry Anderson was quite the fan

It was a very good year for Essex County softball in 2015. Here’s a continuing look back at the past season, with some accolades.

TEAM OF THE YEAR: Not much argument here. Mount St. Dominic put together a marvelous season, finishing 29-2. The Lions won a second straight Essex County Tournament championship, as well as a second straight Super Essex Conference, American Division crown.

What’s really scary is how good this team could be next year. The Lions lost just one senior, albeit a phenomenal player in ‘Real Quiet’, Ally Dabroski. But the core of the team should be intact, with Kelsey Oh, Marisa Jenkins, Helyna Bissell and Sarah Taffet, who were first team, All-SEC players in 2015, set to return.

The Mount lost just one game within New Jersey and were more than dominant in the Essex County Tournament, while being ranked the state’s top team for a good portion of the season.

A heartbreaking loss in the North Non-Public A semifinals will only make this team more determined to bring back a state championship trophy to their campus in 2016.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Clearly the best pitcher in Essex County and, based on her winning the prestigious Gatorade award, the top pitcher in New Jersey, Kelsey Oh of Mount St. Dominic put up staggering numbers. She led her team to a Triple Crown in 2014 (conference, county and state championship) and followed that with a marvelous year in ’15.

Good news for MSD, but imposing for the rest of the SEC, and beyond—Oh will be a junior next year.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: There were some real good ones, but in this estimation, Erin Stacevicz of Cedar Grove gets the nod. California Chrome, a senior shortstop and leadoff hitter led Cedar Grove to its first Group 1 championship in 36 years. Stacevicz, who will play at the University of Massachusetts this fall, combined raw speed with a disciplined bat to make the Panthers’ offense lethal, especially at the top of the lineup.

Stacevicz batted .562 and scored 47 runs as Cedar Grove finished 24-8.

IMG_20150606_143330_949~2~2Cedar Grove coach AJ Agnor celebrates a state championship along with (left to right) Erin Stacevicz, Liz Dillard and Autumn Spinella. Agnor was named the FMTC Essex Coach of the Year while Stacevicz is our Player of the Year.

STUD OF THE YEAR: Nutley’s Carly Anderson used the Spectacular Bid moniker quite well during a four-year career for the Raiders. Anderson guided Nutley to a state sectional championship this year. After battling an injury in 2014 which limited her pitching, Anderson was at full strength this year. As a leadoff batter, she was incredible and in the circle, unflappable.

Anderson will be attending Rowan University this fall, where she’ll continue to play softball. A winner in every aspect possible, she was, CLEARLY, an All-State caliber player in 2015. No ifs, ands, or buts.

She’s the real deal, having been a part of state championship teams for basketball and softball this year at Nutley.

ca4Nutley’s Carly Anderson and the other Spectacular Bid.

1124515785ESSEX COACH OF THE YEAR: In just his first season, AJ Agnor guided Cedar Grove to a Group 1 championship and 24-8 record. Agnor’s low-keyed personality seemed to fit the Panthers well. Cedar Grove mixed youth and experience into a tremendous post-season run.

The Panthers have enjoyed tremendous success over the past four decades behind the coaching of Ray VanDerMay and Rob Stern and now Agnor can put his name in a lofty place within the annals of a great softball program.

FAN OF THE YEAR: Okay, I admit it, I’m partial here. There are so many wonderful fans in Essex County softball, some of which are parents, while others are big fans of softball, in general.

Harry Anderson was one of my favorite fans over the past four years. As fun-loving and as hard-working a man as they come, Harry would never miss the chance to  see his daughter, Carly Anderson, play softball.

He would take his usual spot in the outfield and enjoy every minute of watching his daughter play. He never questioned a coaching move, or was critical of a result, good, or bad. Harry just wanted to see the kids enjoy themselves, while playing the game he’s loved for a lifetime.

Harry Anderson can be described simply as this.

He’s a man.

He works long hours to provide for his family. When his daughter decided on what college she’d attend this fall (it will be Rowan University), the smile on his face extended a country mile.

Harry and his wife, Christy, signified all that’s right when it came to being supporting of their daughter, and watching her learn the rigors of competition.

Harry never asked for accolades, he does what is expected of a devoted husband and father. I can’t tell you how many phone calls we’d share about a game, or a specific team, and he’d rattle off statistics about numerous players and coaches in the state. He’s attended more than his share of summer softball games and traveled the circuit regularly, always being a positive influence.

Thanks, Harry, for doing it correctly, for remembering the game is for the kids, and to you and Christy for raising such a very nice young woman, in Carly.


1-Mount St. Dominic (29-2)

2-Cedar Grove (24-8)

3-Nutley (24-8)

4-West Essex (18-11)

5-Livingston (18-11)

6-Caldwell (22-7)

7-Verona (16-7)

8-Columbia (17-8)

9-Millburn (23-4)

10-(tie) Bloomfield (7-16), Newark Academy (8-16), Montclair Kimberley (9-14) and Belleville (18-8)


By mike051893

Lombardi’s performance in 2015 belongs on the ‘Mantle’ of outstanding efforts

Since she came on the scene as a freshman pitcher in 2012, Caldwell’s Cayla Lombardi has worn uniform No. 7.

While that’s always been a popular number, in general, Lombardi’s attachment to it goes far before she was born. Cayla’s grandfather, Carl Lombardi, was once an outstanding baseball player in the New York Yankees’ farm system.

In 1950, Carl, a catcher, played minor league ball with none other than Mickey Mantle, for the Yankees’ minor league affiliate, the Joliet Miners. The friendship established between Mantle and Carl would last for 45 years, before Mantle’s death in 1995.

Carl Lombardi would play three years in the Yankees minor league system. Carl’s son, also Carl, would marry the former Dr. Kathleen Caldwell, and the couple would have two children, Jake and his younger sister, Cayla.


Cayla was as intense a competitor as there was in 2015.

At an early age, Cayla would meet Mantle’s son, David. And throughout her young life, Cayla would learn the game of baseball from her beloved grandfather, whom she always called “Nookie”, as well as her dad.

cayla and David MantleA younger Cayla, here with David Mantle, son of the late Mickey Mantle. (Photos courtesy of Carl Lombardi)

“My grandfather and I were always very close,” recalled Cayla. “He always took care of me. Nookie died before I started high school. He was very special to me.”

Honoring her grandfather by wearing No. 7 was certainly easy for Lombardi, who went on to a spectacular high school career as Caldwell’s top pitcher.

She would lead the Chiefs to a pair of Super Essex Conference Liberty Division titles, including this past season, when Caldwell finished with an outstanding 22-7 mark.

Cayla was the winning pitcher in all of her team’s wins, as she helped guide the Chiefs to the state sectional semifinals.

caylaCayla in her familiar pitching rotation.

“It was a good year,” she said. “We had a really close-knit team and everyone got along. A good example was in our (state sectional quarterfinal win) against Ridgefield Park. They went ahead when one of their players homered off of me, and the place was really loud. We came back, with Christina Guarino hitting a homer, and it got even louder. It was a lot of back and forth, and I liked the way our team hung in there and found a way to win.”

Many who followed Lombardi’s high school career will recall an unfortunate incident in her sophomore year, when Cayla took a line drive off her head while pitching in a game. The injury kept her out of the lineup for the rest of that season.

It’s something Lombardi doesn’t recall to this day, but admits she had trepidation in returning for the 2014 season.

“It was something that I realized would probably never happen again,” Lombardi said. “You think of all the times a pitcher throws in a game and how often someone gets hit with a ball in the circle. It happened to me, and while I was ready to come back, I admit being a little nervous about it.”

With the support of a catcher’s-type mask, Lombardi was pitching effectively in 2014. (“The mask was really annoying at times,” she said).

And in the 2015 season, Lombardi had more strikeouts than what she recorded, combined, from 2012-2014. She finished with over 200 strikeouts in her career.

clCayla made the pink crocks popular, wearing them after games this season.

Lombardi’s coach, Mike Teshkoyan, couldn’t have been happier with Lombardi’s career.

“I don’t think most people realized how much Cayla had to overcome to be able to pitch this season,” Teshkoyan said. “She conquered odds that others would find insurmountable, and she did it with courage, dignity and grace while never once complaining or feeling sorry for herself.

“She came out for soccer again last fall and stuck it out until she was physically unable to continue, yet I knew she would do everything she could to reach her goal of finishing up her career on the field, surrounded by her teammates who loved playing with her.”

Teshkoyan also noted that Lombardi’s ability to play at full capabilities this season was important.

“Returning to our softball team wound up being the best thing for her because it gave her a renewed energy,” Teshkoyan said. “She felt like her old self, and it was heart warming seeing her in her element doing what she loved to do. It was easy to root for her and I had total faith that she would give her teammates everything she had and she wound up saving her best for last.”

Lombardi’s ability to pitch in close games and preserve leads for Caldwell this year was tremendous.

“She made me a better coach and I wanted to do my best for her,” said Teshkoyan, the winningest coach in Essex County history and among the top in victories, in state history. “Our dinner was very emotional and tears flowed knowing that this senior group was finished on the field, but they represented what Caldwell softball is all about, and I will miss her and her classmates very much. We won’t soon forget this exciting season and will talk about this group for years to come.”

Lombardi’s respect for Teshkoyan and his brother, assistant coach, Mark, was heartfelt.

“They’re both very good coaches and tremendous people, in general,” she said. “I love them both. They’re gentlemen.”

Cayla will be attending Seton Hall University this fall, where she will focus on a career in Nursing. While she doesn’t plan on trying out for the softball team there, the thought of playing club ball is appealing.

“I really enjoyed playing, and I’d like to continue playing club ball in college,” she said. “I can see myself coaching one day, too. You never know.”

It was a pleasure watching Cayla pitch for the past four years, and I’d like to wish her all the best in the next stage of her career. She’ll always be No. 7 to me.

By mike051893

Super Essex Coach of the Year: Winning softball has become a ‘Daily’ occurrence at Livingston

Livingston’s 18-11 season in 2015 was a story of a young team starting to come of age. The Lancers won two games in the Essex County Tournament, including a win over an eventual state champion, as well as a pair of victories in the NJSIAA Tournament.

Head coach Jason Daily has been at the helm since 2001. And while he’s coached some tremendous teams to county and state sectional titles over the years (Daily has won three county titles and two state sectional crowns), his work this year with the Lancers was noteworthy.

In a game at the Mount St. Dominic Invitational on April 25, Daily sent a quick message when he benched pretty much his entire starting lineup and replaced them with younger players who had little game experience, after feeling his starters weren’t playing hard enough.

best_70eb59715b999e4ef674_1044631_10201216813889944_325606993_nLivingston coach Jason Daily, here in 2012 with All-State players Kylie McLaughlin (left) and Jess Peslak, did a tremendous job with the Lancers this past season.

Livingston went on to win that game, against Delaware’s Red Lion Christian, impressively, 11-5. And while the starters watched, not one of them pouted. Every player was by the dugout fence, encouraging their teammates.

That game may have sent Livingston in the right direction, as the Lancers would win eight of its next 12 games.

Daily’s presence among the players is one of quiet intensity. Rarely does he yell, but he gets his point across succinctly. He’s patient, yet demanding, knowing full well what a player’s capability can, or should be.

Livingston will have to replace its battery next year, as pitcher Sami Passeri and catcher Marina Lombardi are set to graduate this month.

But the one constant which should keep Livingston in the hunt for championships in 2016 is Daily.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s the coach of the year, every year,” said West Essex coach Andrea Mondadori Llauget. “Jason does a tremendous job. His teams are always prepared and play the game the right way. We hadn’t beaten them in the last four years until this season, so it was gratifying for our kids to defeat a top-notch program. When we won the county semifinal against Nutley, Jason was the first one to congratulate me. We’ve always had a very good rivalry, but more importantly, Jason is a friend, and someone I can always turn to for advice.”


By mike051893

Softball Coach of the Year: IHA’s LaRezza molded young team into state champions

In the early stages of a scrimmage on a cold March day, in Nutley, Immaculate Heart Academy softball coach Anthony LaRezza looked over to some friends standing by the third base line.

“This could be a tough season for us,” LaRezza said. “Seriously, we’re really young. The kids try hard, but I’m not sure how far they’ll be capable of going this year.”

Fast forward three months, and LaRezza and his team stood on the field at Kean University, holding up yet another state championship trophy in the storied history of IHA softball. And while in other years, a championship may have been expected. this year’s team was a work-in-progress. Back-to-back losses in late April may have actually helped this team’s resolve, and following a 1-0 win over Notre Dame in the Non-Public A championship game, there was no question how good IHA had become.

CG1cJzvUkAAEeucImmaculate Heart Academy Coach Anthony LaRezza (back row, white tee-shirt) and his 2015 state championship team.

And the best may yet lie ahead.

The Eagles had no seniors on its roster in 2015, and as LaRezza told the jubilant group afterward, IHA will be coming back for more next year.

LaRezza’s coaching style has many facets. He laughs sometimes, gets mad on other occasions, throws the occasional clipboard up in the air, encourages his kids, when needed, tells stories that only a true historian could verify and has garnered the respect of his peers. He’s my choice as the state’s top softball coach in 2015.

“Anthony is an excellent coach, and it is years like this, with a young team, that truly show what a great coach he is,” said Nutley coach Luann Zullo. “It’s easy to move the chess pieces, but developing talent and getting a young group to mesh and believe in themselves and each other, and produce with the competitive schedule he plays, that’s the sign of a great coach.”

Livingston coach Jason Daily agreed.

“Anthony is a good man, a gentleman on, and off the field,” said Daily. “He is a tremendous coach that gets everything out of each player. He has a great rapport with his players, parents, fans, opposing coaches and umpires. Livingston has always enjoyed competing against IHA.”


Daily’s point about LaRezza’s rapport during a game, whether it’s with his own players, the umpires, or fans, shows how much he enjoys his work. His admiration for other coaches says a lot, too, about his own character. Quite often, he’ll tweet congratulations to the opposing team shortly after a game, whether IHA won, or lost. When his team lost its first game of the season to Butler, he was congratulating Butler on Twitter minutes after the game, as well as encouraging his own team to bounce back for its next game.

When Indian Hills stunned IHA in a classic 2014 Bergen County final, Indian Hills coach Joe Leicht immediately sought LaRezza to say congratulations on a great game, something which meant the world to LaRezza.

“If he was celebrating with his kids after that kind of game, that would be have been fine with me,” LaRezza said. “But he took a minute to come over, in the euphoria of a great moment for them, to say something to me. That’s not only a great coach, but a classy guy, too.”

A fun loving man, who enjoys the occasional trip to Rutt’s Hut, and can’t get enough trivia, whether it’s sports or politics, softball is indeed the fabric of his life.

His career record as a head coach is 338-51. He’s been at IHA since 2005 as the head coach after being an assistant there for many years.

indexCoach LaRezza never hesitates to enjoy the ‘Ripper’ at legendary Rutt’s Hut.


LaRezza has also worked hard to support the Coaches vs. Cancer games, and was asked to throw out the first pitch before a game this season.

And when the high school season ends, you’ll find LaRezza back on the field, coaching summer ball. This, along with being a husband and father, as well as a firefighter, defines a man who most coaches will say ‘gets it’, when it comes to understanding his role as a coach and mentor.

By mike051893