Passaic Valley sports recap: Girls’ volleyball to wrap up regular season on Oct. 30, then prepare for state tournament; All-County tennis accolades to Coronado-Luz, Trewhella and Nguyen; Giurecio, Binetti and Cronin earn All-County, in gymnastics; Football team’s playoff hopes dealt a blow after a loss to Paterson Eastside; Boys’ soccer team eliminated from NJSIAA Tournament; Cross county gears for sectionals on Nov. 9

Following a very good regular season, the Passaic Valley High girls’ volleyball team will begin its second season, on Nov. 4, with a state tournament game at Mount Olive, in Flanders, NJ. Game time is 4:15 p.m.

The Hornets had won 12 of its last 13 games, going into the regular season finale against the Passaic County Tournament champions, Wayne Valley, on Oct. 30. The team’s only setback during that run was to Valley, in the county title game, on Oct. 19, in Clifton. PV was 17-4 overall heading into the Oct. 30 match.

After losing in the county final, PV came back strong, defeating Lakeland, Fair Lawn and Wayne Hills in league matches.

Passaic Valley’s volleyball team is back in action on Nov. 4.

POST-SEASON HONORS: Congratulations to three members of the Passaic Valley High girls’ tennis team, who earned All-County accolades. Ella Coronado-Luz, who excelled at first singles, was named to the second team while Honorable Mention accolades were afforded to Liz Trewhella and Emme Nguyen.

The Hornets’ tennis team had a good season this fall.

PV also had a good season in gymnastics. Patricia Giuriceo was named to the All-Passaic County second team and Kayla Binetti and Kaitlyn Cronin earned Honorable Mention from the county coaches.

FOOTBALL: On the gridiron, the Hornets lost a crucial game at Paterson Eastside, on Oct. 25, 20-14.

PV fell to 4-4 with the loss and hurt its chances of qualifying for a playoff berth in North, Group 4. The team will close out the regular season on Nov. 1, at West Milford, as it seeks a winning season for the third time in coach Chet Parlavecchio’s fifth season, in his second tenure at the helm.

Passaic Valley football hopes to celebrate a victory in the regular season finale at West Milford, on Nov. 1.

Parlavecchio was 37-12 from 1994-1998 at PV and has a 20-24 mark from 2015-2019, including a 19-16 record from 2016-2019. He’s guided PV to the playoffs four times in his first nine seasons, led the ’96 squad to the sectional final, at Giants Stadium, and if the Hornets win on Nov. 1, would have guided PV to eight winning seasons and nine years of .500, or better, regular season records, since last year’s playoff team finished 4-4 in the regular season.

Versus Eastside, Passaic Valley had opened a 14-0 lead in the second quarter on a pair of scoring runs by Vincent Colletti, followed by successful point-after kicks from Gio Giovatto.

Gio Giovatto (28) has had a good season for Passaic Valley, in a number of assignments, on offense, defense and kicking.

But Eastside responded, thanks to a long kickoff return late in the first half, which set up a 20-yard scoring pass to make the score 14-6 by halftime.

The Ghosts recorded a safety in the third quarter, then tied the game at 14 on a short scoring run. In the fourth quarter, Eastside scored the game-winning touchdown.

Passaic Valley had entered the game as the final playoff team in North 4, but the loss moved the Hornets out of that slot. It was the first win, ever, for Eastside against PV in varsity football.

Colletti rushed for 66 yards and scored two touchdowns while quarterback Nick Vasta rushed for 88 yards and passed for another 72.

Brandon Timothy returned to the lineup after an injury and caught two passes for 50 yards.

On defense, Matt Ciarlo had 11 tackles to lead the Hornets while Antonio Bargiel had six tackles and Danny Hasbani finished with five.

BOYS SOCCER AND CROSS COUNTRY: The PV boys’ soccer team concluded its season with a 2-0 loss to Roxbury in the NJSIAA Tournament, and finished with a record of 8-9-1.

The Passaic Valley cross country team will compete at the state sectional championships, at Garret Mountain, on Nov. 9.

The PV cross country team will prepare for the state sectionals, on Nov. 9.

By mike051893

IHA’s Cat Thomas will play collegiate softball at Rowan University, starting next fall; ‘A Natural Born Leader’, according to Coach Fasano, Cat will pursue a career in medicine

Cat Thomas has always thought ahead. As a youngster, she knew where she wanted to attend high school.

Now, as a high school senior, she not only knows what college she’ll attend, but has also forged a path to her goal of being a Physician’s Assistant.

Thomas, a first baseman and pitcher at Immaculate Heart Academy, in Westwood, will attend Rowan University, beginning in the Fall of 2020, where she’ll continue playing softball while pursuing a degree in Biology.

Left to right, Ben Thomas, Steph, Cat, Ally and Mary Thomas, a true softball family.

“I’m so excited about my decision to attend Rowan,” said Thomas. “(Rowan head coach) Kim Wilson made my decision very comfortable. It’s a beautiful campus and the softball program is tremendous.

“I’m going to enjoy playing in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC). I know some of the players in the NJAC, having played with and against them for my club team, the NJ Heist.”

Thomas hopes to pitch and play first base on the collegiate level. In the classroom, she’ll work toward her undergraduate degree, in Biology, then go on to a training program as a Physician’s Assistant, for two years.

When she completes that training, Cat hopes to specialize in either dermatology or orthopedics.

Four years ago, attending IHA seemed like a natural for Catherine ‘Cat’ Thomas, the youngest of three daughters born to Mary and Ben Thomas.

Cat (right) with sisters Steph (center) and Ally, on June 2, 2014, the day Steph won her record-setting 113rd game as a high school pitcher,
Cat, now a high school senior at IHA.

Long before she ever played a high school softball game, Cat knew she wanted to attend the Westwood-based school. In the sixth grade, she was at IHA to see her sister, Steph, set the state record for career victories by a high school pitcher, with 113, while playing for the legendary head coach, Anthony LaRezza, on June 2, 2014.

Cat had watched both her sisters play high school softball, with eldest sister Ally starring at Pequannock High. Both Cat and Steph attended Lafayette College, where they earned their bachelor’s degree. Steph also played four years of collegiate softball at Lafayette.

On June 2, 2014, IHA softball coach Anthony LaRezza shared a light moment with Steph Thomas after Steph won her state record 113th game as a high school pitcher.

“We’ve always been really close,” said Cat, a well-spoken young woman of her relationship with her older sisters, as well as her parents. “My family has been very supportive of everything I’ve done, in softball and school.”

Like many in her class, Cat couldn’t wait to play softball for LaRezza. But on Feb. 4, 2016, when she was in the eighth grade, Anthony died suddenly. Assistant coach Diana Fasano was quickly named the head coach.

Cat and Steph, in 2017.

‘”Of course, I wanted to play for Anthony,” she said. “I had learned a lot from him, having seen my sister play for him. But playing for Coach Fasano (a one-tie player at IHA) has been a great experience. Anytime I need to speak with her, she’s always been there for me and everyone on the team. Playing for her has been a great experience.

“I want to win for Coach. She’s always loved the game, and she loves us.”

Cat, with her parents and sister Ally, in 2017, after an IHA victory.

On April 1, 2017, Thomas was an official member of the Blue Eagles and started at first base in the season opener against Paramus Catholic. She was a starter for the entire season and a part of IHA’s third straight state Non-Public A championship team, as well as on the first Tournament of Champions squad, as IHA defeated Lodi Immaculate in a exciting title game.

She’s been a regular in the lineup the past two years, as the Blue Eagles put together a combined record of 45-9, but missed out on a state title.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here,” said Thomas. “Being a part of this program has been great. It’s crazy, in that the four years have really gone by quickly. I can’t believe I’m a senior already.”

Fasano is very happy about Thomas’ college decision.

When IHA won a Non-Public A championship in 2017, Cat (right) helped pour the water bucket over Coach Fasano afterward.

“I am very excited for Cat, as she embarks on the next part of her academic and athletic career at Rowan,” said Fasano, who has a 106-14 record in four seasons as head coach at IHA, with two state championships and a TOC title. “I have watched her grow from a little girl to a natural-born leader on and off the field. I am excited for her to use her talents to succeed in every facet of her life going forward.”

Now that she’s made her college decision, Thomas is looking forward to the rest of her senior year.

Cat (second from right) with her IHA teammates, in 2017.

“I don’t want to rush it,” she said. “I know it flies by and I just want to enjoy my senior year. I’m glad I’ve made my decision. I know a lot of seniors kind of freak out, when they realize they haven’t made a decision and the school year is flying by. Deciding on a college has been ongoing since the fall of my junior year.

“Now, I just want to help IHA win another title. It would be nice to begin and end my high school career with a state championship.”

Cat was a part of a state championship team and Tournament of Champions winner in 2017.
By mike051893

Belleville High sports recap: Girls volleyball playing well, including a big win over Newark Academy, as state tourney nears; Boys soccer gains third seed in state sectional while girls soccer earns 12th seed; Football seeks a seventh win in a season for first time in 37 years, while keeping playoff hopes alive; Derek Leigh surpasses 1,000 yard rushing mark

With the fall sports season winding down, the NJSIAA Tournament takes center stage.

The Belleville High girls’ volleyball team has won five of its last seven games, heading into the state tournament, next week.

“We have been a little erratic this year,” said head coach John Spina. “We show signs of greatness, followed up with days we make a lot of errors and beat ourselves.  The last few weeks have been a scheduling nightmare for us.  We played seven matches in an eight-day period. Most of our games over the stretch were phenomenal. 

“We needed at least four wins over the stretch to qualify for the states. “

Belleville closed out the regular season with wins over Abundant Life, 2-0, Garfield, 2-1, and Orange, 2-0. After losses to Nutley and Newark Academy, the Bucs came back to defeat Newark Academy and Science Park, to finish 13-11 on the regular season.

“After we lost to Newark Academy, in a county tournament game, I reviewed the tape and challenged the girls to be flawless when we played them again a few days later,” said Spina. “We went back to Newark Academy  and played a near perfect match and beat them, 2-1. 

Belleville High volleyball hopes its team captains will continue to be a driving force in the program’s late-season success.

“It was the best I’ve seen us play all season.  Newark Academy is a (Super Essex Conference) American Division team that have beaten some of the best teams in Essex County.  They defeated Livingston 2-0 in the county quarterfinals. We knew if we could keep pressure on their best players, and serve and hit strategically, we could win. We also had to limit errors. 

“In three sets, we made four total errors which is unreal. It seemed like Fiorella Samaniego dug out every ball they crushed and Sasha Rosario and Lauryn Cook-Maisonet hit hard back at them and scored points. Our middles, Cybel Cobbinah and Angela Diaz had a few massive kills at the end of the third set to seal the deal. 

Alethea Cruz set a great game and also served several key aces.  Pamil Tamalessio and Gabriela Rojas also had great serving games,  coming off the bench to serve a few key aces and tough strategic serves.  Natalie Marquez also had a very strong defensive game, and made some key saves throughout the match. Denise Almario, a sophomore, stepped up big and had a bunch of stuff blocks that changed the way they were hitting at us.  

“We didn’t have Denise, in the first game with Newark Academy, and it proved to be the difference because it seemed like she was getting hands on every hard-hit ball and slowing them down. That allowed our defense to pick up more passes and run our offense back at them.  At the end of the day it was the best game we have played all year and it was extremely exciting to watch from a coaches perspective. That win secured us a spot in the state tournament.”

Belleville also had a good win against Science Park in the regular season finale.

“Science Park was 14-1, so we needed to keep our focus and we won a good match in straight sets,” said Spina. “If our girls continue to keep their energy levels high and their focus razor sharp, I could see them competing with anybody. I am proud of them for bouncing back. It wasn’t easy playing in the higher division this year, where every game was physically and mentally exhausting. Every single win and loss felt like it came down to the wire. But at the end of the day this is what prepares teams for success.”

BOYS SOCCER: The Bucs took a 10-5-1 record into its season finale, on Oct. 24, against Golda Och. Belleville will begin the state tournament, at home, versus Orange High, on Oct. 29, at 4 p.m. Belleville is seeded third in North 2, Group 3.

If the Bucs defeated Orange, it would host a quarterfinal game, against the winner of the Chatham-West Morris Central game, on Nov. 1.

GIRLS SOCCER: The BHS girls soccer team also qualified for the state tournament and will take a 7-12 record into the post season.

Coach Beth Ann Garrett’s team was scheduled to play at Millburn, in a North 2, Group 3 first round game, on Oct. 28, at 2 p.m. Millburn is the fifth seed while Belleville is seeded 12th.

FOOTBALL: The Belleville High football team won its sixth game, in a season, for the first time in 29 years when it defeated Barringer, 14-8, in overtime, on Oct. 18.

Coach Jermain Johnson’s team took a 6-1 record into a game, at home, against Orange, on Oct. 25, at 7 p.m.

Read more on Belleville’s season, so far, here.

If Belleville defeats Orange, it would have an outside chance, albeit slim, to qualify for the playoffs, in Group 4. Most likely, it would play in a NJSIAA cross over game on the second weekend in November.

Belleville coach Jermain Johnson (right) hopes to lead the 2019 Bucs to the most wins in a season since 1982, when David Grant (left) led Belleville to an 8-2 record.

Nevertheless, a seventh win against Orange, or Millburn, or in the cross over game, would give Belleville its best record since 1982.

Congratulations to Belleville’s Derek Leigh for surpassing the 1,000 yard rushing mark. Leigh is the first Belleville runner to reach the plateau in a season in nine years.

By mike051893

Following a huge OT win over Barringer, Belleville High football looks to add to promising 2019 season when it hosts Orange on Oct. 25; Here’s some facts and figures on team accomplishments so far

The 2019 high school football season has provided a glimpse at the past of a proud heritage, while holding hope for the future.

For example.

Belleville won its first-ever overtime game, on Oct. 18, when the Bucs defeated Barringer, 14-8, at Doc Ellis Field. Belleville had lost its first four OT games, beginning on Thanksgiving Day, 1997, at Nutley, followed by a loss to Bloomfield, in 2007 and Paramus, in 2008, and a triple overtime setback to Millburn in 2012, It was Belleville’s first win against Barringer since 2013. The Bucs and Blue Bears have split 16 games, dating back to 1981.

This year’s Belleville team hopes to match the 1982 Bucs (pictured) for wins in a season, with 8.

Belleville’s next opponent is Orange. The Bucs haven’t beaten the Tornadoes since 1975, when Belleville was still named the Bellboys. To be fair, the one-time regular rivals stopped playing each after the ’75 season and didn’t reunite until 2012. Orange won the next three meetings, from 2012-2014. After not playing from 2015-2017, the teams met last year, with Orange winning again.

Belleville’s sixth win of the 2019 season has assured the program will have a record above .500, regardless of how it does for the rest of the season, for the first time since 1990.

The 2019 Belleville Bucs, with head coach Jermain Johnson (back row, center) and his staff.

The 2007 and 2008 Bucs each finished 5-4 in the regular season, but lost its tenth game of the season to close with a 5-5 record. In ’07, it lost to Morris Knolls in Belleville’s last playoff appearance, to date, and in ’08 dropped a NJSIAA consolation game to Passaic Valley, then came back to beat Nutley on Thanksgiving Day.

The Bucs’ 6-1 start this season is the program’s best since 1984. The ’84 Bucs were decimated by injuries down the stretch and lost its final three games to finish 6-4.

Lenny Mendola guided the 1979 Bucs to an 8-2 record, including an epic win over Seton Hall Prep.

Belleville will seek a seventh win against Orange, or versus Millburn in the regular season finale, or in the NJSIAA cross-over game, for the first time since 1982. Should it run the table and win all three of its games, it would tie the 1980 squad, which finished 9-2, for wins in a season. Belleville teams in 1962, 1979, and 1982 each won eight games while the 1981 Bucs finished with seven victories.

When the ’79 Bucs became the first Belleville team to qualify for the NJSIAA playoffs, it met Union at Giants Stadium in front o a massive crowd.

Belleville will have a 1,000 yard rusher for the first time since 2010. Derek Leigh has already cleared the hurdle. The last Buc to do that was Trevor Torres. Prior to that, you have to go back to Mike Murphy, who rushed for over 1,000 in 1982 and 1983. Frank Fazzini was the first Buccaneer to do it, in 1980.

While the team is enjoying a good season, record wise, it’s unlikely to qualify for a playoff berth, in Group 4, and will most likely play a NJSIAA cross over game in early November, to finish out its season.

Mike Nicosia (20) was a star tailback for the Bellboys and Bucs, from 1977-1979.

On a nice note for 2020, and beyond, the rivalry with Nutley will be renewed, after a 5-year hiatus. The schools did meet in last year’s state cross over game, with Nutley winning an exciting 20-13 game.

By mike051893

Passaic Valley defeats Indian Hills, as Vasta (3 TD’s, 101 yds rushing), Giovatto, Colletti (151 yds) and Ciarlo star; Hornets visit Eastside on Oct. 25, as it seeks a winning record and continues playoff push

While it was a game that Passaic Valley was favored to win, the Hornets’ performance at home in the regular season finale against Indian Hills was exactly what head coach Chet Parlavechio was hoping for.

The Hornets defeated Indian Hills, 42-7, before a large Homecoming Day crowd, in Little Falls, on Oct. 19. PV improved to 4-3 on the season and will seek its third winning campaign in the last four years when it travels to Paterson Eastside for a 7 p.m. kickoff, on Oct. 25.

Parlavecchio was pleased with his team’s performance.

PV quarterback Dominick Meola hands off to Daniel Galindo during Saturday’s game in Little Falls. (Photos courtesy of Passaic Valley football)

“We did what we had to do,” said the coach. “I liked the way we went after it. We played hard, and when I got the chance to play some younger kids (in the second half), they gave it the same kind of effort. That’s what’s important in a game that you’re favored to win. You can’t go through the motions. The discipline and mental approach have to be there, and today, it was.”

Passaic Valley is hoping a late-season surge and a 6-3 record could elevate it to the NJISAA playoffs, in Group 4. Its first test on Friday, will be against a 3-3 Eastside squad.

“We can be a dangerous team come playoff time,” said Parlavecchio. “That I know, for sure. But we have to get there. Every game is important. We’re going to play a good team in Paterson Eastside on Friday, then have to finish the season at West Milford. Those will both be tough games. If we play to our capabilities, I think we can do well.”

Hornets were strong up front, on defense.

Passaic Valley got another good game from quarterback Nick Vasta, who rushed for 101 yards and three touchdowns. Vasta scored twice in the first quarter when PV opened a 14-0 lead.

Vincent Colletti led the Hornets’ rushing attack with 151 yards on the ground and scored a touchdown. Antonio Bargiel had a rushing touchdown in the second quarter and Matt Ciarlo, who was outstanding on defense, closed out the scoring early in the third quarter when he intercepted a pass and returned it 20 yards for a score.

Passaic Valley’s Ed Bangaree looks for a signal from the sideline.

Gio Giovatto was also a standout, including 6-for-6 in point-after kicks.

Ciarlo’s defensive performance was particularly noteworthy. The junior linebacker had 11 tackles, including three for losses. He had four pressures on the quarterback, defended two passes and had the interception for a score.

Brandon Timothy, Passaic Valley’s star tailback and kick returner, missed the game after hurting his knee in the Wayne Hills game on Oct. 12.

Matt Ciarlo (holding football) celebrates a third quarter touchdown with his teammates during an Oct. 19 game against Indian Hills. (Courtesy Krista Ciarlo)

“We’re hoping Brandon could be back by the Eastside game,” said Parlavecchio. “He’s making progress.”

Senior captain Kevin Douglass also had a good game on defense for PV, with five quarterback pressures.

By mike051893

‘Go Get ’em Son’!: Wayne Hills football team gathers, again, to honor the moms in annual Mother-Son Brunch

There was laughter, tears and a lot of love in the room at the annual Wayne Hills Football Mother-Son Brunch, held on Oct. 20, at the Brownstone, in Paterson.

The Mother-Son Brunch was begun decades ago by then head coach Chris Olsen, to honor the mothers, wives, sisters, aunts and grandmothers associated with the Wayne Hills football program.

Michael Casasanta gave a beautiful speech about his mother at the Mother-Son Brunch.

On Thanksgiving Eve, a Father-Son Beefsteak is held annually to recognize the fathers and male role models of the players.

Wayne Hills head coach Wayne Demikoff welcomed the large crowd at the Brownstone and noted the tremendous sacrifices made by the women who keep the players well fed and in good shape during the long grind that is a high school football season.

Debbie Petruccelli and her son, Michael. (Photo courtesy, Debbie Petruccelli.)

“Making sure that our kids give back to the community and all the community service that we do, and that they gain an appreciation to the people that help them and make them successful is something that is important for the rest of their lives,” said Demikoff. “Our program is about building kids that will become productive members of their communities, when they get older. I want to congratulate all of you parents for providing us with such great young men.”

Demikoff recognized what it takes to be a Wayne Hills football mother.

Some of the ladies who helped make this year’s Mother-Son Brunch a success. (Debbie Petruccelli)

“I think there are three types of moms. There’s a mom, there’s a football mom and a there’s a Wayne Hills football mom,” said Demikoff. “I’m convinced that your children get their toughness, get their motivation and their dedication from all of you. Because being a football mom is a lot more than making sure your son has laundry, or food. It’s about instilling in them the drive and commitment that it takes to be a football player at Wayne Hills.

“Your child has made the decision to be out in the heat, to be in the rain, the snow and the cold and they’re going to project their bodies into high-speed collisions.

“And as parents, you said ‘go get ’em son’.”

A mother’s love never fades, no matter how old you get.

“For all you kids in here, just understand,” said Demikoff. “Whether it’s your mom, your grandmother, your aunt, whoever is here with you today. They never stop watching over you and they never stop protecting you.

“My mom still does that stuff for me. Today, If I’m coughing, she’s all over me about going to the doctor. If it’s cold out, she’s on me about putting a coat on. Like all of you, she set the stage.”

The senior players gave some tremendous speeches. All expressed their love for their mothers. Many marveled at their mom’s inner strength. One player lauded his mother for defeating breast cancer not once, but twice.

Some did it with a smile, some laughed, some cried. When they finished their speech, they called their moms up and presented a rose.

“This has always been a very special day,” said Demikoff, who has been a part of the event since he came on board as an assistant coach, in 1999. “I really believe that being a part of this program will do so much for these kids, for the rest of their lives.

“And these ladies do so much for our program, all year long. It’s important they be recognized this way.”

By mike051893

‘Coach D Day’: Another beautiful afternoon in Nutley, with an inspirational pre-game Piro chat and a grand Raiders effort, as Steve DiGregorio leads the Raiders to a big win and is carried off the field

J.D. Vick’s words have always resonated.

“Steve is our head coach,” said the interim head coach, of Nutley High’s head football man, Steve DiGregorio. “When he’s here, we’re all better, as a staff and as a team. And he’s here, every day, whether we’re on the phone, or he’s at the games. He’s our leader.”

With Billy Searle holding the American flag, Nutley players and fans stand for the National Anthem during ‘Coach D Day’ on Oct. 19.

The Town of Nutley Commissioners had voted to name Oct. 19 ‘Coach D Day’, in honor of DiGregorio, who is battling cancer. DiGregorio looked quite fit when he arrived at the Oval for the game, and was clearly excited about the event, mainly because it meant a day to spend with his players and staff, on ‘Homecoming Day’.

DiGregorio in his most enjoyable position, coaching the Raiders.

Coach D Day was a huge success, as Nutley responded with a big win over Lincoln, 27-7, on a picture-perfect weather day at the Oval. The Raiders improved to 3-4 on the season, and snapped a 2-game losing streak. It will be home again this Saturday, Oct. 26, to play Snyder, of Jersey City, at 2 p.m., with a NJSIAA playoff berth a possibility.

DiGregorio was at the Oval some 2 ½ hours before kickoff. As he spoke to friends in the parking lot adjacent to the Oval, it was noted how healthy he looked.

Nutley athletic director Joe Piro hugs DiGregorio during the reading of the proclamation which named Oct. 19 ‘Coach D Day’ in Nutley.

“I’m feeling good,” said DiGregorio with a big smile. “My doctors are aggressive, they’re letting me do a lot and I’m feeling good because of it. I’m walking regularly, and hope to start lifting weights soon.”

While he’s receiving cancer treatments, DiGregorio wasn’t there to discuss that.

“(The heck) with that,” he said. “We have a big game today. I’m fortunate enough to work with a great staff and they’ve done a tremendous job with this team. J.D. and I talk every day. He’s a really good man and we’re always going over stuff.”

Steve, along with his wife Nadia and sons Aaron, Zach and Derek and Joe Piro during pre-game ceremonies.

We talked about Nutley’s 2010 team, which made a tremendous run to the state championship game at brand new MetLife Stadium.

“I had actually gone to a state championship game a few years earlier, between Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills (at the old Giants Stadium),” recalled DiGregorio. “And when I left that day, I said I wouldn’t go back for a championship game there, unless  we were in the game. Even though we lost in 2010, it was an incredible experience.”

As the Raiders concluded its pre-game drills and headed to the lockerroom for a final conversation before kickoff, Nutley athletic director Joe Piro invited me to visit.

As I walked in, I double checked with DiGregorio to make sure it was okay for me to be there. He smiled and said “You’re family. This is where you should be.”

Piro then gave a scintillating speech to the players.

A big win for Coach D and the Raiders, on Coach D Day.

“I never had an older brother,” said Piro, his voice cracking. “But Steve is that, for me. He may have been dealt a tough hand, but he’s doing his job and wants to be there for you.

“This is a man who drives an hour to work every day, and an hour home. He leaves in the morning, when it’s still dark and he gets home, when it’s dark again. His (professional) life is teaching and coaching at Nutley. He’s always been about his family, and you kids. And we’ve got his back.

“So when you guys go out and play this game, give it all you got. Empty the tank. Because I know this, if you do that, if you play with all your heart today, you’ll win. I have no doubt about that.”

Piro and DeGregorio are Nutley High graduates, albeit 10 years apart.

“Once a Raider, always a Raider,” said Piro. “Today was an emotional day. Steve is a great man. We don’t always agree, which is what makes a good working relationship. I love him with all my heart.”

While Piro spoke, DiGregorio’s three sons, Aaron, Zach and Derek sat and listened in the room. Once Piro finished and encouraged the team, the players cheered.

In typical DiGregorio fashion, as the players stood up to leave, he said, “Let’s go to work, men.”

And that was it. Because in Steve’s world, it’s never about him.

Once on the field, there was a pre-game ceremony, as the official proclamation of ‘Coach D Day’ was read to the crowd. There was also the introduction of the Homecoming Court, for the King and Queen.

When the whistle blew, the Raiders made a statement, with its best performance of the season. A win would put the team squarely in line for a NJSIAA playoff berth, in Group 3.

Nutley opened a 21-0 lead by halftime and went on to a 27-7 win. Gennaro Longobardi caught a pair of touchdown passes from Justin Lucia in the first half and ended up with three TD catches, overall. Lucia’s fourth touchdown pass was to John Coppola. Lucia also kicked a point after and ran for a 2-point conversion.

“I felt it in my bones,” Piro would say later. “There was no question we were going to play well today.”

As the game concluded, DiGregorio was lifted upon the shoulders of two Nutley linemen, Jordan DeFalco and Billy Searle, and carried off the field in an old-time football moment.

“That was really something,” said DiGregorio, who was his usual aggressive self on the sideline during the game, lending criticism when needed and support, as always. “Our team played well today, and that’s the most important thing. I’m so honored to have been a part of this day, but this is about our team, first and foremost.”

Most importantly, there was Steve’s wife, Nadia, and the couple’s sons, at the game. They are, first and foremost, Steve’s world.

Nadia took photos during the game and the couple’s sons stood on the sidelines, rooting on their dad’s team.

It wasn’t just another day.

It was Coach D Day.

And there will be many more to come.

By mike051893

Despite a tough overtime defeat, Wayne Hills found its ‘heartbeat’, at Ramapo; Patriots (4-3) return home for final 2 regular season game; Casasanta sets team record with 220 rushing yards; Daly, Imparato, Gerard, Brutofsky also excel; Massoud, Hayek and Peischl gave emotional talks about the Ramapo rivalry

The alumni had returned, because, after all, this was the week Wayne Hills would play Ramapo in varsity football.

It’s one of the best gridiron rivalries in New Jersey, and that reputation held its course on Oct. 18, when Ramapo remained undefeated with a scintillating 35-28 overtime win over Wayne Hills, in Franklin Lakes.

Wayne Hills leads the all-time series with Ramapo, which began in 1972, 30-22-1. Ramapo won at home, against Hills, for the first time since 2003. It was also the first time the Raiders had beaten the Patriots in consecutive seasons since 2003 and 2004.

Mike Casasanta had his best game in a Wayne Hills uniform, as he rushed for a team record 220 yards at quarterback, in a game at Ramapo.

Read about the rivalry here. Five Patriots and Raiders, who once starred in high school, went on the NFL.

Wayne Hills head coach Wayne Demikoff had promised his team it would find its heartbeat on the field with a hard-fought effort at Ramapo.

“You gave it your all,” Demikoff told a disappointed group of players after the game. “That’s all we, as coaches, can ask. You found your heartbeat tonight, and if you play like this the rest of the season, there’s no telling what you can do.”

Demikoff has been a part of the rivalry with Ramapo since 1999. In fact, the first game he coached in against the Raiders also went to overtime, as Hills won, 17-14. As a head coach, Demikoff is 3-3 against Ramapo, since 2014.

“Not every team has a rivalry like we have with Ramapo,” Demikoff reminded his players. “You’ll remember these games for the rest of your life. Give it all you have, and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish, both on the field, and in life.”

Wayne Hills captains, left to right, Michael Joyce, Jack Woodard, Christian Puntolillo and Nick Lucarello.

Early on, it looked like Ramapo (7-0) would dominate the game, as the Green Raiders opened a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter. But Wayne Hills (4-3) got its footing in the second quarter and cut the lead to 14-6 on a 5-yard run by Chris Brutofsky.

Ramapo responded on a long touchdown run, late in the first half, to extend its lead to 21-6, but Wayne Hills started to control the game when Dan Daly recovered a fumble, setting up a 32-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Michael Casasanta, which made it 21-13 at the half, after Jordan Thiel added the point-after.

“I thought we were starting to control the line of scrimmage late in the first half,” said Demikoff. “And when we tied it, we had some momentum. But you have to credit Ramapo, too. They’re undefeated for a reason.”

Joe Brunetti has become a big part of the Wayne Hills attack in 2019.

Hills tied it early in the third quarter on a 67-yard scoring run by Casasanta, who had a record-setting game for a Wayne Hills quarterback, rushing for 220 yards. The Patriots opted for a 2-point conversion and it was successful, as Casasanta found Daly in the end zone on a pass that tied it, 21-21.

Early in the fourth quarter, Ramapo regained the lead, 28-21, but Hills responded late in regulation and tied it with 30 seconds left, on a pass from Casasanta to Dean Imparato.

Demikoff considered going for two points and the win, but opted for the game-tying point-after, which Thiel converted, sending the contest into overtime.

Dan Gerard had another solid game for Wayne Hills in its game at Ramapo.

There, Ramapo regained the lead on the first play from scrimmage on a touchdown pass. Wayne Hills had a chance to tie it, but was unable to convert.

Casasanta’s 220 yards on the ground broke the Wayne Hills record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Jaaron Hayek had rushed for 167 in a win at Pascack Valley, in 2017. Casasanta also passed for 105 yards and Imparato accounted for 46 yards in receptions.

Brutofsky had another good game on the ground, with over 100 yards. The Patriots had over 400 yards of total offense while Ramapo exceeded 500 yards of offense.

On defense, Daly and Dan Gerard had 10 tackles each while Imparato had eight tackles.

A number of former Wayne Hills players had stopped by practice during the week and were in the pre-game lockerroom to encourage the current team. Hayek, a 2019 graduate, who is now playing at Villanova, reminded the players of the importance of playing Ramapo. He also recalled the late Lou Brandt, a former Hills player, who died shortly after last year’s Ramapo game, and Brandt’s love of Wayne Hills football.

Hayek’s teammate at Hills, Gabe Dellechiaie, was also on hand. Gabe is now playing at Montclair State.

Other former players also reminded the team of what it means to play in a rivalry of this magnitude, including Mike Massoud, a fullback and linebacker on the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Hills championship teams.

Assistant coach Mike Peischl, who quarterbacked the 2005 Patriots to an undefeated championship season, reminded the team that assistant coach, Anthony Giampapa, had just become a dad, earlier in the day, and that Anthony would be watching the game, from the hospital, on live stream, with his new son, also named Anthony, in tow.

“No one loves Wayne Hills football and this game more than Anthony,” said Peischl. “His son will be about 5 hours old, and Anthony will be explaining to him how big a game this is. That’s what this rivalry is all about.”

Sentiment aside, there’s another game scheduled this Friday.

“We have a big game coming up against Passaic Tech (on Oct. 25),” said Demikoff. “They’re a very good team. I think we found out something about ourselves tonight, even in defeat. We can use this, going forward, and have a really good end of the season.”

By mike051893

Belleville girls’ soccer program honors its seniors; Football team looks to rebound, at home, against Barringer; Boys soccer (10-4) plays well in close games with Livingston and West Orange; Girls volleyball improves to 11-9 with 3 straight wins

The Belleville High girls’ soccer team celebrated its seniors on a brisk night at Doc Ellis Field. A nice turnout of parents and friends cheered on the seniors in a pre-game ceremony, then watched the Bucs play well in an eventual 2-1 loss to Newark Academy.

Coach Beth Ann Garrett’s team took a 7-11 record into a game at Montclair Kimberley Academy, on Oct. 23, in the final regular game of the regular season, starting at 4 p.m. Belleville will then prepare for the NJSIAA Tournament.

Belleville and Newark Academy players line up for pre-game meeting with referee prior to kickoff. (Photo by Janelle McCann)

The Bucs played well against a strong Newark Academy team, which improved to 10-2-2 on the season with the win. Newark Academy, which had made an impressive run in the Essex County Tournament, scored twice in the first half. Belleville cut the lead in half on a goal by Gabriela Lopez.

Seniors celebrate a special night with teammates, family and friends. (Photo by Janelle McCann)

Belleville’s goalie, Jenny Romero, turned back 10 shots in a solid performance.

Belleville played a very good game against a tough Newark Academy team. Special thanks to Janelle McCann for the girls soccer photos.

FOOTBALL: The Bucs lost its first game of the 2019 season to Newark West Side, 32-0, on Oct. 12, in Newark.

Belleville took a 5-1 record into a big game with Barringer, on Oct. 18, at Doc Ellis Field. On Oct. 25, the team plays its final regular season home game, against Orange. Both home contests commence at 7 p.m.

“West Side was really good,” said Belleville head coach Jermain Johnson. “We’re not at that level yet, but we’re getting better. Our kids battled, and I liked the effort. Now, we have to prepare for a big game with Barringer.”

BOYS SOCCER: Belleville looked to get back on the winning track when it traveled to Newark Central, on Oct. 18. The Bucs are having a good season, with a 10-4 record. The team lost two close games to strong schools in Livingston and West Orange.

On Oct. 21, Belleville hosts North Star Academy, at Doc Ellis Field, beginning at 7 p.m. The regular season finale is on Oct. 24, at Golda Och, with a 4:30 p.m. kickoff. The Bucs will then prepare for the state tournament.

VOLLEYBALL: Belleville has been on a roll, with three straight wins, heading into a home game with Nutley, on Oct. 18, at 5:30 p.m.

The Bucs improved to 11-9 by defeating Abundant Life and Orange in straight sets while defeating Garfield in three sets. The team also lost a close match to a good Passaic Valley team, in three sets. Passaic Valley will be playing for a county championship on Oct. 19.

Belleville is also competing in the Essex County Tournament and was scheduled to play Newark Academy, on Oct. 19, in an 11 a.m. game. The Bucs are seeded 11th in the ECT. The team will return to Newark Academy, on Oct. 21 for a regular season game.

By mike051893

Getting ready for a championship game: Passaic Valley’s Shaw, Rodriguez, DiPasquale and Allmendinger reflect on ‘family’ approach, as team prepares for its biggest game in 5 years, in PCT volleyball final, on Oct. 19, vs. top-seeded Wayne Valley

When Passaic Valley last won a Passaic County Tournament championship in girls volleyball, the current seniors on the roster were in the seventh grade. It was 2014 when PV won a third straight county crown, defeating Clifton in the title game, in three tough sets.

The Hornets had defeated DePaul (2012), Wayne Valley (2013) and Clifton to attain a rare three-peat. But since that 2014 championship, the sledding had been difficult for the Hornets, until this year.

Passaic Valley will play in its first Passaic County Tournament volleyball final in five years on Oct. 19. (Cappello Photography)

Passaic Valley is back in the final, where the second-seeded Hornets take on top-seeded Wayne Valley, at Clifton High, on Oct. 19, starting at 5 p.m.

PV head coach Bill Robertazzi was also at the helm when the Hornets won those multiple championships. Back then, the team was led by a strong senior class in Taylor Humes, Alex Garcia, Jen Kostroski, Kendall Murphy, Tina Predojevic, Gaby Mattoon, Victoria Osorio and Edwina Alog, along with junior Carolyn Mamary and sophomore Ana Hernandez.

This year’s PV squad has put together a 14-3 record, including a 9-game winning wining streak heading into Saturday’s final. There’s a good mix of seniors and underclassmen on the ’19 squad.

Devyn DiPasquale is having a big season at Libero for the Hornets.

The players are excited about the chance to play in a championship game.

“It means a lot to be in the finals, because we have worked so hard this year as a team,” said junior middle Abigail Shaw. “Even though we were plagued by injuries, we pushed through and grew closer along the way. The bond on this team is really what kept us going and improving to get where we will be on Saturday night.”

Jadalynn Rodriguez, a senior setter, is ecstatic that she’ll play for a championship in her senior year.

The Hornets are looking forward to playing in a county final.

“It’s an amazing feeling to know we made it this far after so many years, said Rodriguez. “As a team, we have been working very hard and we have found that trusting each other, on and off the court, is very important. The bond that we have created is something that you wouldn’t find on another team.”

Devyn DiPasquale, the Hornets’ junior Libero, recalled the program’s past successes relative to this year’s run.

“It’s really cool to be in the finals this year,” said DiPasquale. “Our coaches always tell us stories about the excitement of the big games their teams have played in, in the past, and to have the chance to play in big games like that ourselves is awesome.

“We’ve been talking about being in the finals since the beginning of the season, and I think that there were a lot of points this season that we could’ve just given up and folded. I’m super proud of the team for making it this far.”

Kayla Allmendinger, a senior outside, has battled injuries in her career. She’s healthy this season and has been a key component to PV’s tremendous run.

“It feels amazing to make it to the county finals,” said Allmendinger. “We are the underdogs who made it to the top when most people didn’t think we could make it this far.

“I’m so grateful that I can share these moments with my team and couldn’t think of any other people I’d rather be sharing the court with than my volleyball family.”

By mike051893