First in a series: 45 years later, looking back at a tremendous boys basketball season at Belleville High

It’s hard to believe, but 45 years have passed since the 1974-1975 boys basketball season at Belleville High.

Forty five years ago? Guess so. Gerald Ford was president, Vietnam was still a conflict in Southeast Asia, although the United States had pulled its troops, the Philadelphia Flyers were Stanley Cup champions, the Miami Dolphins were defending Super Bowl champions, the Oakland A’s were a dynasty in baseball and on the big screen, the ‘Exorcist’ was the scariest movie around.

Abdel Anderson would be the catalyst to a big basketball season at Belleville High, some 45 years ago.

There were rumors of a movie coming out the following summer, about a shark which terrorizes a town called Amity.

On television, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, MASH and the Mary Tyler Moore Show were among the highest ranked shows while Happy Days, a show about the 1950’s, was just coming out.

At Belleville High, in mid November, a new varsity basketball season was about to begin, and head coach Dan Grasso was looking forward to a good year.

At Belleville High, a winning season in basketball hadn’t happened in 15 years. The Big 10 Conference wasn’t kind to a town whose average player was 5’10” tall, especially when some of the athletic schools in the conference included a state power in East Orange, along with solid schools in Bloomfield, Irvington, Montclair and Orange.

While height wasn’t a big factor for most of Belleville’s basketball teams, there was some optimism about the ’74-75 season. Abdel Anderson, a 6’7″ power forward, was beginning his senior year, and major colleges were very interested.

Joe Dunn, a 6’2″ forward and Doug Jackson, also over six feet tall, would provide a strong front court while others like Alan Amiano, Michael Meagher, Mark Montagna, George Mobilio, Pat Hogan, Clyde Robinson and Ron Krych would provide depth, to go along with guards Bob Tosi, John Megna and Wayne Riche.

There was size and speed in the lineup, and a feeling that this could be the year that Belleville not only would have a winning record, but qualify for the Essex County Tournament, which was, back then, by invitation, only, for the top 16 teams in the county.

There were would be scrimmages at Memorial of West New York, which was coached by Grasso’s older brother, as well as a scrimmage against Hudson Catholic, which had two future NBA players on its roster in Mike O’Koren and Jim Spanarkel, who would play at North Carolina and Duke, respectively, before the NBA.

There was a final scrimmage that fall, against Lyndhurst, which had a young new coach named Jim Corino, a Belleville High alum, who was just starting out on a great coaching career.

Grasso knew that a tough pre-season slate of games would better prepare his players for the grind of the Big 10 Conference.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll look back at that season, which did produce some excellent results at Belleville High. I was attending Belleville High School back then and have always said that the season did have so many ebbs and flows, with a lot of crazy personalities that helped make that season, 45 years ago, so memorable.

The regular season schedule that year would begin with a home game, on Friday night, Dec. 13, 1974, against Garfield, before Big 10 games against Irvington, East Orange, Kearny and Bloomfield and then an out-of-conference game against Passaic to close out the year 1974.

The new year would start with a series of league games, against Nutley, Orange, Montclair, Bloomfield, Columbia, East Orange, Irvington, Nutley (again) and Kearny, all in January. In February, there would be a league game with Montclair, an independent contest against St. Joseph of West New York, followed by Big 10 games with Columbia and Orange, before playing St. Benedict’s to close out the regular season.

Looking forward to remembering that season and sharing those memories with you over the next few weeks.

By mike051893

All-Passaic County and Conference football honors to Wayne Hills’ Kuhn, Casasanta, Daly, Puntolillo, Grosjean and Lucarello while All-Conference accolades go to Oseback, Abida, Masten, Imperato, Brunetti, D’Argenio, Thiel, Woodard, Odatalla, Gerard, Gail, Brutofsky and Mirko

Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff has announced the names of a number of players who were awarded post-season accolades by the Passaic County coaches, as well as those coaches in the North Jersey Super Football Conference’s Freedom Red Division.

Wayne Hills finished 6-4 this season, qualified for the playoffs, and won the Freedom Red Division for the second straight season. The Patriots also won the conference title for the third time in the last four years, having won the Freedom White Division crown in 2016.

Wayne Demikoff addresses his team after a practice this season. Demikoff has been at the helm for six seasons now, with a 55-23 career record, two sectional championships and a Bowl game crown.

The All-Passaic County team, which consists of football schools in the county, was announced on Nov. 25.

Earning first team, All-County honors for the Patriots were Gabe Kuhn, Dan Daly, Mike Casasanta and Christian Puntolillo.

Second team, All-County for Wayne Hills went to Jake Grosjean and Nick Lucarello.

The conference coaches awarded their teams earlier this month, based on offense and defense while the county format recognized the top players, regardless of position.

Wayne Hills football players welcomed honorary team captain Zach Galasso during a home game this season.

First team, All-Conference accolades, on offense, went to Kuhn, Stanley Oseback, Casasanta, Steven Masten, Puntolillo and Jordan Thiel.

On defense, Lucarello, Grosjean, Daly, Noah Abida, Dean Imparato, Joe Brunetti and Ryan D’Argenio were named to the first team.

Second team, on offense, went to Jack Woodard and Chris Brutofsky while Sharif Odatalla and Dan Gerard were voted second team, All-Conference, on defense.

Honorable Mention was afforded to Mateo Mirko, on offense and Anthony Gail, on defense, for the Patriots.

By mike051893

DePaul wrestling begins new era as A.J. Mott is promoted to head coach

DePaul High alum A.J. Mott is ready to take over as head wrestling coach at his alma mater, after a long and successful run by Keith Karsen.

Mott, a 2010 graduate of DePaul, where he excelled for the wrestling program, led by Karsen, was an assistant coach for the Spartans the past four years.

Mott succeeds Karsen, who remains an educator at DePaul, but will now be head wrestling coach at The Pingry School.

A.J.Mott (seated right) with head coach Keith Karsen at a DePaul wrestling match. Mott now succeeds Karsen as the program’s top coach.

Read more on Karsen’s new challenge, here.

A native of Wayne, Mott was very excited about the opportunity to be head coach at DePaul.

“Keith did an incredible job here,” said Mott. “I’m happy for him, as he pursues a new coaching job. Replacing ‘The Guy’ is never easy, but I’m looking forward to it. They are big shoes to fill.

“I have a great coaching staff here in (returning assistant and DePaul graduate) Trevor (Melde) and Pat Gerish, who is now on board, as an assistant.”

Melde was a NJSIAA champion in 2007 at Delbarton and a state finalist for DePaul as a senior, in 2008. Gerish wrestled in high school at Newark Academy and had a tremendous collegiate career at the University of Maryland. Gerish’s younger brother, Jake, is expected to be on the DePaul squad this season.

Mott encourages a DePaul wrestler.

The transition from assistant to head coach was a quick one.

“I got a call from Coach (Joe) Lennon (DePaul’s athletic director) a few weeks ago, asking if I’d be interested in the head coaching job,” said Mott. “Keith was very supportive, as well, in the process and everything went smoothly.

“I know our returning wrestlers were surprised when they heard Keith was leaving, but there will be a familiar staff when we begin practice (on Nov. 25) so it should go well.”

DePaul had put together some marvelous seasons on the mat over the past 15 seasons, including eight straight state sectional crowns, four consecutive Non-Public B state championships and five district titles. Heading into this season, the team has won seven consecutive Passaic County Tournament championships.

Mott was a big part of that success, as a scholastic wrestler. Wrestling at 189, 171, then back at 189 pounds and eventually, 215, he won three District 4 championships, was a 2-time regional finalist and Region 1 champion in 2009.

He finished as high as sixth in the state at the NJSIAA Tournament, in Atlantic City, in 2010, at 215 pounds. He also finished third at the prestigious Beast of the East Tournament.  

Mott compiled 132-20 mark, setting the DePaul High record for most career wins, at the time. In addition, he was a 4-time Passaic County champion and finished third as a sophomore in the NHSCA Nationals. Mott also earned three letters for baseball, at DePaul.

After high school, Mott wrestled at Cumberland University, then went on to Grandview University, in Des Moines, Ia.

“Wrestling at Grandview made me much better,” said Mott. “Coach (Nick) Mitchell (Grandview’s head coach) taught me so much about team concept and the sport, overall.”

Mott was looking forward to the start of practice.

“We want to get the kids on the mat and work a few days before the Thanksgiving Day holiday,” said Mott. “Right now, our numbers are good, but I’ll have a better idea once we get a few days in.”

Among the returning wrestlers this year will be Connor O’Neill, a senior and Rutgers commit, along with Eddie Bierals. O’Neill was a Powerade champion last season and finished second in the state at 160 pounds in the NJSIAA Tournament.

“Both Connor and Eddie will be our most experienced wrestlers,” said Mott. “We lost a lot of hammers from last year’s team. There were nine seniors that we relied on in our lineup. But that’s part of the sport in high school and we’re looking forward to seeing which kids will step up into starting roles.”

Mott is also optimistic that Haley Perez, the first female wrestler in the DePaul program last winter will be ready to make a run toward a state championship in 2020. Female wrestling had a good debut as a varsity sport last season.

Haley Perez won gold at the Bloomfield Holiday Tournament in December, 2018.

The Spartans will open the season at the Beast of the East, on Dec. 21 and 22, then have a quick turnaround, with a trip to the Powerade Tournament, on Dec. 27 and 28, in Canonsburg, Pa. There is also the Tim Groves Memorial Tournament, at West Orange High, on New Year’s Eve.

“Absolutely, we’re ready to go,” said Mott. “It’s a busy start with the Beast, Powerade and then West Orange, but it will be our kids some really good work early on.”

By mike051893

Wayne’s Frank Petracco closes out a tremendous collegiate football career at Johns Hopkins University

Sept. 20, 2013.

It’s halftime in the locker room for the Wayne Hills High football team, and the Patriots were trailing arch rival Wayne Valley, 14-0, in game two of the regular season.

Frank, with coach Wayne Demikoff, in Dec. 2016.

In addition to being somewhat dominated in the first 24 minutes, Wayne Hills had a problem on its offensive line, as one of its starters had a leg injury and was doubtful to play in the second half.

First-year head coach Wayne Demikoff had a decision to make, and he yelled out “Frank. You ready?”

Frank has always shared great times with his parents and brothers. Here’s a photo from 2015.

Frank was sitting with the other sophomores, away from the immediate action of a frantic locker room. When he heard Demikoff call his name, there was no oral communication, just a clinched fist, and a big smile, which said that Frank was, indeed, ready.

That night was a ‘welcome to varsity football’ for sophomore Frank Petracco, who would play the entire second half and a short overtime, as Wayne Hills rallied to defeat the Indians, 17-14, at Hills.

The 2015 Patriots were a tight-knit bunch.

For the next three years, Petracco would be an anchor on the Wayne Hills line. And when he wasn’t playing football, he’d was a standout in the classroom.

The end result would be the opportunity to play football at a one of the premier colleges on the East Coast, Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.

Frank (second from left) was named one of five team captains at Wayne Hills, during the annual camp at East Stroudsburg, in the summer of 2015.

And as fast as that moment seemed six years ago, when he first got ‘the call’, Frank Petracco’s football career has now wound down.

And the 22 year-old is just fine with that.

Friendships after football is concluded has been a part of what makes Wayne Hills a special place for so many former players.

“It’s been great,” said Petracco via telephone last week, as Johns Hopkins prepared for its season finale, against neighboring Stevenson University, at the Centennial Mac Bowl Series, in Owings Mills, Md. “Coming to Johns Hopkins has been great, both in the classroom and the football field, for me. It’s everything I could have ever wanted.”

The second of three sons born to Stephanie and Frank Petracco, Frank is working on a double major, in Economics and International Studies. He’ll graduate on time, this coming May, and has law school In mind, hopefully in the fall of 2021.

Frank, after his final collegiate game, on Nov. 23, 2019, holding a championship Bowl trophy.

In the meantime, Frank, who got the opportunity to work in the office of New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, on Capitol Hill last year, hopes to continue that kind of work in 2020.

“I loved it,” said Petracco. “I had the chance to work on the Foreign Relations Committee. It was for six weeks, 10 hours a day, and I got the opportunity to learn about foreign policy.”

That always familiar No. 61, whether it be high school, or college.

Whether politics is a part of his future, or not, Frank does have some ambitious goals.

“I’d like to stay in the Baltimore/DC area,” he said. “I hope to go to law school here, too. I’m not sure what area of law I’d like to study, but I have some ideas.”

On the gridiron, Petracco’s play on the offensive line helped Johns Hopkins defeat Stevenson, 51-28, to wrap up an 8-3 season. He’s been playing regularly for the Blue Jays since his freshman year.

His parents have been regulars at his games, home, or away.

“They’ve always been there for me,” he said. “They never miss a game and I can’t thank them enough.”

Petracco’s memories of playing at Wayne Hills are good.

“They were great times,” he said. “Honestly, I think playing at Hills was harder than college. It really prepared me for the next level.”

After a few struggling seasons, the Patriots returned to form in Frank’s senior year, 2015, when the team was 9-3 and played for a state sectional championship, at MetLife Stadium.

Frank, second from right, after making his collegiate choice official, in February, 2016.

“That was a great run,” recalled Frank. “We started the season by playing in North Carolina and from there, had a good regular season. Then, in the playoffs, we went to Indian Hills and won (in the sectional semifinals). That whole experience, along with preparing for a state final, was surreal. That win over Indian Hills put us in MetLife, and I remember how excited we all were about going back there (after a 4-year hiatus). I really believe our team helped get the program back to where it belonged.”

While Petracco missed out on a state title in 2015, he is correct in that Wayne Hills’ success, with a record of 29-6 between 2016-2018, which included two state championships and a North Group 4 bowl title, was spurred on by what the ’15 squad had accomplished.

On Capitol Hill.

Demikoff agreed, too. After Hills had defeated Wayne Valley, 31-24, in the 2016 state final at MetLife, most of the Patriots gathered at a local eatery. Petracco also stopped by, and the first thing Demikoff said to him was how much he had wanted that title for last year’s team.

“Frank, Joey Kenny, Vinny LoVerde, Tom Skiba and so many others had really helped get us back, and I wish those guys could have experienced a finals win,” Demikoff said that evening. “I hope they know that this championship is for them, too.”

Three years later, Demikoff couldn’t be happier for Petracco’s success.

“Frank is a leader on and off the field,” said Demikoff. “He always competed at a high level on every play. His work ethic and toughness is always evident on and off the field. He’s just a great kid. I always believed he would be successful in anything he decided to do due to these traits. He was successful here, (then) at Hopkins, and will continue to be in the next facet of his life.”

By mike051893

Passaic Valley girls’ soccer program showed improvement, led by Hill, Leech, Victoria, LaRosa and Flores-Ortiz

It was a season of improvement for the Passaic Valley High girls’ soccer team, which finished 8-9 this season, including a season-ending win over Passaic County Tech.

Led by head coach Kathleen Berthold, the Hornets won six of its last nine games in the 2019 season.

There were a number of outstanding players, according to Berthold.

Taylor Hill, a junior, was one of the team’s leading players.

“Taylor came to preseason physically ready and eager to compete,” said Berthold. “Her hard work and positivity are contagious to the rest of the team.  She is, without fail, always trying to motivate her teammates to be the best they can be, or to go the extra mile.

The 2019 Hornets. Photo courtesy of Dotti Leech.

“Taylor returned to the midfield and controlled our left side of the field.  Her strong left foot combined with her speed allowed us to have a dangerous left side.  Taylor took the other half of the corner kicks, and was our go-to for our throw ins on the left.  Taylor improves each year and ended the season scoring five goals.  I continue to expect big things from Taylor next year, during her senior year.”

Madison Leech, a junior, did an excellent job in goal.

Passaic Valley did a tremendous job ‘kicking off’ Breast Cancer Awareness Month on Oct. 5.

“Madison took on a very big role this season, and stepped up to fulfill the position of goalie,” said Berthold. “Maddie is the type of player that will do whatever is best for the team without any questions asked.  She accepted and welcomed the role, and wore her goalie jersey with pride.

“Maddie’s athletic ability made a sure fit for the job. By the end of the season, she was managing the field and was able to take control.  Madison is always focused on being the best she can be, and with some more confidence and certainty she will be able to accomplish that for her senior season.  Maddie finished the season with 94 saves.”

A tremendous senior and two-time captain, Zuania Victoria was a stalwart for the PV soccer program.

Passaic Valley and Cedar Grove players pose for a photo before game on Oct. 5.

“Every year Zuania put on a hornet uniform, she had a huge offensive responsibility, and nothing changed this season,” said Berthold. “Zuania resumed her role as forward and proved she is a tremendous soccer player.  Her natural athletic ability, speed, and ball skills didn’t go unnoticed by any opponent or coach.   

“She is usually always man-marked by the other team, recognizing her attacking threat.  Zuania was able to create opportunities herself, utilizing her speed, and go-to goal and finish.  In addition, Zuania unselfishly assisted in her teammates scoring, setting up opportunities for them.  Without fail, after every game the opposing coach commented on #7.

“This was Zuania’s second year assuming the role of captain and she finished with a personal season-high of 27 goals.  She finished her soccer career at Passaic Valley with a total of 74 goals.  

“In addition to soccer, Zuania runs track and is a member of the Athletic Leadership Council. She plans on studying Special Education in college while continuing her soccer career at the next level. We wish her all the best and she will most definitely be missed. This year Zuania was selected for First-Team All-League and Second Team All-County.  

Brianna LaRosa, a sophomore, had a very good season in 2019.

“Brianna’s presence in the midfield is evident, and she takes complete control on the right side,” said Berthold. “The dangerous combination of Brianna’s speed, soft touch, and strong cross ball is an offensive threat for all opponents.  She is one of our core offensive members, and almost single-handedly beat her opponent down field, in each game.  

“Brianna shares the responsibility of taking corner kick for us, serving it perfectly right in front of the goal for her teammates to finish.  Last year Brianna scored 11 goals and this year she upped her number and finished with 15 goals this season.  Brianna was awarded with Honorable Mention All-League. “

Ariana Flores-Ortiz, another sophomore, excelled in the midfield.

“This is Ariana’s second year our as center midfielder,” said Berthold. “Her skill, touch on the ball, and field awareness allows her to excel in this position. Playing in the midfield demands a lot of Ariana, both offensively and defensively, and we look to her not only be the play-maker, but at times mark a key opponent.

“Due to her foot strength, Ariana takes all our free kicks.  Her aggressiveness and love for competition shines through her play and radiates to her teammates.  I will continue to have high expectations for Ariana for next season and I am confident she will exceed my expectations. Ariana finished the season with nine goals and was selected as Honorable Mention, All-Passaic County.   

PV had some impressive wins, including a 3-1 victory against Cedar Grove, when the program honored Breast Cancer Awareness Month, on Oct. 5.

Read more in that day, here.

By mike051893

CHAMPIONS ! In program’s 40th season, Glen Ridge boys’ soccer team wins first Group 1 state crown, defeating Bound Brook, in OT

A championship was won on the soccer field at Glen Ridge High, and the character of those who attained it spoke volumes, both in its play and after the game’s conclusion. 

The Ridgers’ boys’ soccer team edged Bound Brook, 2-1, in overtime, in the NJSIAA Group 1 championship game, on Nov. 17, at Kean University.

It was Glen Ridge’s first-ever state title in boys soccer, and came in the first season with a new head coach in Austin Alvarado. The program, which had won consecutive sectional titles in 2010 and 2011, had never been to a Group 1 final before. The boys soccer program at Glen Ridge began in 1980.

Trailing 1-0 in the second half, Glen Ridge tied it when Lucas Costa fielded a pass from Travis Burnett and drilled home a shot. It was the third straight game in the state tournament that Glen Ridge had fallen behind, only to capitalize with a tying goal and an eventual win.  

On Opening Day, 2019, former Glen Ridge head coach Stephen Reitberger was on hand to toss the ceremonial coin, as the Ridgers played West Orange.

“This time, we had to wait a while to tie it,” said Alvarado, noting Bound Brook led, 1-0, at halftime. “When we fell behind in the other two games, we tied it pretty quickly. But, again this was about creating opportunities and not panicking. And these kids did that very well.” 

The game remained tied until overtime, when the Ridgers’ aggressive defense contributed to a mistake near the Bound Brook net, which resulted in an ‘own goal’.

This photo captured the moment when Glen Ridge’s Gavin Robertson offered solace to a Bound Brook opponent with Drew Hiner (in background) after the Ridgers won the Group 1 championship, in overtime. Great photo by Aristide Economopoulos, NJ Advance Media.

In other words, the ball was inadvertently tipped into the Bound Brook goal by a member of the BB squad.  

While the Ridgers celebrated a big win, there was also compassion from the team, as team captains Gavin Robertson and Drew Hiner tried to console their opponent. 

“Watching our kids do that meant so much to me,” said Alvarado. “Seeing them win with class made me very proud.”

Logan Kotronis turned back four shots in goal as Glen Ridge finished the season 13-7-1. The team won its last six games, all in the NJSIAA Tournament, with the last three wins by 2-1 counts, after trailing, 1-0. 

Glen Ridge opened its season, at home, on Sept. 4. Here’s the team, walking from the high school, on Ridgewood Avenue, to Carteret Park.

“There was never any panic on the part of our kids,” said Alvarado after the win over Bound Brook, when asked about falling behind in each of the last three games. “It’s how we respond to adversity. I attributed it to the ‘Thunderbolts’. We play from the opening whistle to the final whistle.” 

Alvarado had succeeded long-time coach Stephen Reitberger as head coach this fall. Reitberger had guided the Ridgers since 1981, and had outstanding success, including back-to-back state sectional titles in 2010 and 2011. 

“Coach Reitberger has been a big part of this program for many years,” said Alvarado. “Our kids all respected him, and we’re glad he came to a lot of our games and supported us. He’s a wonderful guy.”

Read more about Reitbergers’ career as a coach and educator, here. 

Alvarado had focused for the last month of the season, on the state tournament. 

“Once we knew we couldn’t win a conference title, we locked into the county tournament, and after that, the states,” said Alvarado. “We got the top seed (in the North 2, Group 1 section) based on a really tough (Super Essex Conference) schedule. In some of those late league games, we tried some different things to prepare our kids for the states.” 

Read more about five players commenting on a memorable season, here.

Alvarado had enjoyed coaching success as an assistant at powerhouse West Orange High, where he also was a star player during his scholastic days. Ironically, the Ridgers opened the Alvarado era with a home game, against West Orange, and prevailed, 1-0, on Sept. 4.  

“That was a tremendous way for our kids to start the season,” said Alvarado. “But to be honest, all I was thinking about afterward was Seton Hall Prep (the next opponent) and then games against teams like Montclair, Nutley, Livingston and Montclair Kimberley.” 

Holding the state championship trophy, on three different occasions, has had a different meaning for Alvarado. In 2006, he was captain of a state champion team at West Orange High, and seven years later, was an assistant coach at West Orange when the Mountaineers won another Group 4 crown. Now, he’s done it as a head coach, at Glen Ridge. 

“This one was all about our kids,” said Alvarado. “There’s no greater feeling than seeing their faces when that final whistle blew.” 

By mike051893

After a tremendous career at DePaul Catholic, Keith Karsen off to a new challenge, as wrestling coach at the Pingry School

For nearly 15 years, Keith Karsen guided DePaul Catholic High School to prominence, on the state level, in wrestling.

Now, Karsen is off to a new coaching job, as the head coach at The Pingry School, in Martinsville, NJ.

Keith Karsen. (Photo courtesy of The Pingry School)

“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” said Karsen, who will remain as an educator at DePaul. “Obviously, DePaul is very special to me. It’s never easy to leave a place where there’s been a lot of success, but most importantly, the chance to work with some great kids, coaches and parents.”

Karsen and Joe Soreco, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, following the NJSIAA Tournament.

Karsen put together a 150-69 record at DePaul. He guided the Spartans to eight straight North Non-Public B sectional titles, from 2010-2017, as well as four straight state championships, in Non-Public B, from 2014-2017.

DePaul also led DePaul to six district championships, including five straight from 2013-2017.

Karsen, second from right, and Ricky Cabanillas celebrated a state championship in 2018.

Karsen would coach four state champion wrestlers in David McFadden (in 2014 and 2015), Brandon Kui (2016) and Ricky Cabanillas (2018). In addition, DePaul had nine state finalists during Karsen’s tenure and 24 state place winners. Twelve DePaul wrestlers went on to compete in college on the Division 1 level during Karsen’s tenure.

Karsen also took his DePaul wrestlers to the prestigious Beast of the East to start the regular season, and the Powerade Tournament, during the Christmas holidays.

While Karsen is leaving, the DePaul program will be in good shape, as assistant coach A.J. Mott will take over the top role.

“A.J. is going to do a great job,” said Karsen. “He and (2007 NJSIAA champion and current assistant coach) Trevor Melde will make the transition a smooth one.”

Ricky Cabanillas (center) was one of Karsen’s top wrestlers. He’s now a freshman at Brown University, along with his twin brother, Nicky.

A graduate of DePaul High, where he wrestled, Karsen went on to Duke University, and was captain of the wrestling team there, in 1991. A decade later, Karsen returned as a teacher at his alma mater, and four years after that, began his tenure as head wrestling coach.

Karsen and his wife, Maureen, have three children. Eldest daughter Kendra is a nurse at Beth Israel Hospital, middle son, Ryan, is a sophomore at the University of Alabama and youngest son, Reed, is a junior at DePaul Catholic.

Pingry’s director of athletics, Carter Abbott, expressed her happiness on Karsen’s appointment.

“We are so thrilled to bring a coach of Keith Karsen’s caliber to Pingry,” Abbott said in a press release. “His record of developing quality wrestlers speaks for itself. Our wrestlers can’t wait to work with him.”

Ironically, the last match Karsen coached at DePaul would be the 145-pound state final, between Ricky Cabanillas and Lucas Revano of Camden Catholic, last March, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City.

The two wrestlers went into overtime, before Revano won by fall in a tense bout. Despite the loss, Cabanillas was gracious in defeat and he and Revano showed true sportsmanship in their post-match handshake, in what was the final match of the evening.

“I was so impressed with Ricky’s performance and the way he handled himself after a tough loss,” said Karsen. “I saw a young man give it his all and conduct himself with class afterward. As a coach, you can’t ask for more than that.”

By mike051893

Next stop for Cedar Grove softball star Jules Cicala: Post University

As a freshman, she stepped behind the plate in perhaps the most famous venue in American sports, Jules Cicala might have been a 15-year-old high school freshman, but she was never intimidated, despite the view from home plate, to the pitcher’s mound.

Jules (right) and Mia Faieta, after a Cedar Grove victory last spring.

Waiting to throw a pitch to Cicala was Mia Faieta, a sophomore pitcher and teammate of Jules, at Cedar Grove High School. And while nearly 40,000 fans watched, including hundreds of family and friends in the stands at Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, on that June 10, 2017 evening, Cicala’s smile made it clear that she was ready for the moment.

Jules and Mia at Yankee Stadium, 2017,

Faieta, admittedly nervous, threw a perfect ceremonial first pitch at the Stadium. Once she squeezed the ball, Cicala popped up from behind the plate and ran to her batterymate. It was Mia’s night, as the New York Yankees had invited her to throw out the first pitch before a game with the Baltimore Orioles after she had struck out all 21 batters she faced in a state tournament game a few weeks earlier.

Friends for a long time, Jules and Gianna Kubu 9left) each made their college choices official on Nov. 13.

Fast forward three years and Cicala, now a high school senior, has made a major decision in her life. She will continue playing softball on the NCAA, Division 2 collegiate level, starting in September, 2020, at Post University, in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Jules made it official on Nov. 13, at Cedar Grove High School and was joined by teammate Gianna Kubu, who announced her college plans as well.

Read more about Kubu’s choice here:

Playing at the next level was something that Cicala relished.

Mia and Jules enjoyed a lot of great moments together.

“Post, for me, really felt like home,” said Cicala. “It was the feeling of ‘this is where I want to be’ and ‘this is where I am going to start the next chapter of my life.’ Every person I met, from the admissions office to students walking on campus, were smiling and welcoming.

‘I knew that I wanted to take my softball career to the next level and Coach Tracey (Post head coach Tracey Garofalo) helped make my decision easy. She is a fantastic coach, and I am so excited to be playing under her.”

Jules and Gianna, in their early softball days.

Cicala has gone from the precocious freshman with the perpetual smile to a mature young woman, with a tenacity for competition, along with an incredibly consistent bat. Yet, she still has that same smile, reflecting a happy person.

Cedar Grove head softball coach Nicole Velardi was pleased for Cicala and Kubu.

“They are both a vital part of keeping the program at a championship level,” said Velardi of Cicala and Kubu. “They have helped lead us to 75 wins over the past three seasons, along with three sectional titles, two Group 1 state championships, two league championships, one Essex County Tournament and 2 Tournament of Champions appearances.  

“Jules and Gianna are both talented players, dedicated students, loyal teammates and most of all, good people who I know will go on to become great women. But until then, we have a title to defend (in 2020).”

Jules, the daughter of Michelle and Phil Cicala, batted .349 last season with 30 hits, 12 doubles, four triples and 29 RBI.

Columbia and Cedar Grove players after a game.

Along the way Cicala was the main batterymate for one of the best pitchers in NJ high school history, in Faieta, who is now a freshman at St. John’s University.

Cicala will see a familiar face when she begins her studies at Post next fall.

Bridget Betley, here in 2016 at West Essex High, is currently playing at Post University.

“One of the factors that made my decision easy was Bridget Betley,” said Cicala of the former West Essex softball star, who is a junior at Post. “I remember playing against her my freshman year. At the time, I was scared of her, but now we have a great relationship. I am so excited to spend next year with her as a mentor, teammate, and best friend. I am so excited for the next four years at Post University.”

Cicala (back row, 3d from left) and her teammates before high school softball.

Jules’ mom, Michelle, was also pleased with her daughter’s choice.

“When we looked at other colleges, there wasn’t that excitement that came when we visited Post University,” said Michelle. “Everything seemed to click, from the coach to the facility. And to have a friend that you play travel ball with as a junior, at the school, definitely helps.

“The future is extremely bright for Jules, and we couldn’t be more proud of her.”

By mike051893

Cedar Grove’s Gianna Kubu will play D-1 softball at Hartford University, starting next fall, along with pre-med aspirations

Gianna Kubu’s prowess on the softball field was never more evident than a play she made in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions game, at Seton Hall University, last June 7.

Kubu, then a junior, was playing right field for her Cedar Grove High team. An errant throw down the first base line looked to open the flood gates for a quick start by Donovan Catholic, but Kubu was in the right place, backing up the play and her instincts kept further runs off the board.

As youngsters, Gianna Kubu (right) and Jules Cicala were close friends and teammates. They will both be attending college in the state of Connecticut this fall, with Jules attending Post University.

Cedar Grove completed a 27-5 season in 2019, which included a second Group 1 title in the past three years and third in the last five seasons. Kubu has been a part of a pair of Group 1 champions, as well as three straight state sectional championship teams.

Even as a little one, Gianna was a natural with the bat.

And now, as the personable young lady begins her senior year of high school, she’s made a big decision. Kubu, the daughter of Ginamaree and Joseph Kubu, will attend the University of Hartford, an NCAA Division 1 school, where she’ll play softball, starting next fall. Hartford University is located in West Hartford, Ct.

Gianna will pursue a degree in Biology and Chemistry, as she’ll work toward a career medicine.

Gianna and Mia Faieta celebrated a second Group 1 championship as teammates in 2019.

“I am more than excited and extremely grateful to get the opportunity to continue my passion for playing softball in college,” she said on Nov. 13, at Cedar Grove High, when her decision became official. “For me, the University of Hartford is a place that I can easily call my second home. I never understood the expression how looking for a college, is similar to looking for a wedding dress. The very first visit to Hartford gave me the ‘this is the one’ kind of feeling. I now know what that expression means.

“Meeting the coaches and players was one of my favorite moments, really drawing me to make my decision. The ‘Championship Mindset’ was revolving around the whole University, not only in sports and academics, but for everything.

Gianna makes it official !

“When it comes to playing softball, I knew that I would not be able to function without playing the sport I love in college. Softball was a main part in shaping my character of independence, determination, competitiveness, drive, communication, leadership, and most importantly making some of the best friendships I could have ever asked for. The people I got to meet on every single team have been the most fun, kind, intelligent, talented, and driven people. I believe Hartford is the perfect second home and family for me.”

Cedar Grove coach Nicole Velardi is ecstatic about Gianna’s decision.

“Gianna has been a part of keeping our program at a championship level,” said Velardi, who will begin her fifth season as head softball coach this coming spring. “Over the past three seasons, she’s been a part of three sectional titles, two state championships and an Essex County Tournament championship, as well as two Tournament of Champions appearances.”

Gianna’s parents are also excited for their daughter’s future.

It was a special day for Gianna and Jules, along with coach Velardi.

“We are so very proud of Gianna, both academically and athletically,” said Ginamaree Kubu. “My husband and I just wanted to find a school that she loved and felt a connection to. I believe we all liked the University of Hartford the minute we stepped on campus. Then Gianna clicked with the girls on the team. They embraced her as if she were on the team already.

“Coach (Angie) Churchill (Hartford’s head coach) just sealed the deal. She made Gianna feel so important and special. If was our dream, as parents, to see her pick her own school on her own terms.”

Family is very important to Gianna, as well as her coaches and teammates.

Gianna showing good form with her swing.

“When it comes to my family, throughout my college searching process, my family could not have been more supportive,” said Gianna “Every time I was stressing about something, my mom and dad were instantly there, telling me everything will work out and everything happens for a reason. Most importantly, my brother, Joe, was the first person I could talk to about anything. I am so lucky I had a brother like him during that time because he would always help me through tough times, and be there to congratulate me during some of the best times. Both my brother and I support each other in every sport we played. I am so grateful to have a brother that I can call my best friend. Without him, I would not have been as optimistic.”

The future looks bright for a possible Dr. Kubu one day.

Growing up in a solid softball community in Cedar Grove also helped.

“ I have been playing softball practically my whole life and sometime, it got extremely rough. For example, I would gain a lack of confidence in myself, and thought I would never be good enough. All of these doubts occurred during my transition to high school softball. During my lessons with the legendary Coach (Ray) Vandermay, he would be the only person who could make me believe in myself, because I knew he believed in me. Coach was, and is still today, my mentor.

“Additionally, during my high school softball season, my two coaches, Nikki and (assistant) Pete (Velardi) really pushed me to my full talent. Without them, I would have never become as tough or eager to be the best version of myself. They showed everyone, including me, what a softball family, with a championship mindset, should be like. When high school softball was out of season, I was playing for NJ Heist, my club team. My club coach, Sergio (Rodriguez) played a huge role in supporting me in the most important years of softball for me.

“He made softball during the most stressful times, so much fun. Playing for Coach Sergio made me remember why I play the sport, and how much fun I have playing it. I am more than grateful to have had such a great group of mentors throughout my softball experience.”

Kubu batted .337 last season with 31 hits seven doubles, one triple, 13 RBI and 31 runs scored.

By mike051893

Passaic Valley Hall of Fame will open its doors for the first time in 6 years with a marvelous new class of outstanding athletes, coaches and teams

Passaic Valley High School will honor its proud athletic heritage when a large Hall of Fame class is inducted on Nov. 21, at the Barnyard & Carriage House, in Totowa, beginning at 7 p.m.

Tickets for the event are $55.00 each and can be obatained by calling the Passaic Valley athletic office at 973-890-2587.

According to Passaic Valley athletic director, Joe Benvenuti, induction into the Hall if is very selective.

“This is the first time since 2013 that we are having an induction,” said Benvenuti, himself a one-time standout athlete at PV. “The only athletes that are automatic Hall of Famers are the ones that make All-State or All-Group teams, and that’s very hard to accomplish. All other athletes need to be nominated and voted on.

The 14 new inductees in 2019 begin with coaches, administrators and athletes in Dr. Viktor Joganow, Frank Ariola, Alexis Arena, Frank Dugan, Michael Bastante, Len Cusumano, Nick Varcadipane, Jesse Santo, George Abyad and Joey Castro.

There are also four teams who will be inducted, including the 1964 football team, the 1979-1980 football team, the 1978 girls basketball team and 1978 softball squad.

Here is some information on each inductee.

Dr. Viktor Joganow is being inducted as a coach and for his tireless service to the PV community, including 44 yrs in education, with 33 of those years at PV, as an educator, coach, administrator and finally, Superintendent of Schools.

As a girls basketball coach from 1975-1978, Dr. Joganow led the team to back to back league titles and is the only coach to lead the PV to a county and state sectional championship.

Ariola spent 46 years at Passaic Valley as a teacher and golf coach. He guided the Hornets to 708 victories and a pair of Passaic County team championships. Ariola was named Coach of the Year 11 times and in 2008 was tabbed the National Coach of The Year. He was also inducted into the NJSIAA Hall of Fame, in 2002.

Arena, a 2011 PV grad, was a marvelous gymnast for the Hornets. She was a state champion on the balance beam in 2010 while also placing in the top five in the state in various events. Arena also was a 2-time Passaic County champion and still holds the record for highest all-around score in the Passaic County Tournament.

Dugan had a tremendous wrestling career at PV, from 2002-2005. A 4-time District 13 and Region 4 champion, he won a state medal at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, in 2004. Dugan is also a member of the Region 4 Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Another phenomenal wrestler at Passaic Valley, Bastante, a 2006 PV grad, earned three medals at the NJSIAA tournament. He was also a 3-time District 13 and a Region 4 champion while winning over 100 matches.

Cusumano is a 1999 PV graduate, where he starred for the football team. During his three years on the varsity, PV made the playoffs twice and had a record of 23-7. Cusumano received a full scholarship to Syracuse University and was a 3-time Academic All-American. A tight end in college, he was a part of two bowl game winners for the Orange. Len is now the head football coach at Pascack Valley High School.

Varcadipane was an outstanding all-around athlete. A member of the Class of 2004, Nick was a 4-year starter in football, a rare feat, and earned numerous post-season accolades. He was also a standout baseball player and is the program’s all-time leader in home runs. Varcadipane attended Western Michigan, where he played defensive tackle and participated in a pair of Bowl games.

Santo, a 2007 graduate, was a 4-year starter in baseball and went on to play junior college baseball before eventually earning a full scholarship to the University of Missouri, where he was a 2-year starter. Santo would eventually earn All-American, All-Conference and Conference Player of the Year accolades.

Abyad, a 2007 graduate, excelled in track and field. He earned All-League honors in the shot put and discus, as well as All-County accolades. Abyad was also a state sectional champion and won gold at the Penn Relays. In addition, he was also a member of the state sectional champion basketball team. George went on to Princeton University, where he competed for four years in track and field.

Castro helped PV win a state sectional championship, in basketball, in 2007. He was also the North Jersey Player of the Year and a second team, All-State player in ’07. Castro scored over 900 points for his career and led PV in points, rebounds, steals and blocks in his junior and senior year.

The 1964 PV football team was coached by Steve Gerdy. The Hornets were the first undefeated team in PV gridiron history and were unscored upon in seven of its nine games. The Hornets allowed only three touchdowns all season.

The 1979 and 1980 PV football teams won back-to-back state championships, led by coach Joe Biscaha. The team lost just one game in two seasons.

Dr. Joganow coached the 1978 girls basketball team to a Group IV state sectional title. The team also won back-to-back league titles and were the only girls basketball team in school history to win the county and sectional championships and also won 27 straight games in 1978.

The ’78 softball team was led by coach Tom Patierno. The Hornets won a state sectional title in Group 4 and also captured the Passaic County title in 1978.

By mike051893