North Bergen High School had a spectacular wrestling season a year ago, winning the first NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group V championship in 22 years.
But the Bruins were ravaged by graduation.
“We got hit hard,” said veteran head coach and athletic director Jerry Maietta. “Last year, a similar thing happened and we didn’t know what to expect. We had guys waiting their turn who stepped up. Things just kind of clicked.”
Maietta is hopeful that the same thing could take place this year, but again, he really doesn’t know for sure.
“We have to figure things out a little,” Maietta said. “We talk about what happened last year all the time. Over the last two years, we lost 19 kids to graduation. That’s a lot. But we’re going to continue to work hard and continue to get better. We have to get our guys in the right spots. There’s definitely potential in the room. We have some returning guys, but we need others to step up and fill that varsity role.”
The Bruins started the season with a fourth place finish at the Mahwah Invitational Tournament, a good competitive sign for the Bruins.
“There were some quality teams there,” said Maietta, mentioning Jefferson, which won the team title, as well as Ocean Township from the shore and Suffern of New York. “We brought only eight guys with us to the tournament because of injury and illness.”
The Bruins will try to field a full roster when they participate once again in the George Jockish Bergen County Coaches Association championships next week. The tourney has been moved back to Hackensack High School, making it a little easier for local fans to attend.
Jockish was a long-time teacher in the North Bergen school district before retiring, thus the Bruins’ affinity for wanting to participate in the Bergen County tourney.
The Bruins are blessed to have sophomore Yousef Salem back at the 106-pound weight class. Salem finished second at the District 16 tourney last year. It’s rare to have someone return at the same weight class, but Salem wrestled at a lower weight than 106 last year, so now he’s at a more natural weight.
“He was a little undersized last year, but he’s gotten bigger and stronger,” Maietta said. “It’s a good fit for him this year.”
Senior Danny Ortega, a two-time state qualifier and one of the top reasons for the team’s success last year, has returned. He’s hopeful to wrestle at 113 pounds, but right now, he’s flip-flopping with junior Nick Amores between 113 and 120 pounds. Amores won 10 varsity matches last year, so he has some experience, but Ortega is the man to watch.
“I expect him to put it all together and have a great senior year,” Maietta said.
Amores will have a starting role from the outset this season.
Sophomore Elijah Flores is the team’s 132-pounder. Flores didn’t wrestle last year after injuring his arm, but he’s healthy this year and ready to make his mark.
Junior Al Taha is the team’s 138-pounder. He was fourth at District 16 last year. Junior Mike Mejia is the Bruins’ 145-pounder. He was third at the districts last season.
Senior Leo Subiza, another state tournament qualifier last year, has returned and will wrestle at 160 pounds once he gets his weight down. Sophomore Robinson Reyes finished third at the Mahwah tourney at 170 pounds.
Cruz Donato is a 170-pound junior who had a great offseason, according to Maietta.
“He’s a hard worker who finished third at Mahwah,” Maietta said.
Senior Ed Arriba is the 195-pounder, with senior T.J. Jarrett at 220. Jarrett was second at the Mahwah tourney.
“We’re a work in progress,” Maietta said. “Hopefully, we’ll get some leadership from our seniors and we’ll see what happens.”…
The St. Dominic Academy girls’ basketball team started off strongly, winning games against Snyder and St. Anthony.
In his third season, SDA head coach John Hester didn’t know what to expect of his team, especially after losing three-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree Hannah Johnson to graduation (Felician College), as well as his daughter, Shannon, who is participating in track and field at Loyola of New Orleans.
“I think after the two wins, the kids are starting to believe that they can be as good as the coaches think,” Hester said. “We lost eight seniors from last year. No one could ever replace Hannah, but last year, we did a lot of standing around and watching Hannah. There was a level of dysfunction.”
Hester likes the makeup of his team.
“I think we have a chance to be more balanced,” Hester said. “We pass and shoot it pretty well.”
Leading the way is senior guard Gabby Fortune. The 5-foot-5 Fortune scored 23 in the win over Snyder and 24 in the win against St. Anthony to start the season.
“She’s great coming off the pick,” Hester said. “If we can get her spotted up with some space, she can be one of the better shooters in the county.”
Junior Mary Kate Cannito is also back from the team that finished 11-15 and fell to Paramus Catholic in the state tourney.
“She plays with good intensity on the floor,” Hester said. “She’s the most fiery of the kids.”
The point guard is 5-foot-4 freshman Hailey Reid, who has already experienced some growing pains.
“She’s been a little up and down,” Hester said of Reid. “But she’s at her best when the game gets tight. She has a great opportunity to play right away as a freshman. She has a ton of ability and she’s made a ton of progress so far. She’s trying to implement everything we’re teaching her.”
Junior Allie Doran is a 5-foot-5 guard.
“Her only issue is that she’s afraid to make a mistake,” Hester said. “She’s earned her spot and she’s been very aggressive.”
Freshman Nana Sackey is a 5-foot-6 guard who has already made an impact, scoring 13 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the win over Snyder.
“She’s a physically talented kid who is still learning,” Hester said.
Junior Sarah Awad is a 5-foot-6 forward who battles close to the basket for rebounds.
“We need her on the glass,” Hester said.
Sophomore Lexylee Martinez is a 5-foot-5 guard who has good offensive skills.
The Blue Devils were set to face Hudson Catholic in a regular season game, then will head to the Union Catholic Christmas Tournament to face such schools as Oak Knoll, Mount St. Mary’s, Bishop Ahr and Linden, as well as the host school. That tournament will be a huge challenge.
But so far, Hester is pleased with what he’s seen.
“I don’t think anyone thought we’d start out 2-0,” Hester said. “It’s given the girls some confidence as we get into a tougher part of our schedule.”…–Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.