Verona High’s boys soccer team has passed the midpoint of the season with a 7-5 record and the now the team’s aspirations are coming more clearly into view.
Among the team’s goals, of course, will be a strong performance in the annual Essex County Tournament, a respectable run in Group 1 state soccer playoffs and a strong finish in the Super Essex Conference’s revamped Liberty Division.
Another big date on the team’s calendar is the annual Senior Night celebration, which the Hillbillies will celebrate at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a showdown game at Centennial Field against visiting West Essex High School (8-1-1).
The 2014 senior members of the soccer team are: goalie Christian Alfano, and field players Paul Chanley, Joe DeRosa, Ellis Martin, Tyler Petersen, Anders Kolind, Jhonatan Mejia, Will Mulderry, Christian Reyes, Danny Taliaferro and Mario Catania. The boys and their parents will be recognized in a pre-game ceremony.
“This has been a great senior group,” Verona coach Wayne Looney said earlier this week. “It’s great to see the kids come through the program and stick with soccer.”
For the Hillbillies, the season has been an up-and-down ride since after season-opening victories against always-tough Glen Ridge High and division foe Irvington.
After those strong performances to start the season, Verona was off to an impressive 4-1 start, but the Hillbillies have been hit with a cluster of injuries and the team came up short in four of the next seven games. The team stands at 7-5 following Monday’s afternoon’s 4-0 loss to Barringer High of Newark.
“We did everything we had to do to win games,” Looney said. “We scored off a lot of different set pieces…. It was blue-collar soccer and we were doing the things we needed to do.”
But injuries hit three key players, including sophomore forward Jack Farrell (hamstring), forward Mulderry and sophomore defender/midfielder Doug Spardel.
Farrell and Mulderry were among the team’s top scorers at the time of their injuries, and Spardell was playing well along the back line for the Hillbillies. (Spardell returned to limited playing time on Monday afternoon, but the other two players are still sidelined.) Midfielder Martin has five goals for the Hillbillies, including one goal in a 2-1 victory over Montclair Kimberley, and an assist.
Martin, a team captain, has been “doing a great job,” Looney said, noting the senior’s success for converting set pieces into goals for the Hillbillies.
But as a result of losing the team’s other scoring options, the Hillbillies have struggled getting the ball into the net in early October and have been shutout in consecutive games against Belleville and Barringer. The team is looking for ways to get some scoring punch back in the lineup.
“Will Mulderry was up front creating havoc against the other team’s defense,” Looney said. “Now, we’re looking for someone to step up and be the tough guy up front.”
That will be important to the team’s success this week, as the Hillbillies face two tough sides: West Essex and Nutley High (4 p.m. Friday in Nutley).
While shuffling the lineup to find the right mix of players, Looney said he is pleased by the work effort and skills of some of the underclassmen on the squad who have gotten a chance to shine. This includes sophomore defender Nick Zamloot, sophomore forward Thiago Queiroz and sophomore Robert Farley.
“We’ve got some young players playing hard right now,” the coach noted. “With the injuries we’ve had, these players are getting a good look.”
With several key division games remaining next week and into mid-October – including an Essex County tournament game – it will take a strong effort up and down the lineup to get the momentum rolling as the team prepares for the state playoffs.
“It’s tough for a small school to lose three starters,” the coach said. “But, on the other hand, it’s also good give some of these younger players some playing time.”
Photos copyright Andy Yeates. Used by permission.