BELLEVILLE, NJ (updated Sunday Nov. 12, 2:49 p.m.) – The Belleville High School varsity boys’ soccer team enjoyed a memorable season.
The Buccaneers, guided by first-year head coach Gary Polewka, won the Super Essex Conference-Colonial Division championship with a 7-1 division record. The Bucs finished with a 13-6-1 overall record.
Polewka, indeed, was ecstatic for his team’s successful season.
“We had a fun time this season, even going through some difficult losses,” he said. “Looking back, overall it was a huge success for the program. When this group of kids met in the summer, my staff and I saw some talent and hoped we could find the right chess pieces to compete.”
The Bucs competed in the Harrison summer tournament where they faced quality competition while showing some promise, though they still needed some work to be done, said Polewka.
The season opener was a challenge as the Bucs faced perennial power Harrison, losing 5-0.
“It was a good challenge for my boys and we held strong the first half, but Harrison took the game over with their speed and ball control,” Powelka said.
The Bucs then reeled off three division wins against Orange, Science Park and Shabazz. Ifeanyi Anaemejeh scored the lone goal in the Science Park game to seal the win, while Fernando Pesantez made some great saves for the shutout.
The Bucs lost to rival Nutley and fell to Technology in overtime.
But the Bucs quickly went on a hot streak.
“We were 3-3 and wondering where the season was going to go. We then rattled off a seven-game unbeaten streak with six wins and one tie, including a close divisional game with Irvington where junior Adriel Abreu scored late in the second half for a 1-0 win,” Powelka said. “The biggest game in this stretch for the boys was the 1-1 tie with (Montclair Kimberley Academy). We had the lead and were playing a good game. MKA was not expecting a fight that day and Belleville made it clear they were an improved team. Sophomore Kevin Manjarrez scored from 30 yards out that could be considered the best shot of the season.”
Later in season, the Bucs faced Irvington again, this time in the second round preliminary game of the Essex County Tournament, winning 3-1.
The Bucs were ready to face a tough state-ranked Montclair team in the next round of the ECT. Though they lost, 4-0, the score did not tell the story of the game, said Powelka. “At this point, the boys were focused on divisional make-up games with North Star and Newark Central,” said Powelka. “After handling North Star, we set up for a battle for the title vs. Central. If we lost we would share the division title; a win meant it was all ours. After a physical first half at 0-0, we leaned on senior Ifeanyi Anaemejeh to draw some defenders as freshman forward Kevin Riera took a pass from Erick Munoz with three minutes left in game and put it past the goalie. I still don’t think Riera understands the importance of that goal to his teammates, especially the seniors.”
The state tournament game was a disappointment, Powelka acknowledged, as the team lost to West Windsor-Plainsboro North, 2-0, in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 tournament first round.
“The State game was a disappointment, but West Windsor-Plainsboro North came to play and had some impressive speed,” said Powelka said.
In all, Powelka was proud of his team this season and looks forward to the future of the Belleville Boys’ Soccer program.
“I’m very proud of this group and hope to grow on the success of this season,” he said. “I’d like to thank my managers for all the hard work and the support of the Belleville Girls Soccer team, who also earned a SEC division title.”
NOTE: Harrison, Montclair and MKA all advanced to their respective NJSIAA state section tournament championship games. Harrison is in the North Jersey Section 2, Group 2 final; Montclair is in the North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 final and MKA is in the North Jersey Non-Public “B” final.
The following players have earned SEC-Colonial Division honors:
Ifeanyi Anaemejeh, senior forward
Kevin Manjarrez, sophomore center mid
Fernando Pesantez, sophomore goalie
Erick Munoz, senior center midfielder
Daniel Pinedo, senior defensive back
Kevin Riera, freshman forward
Alex Suero, senior stopper