BELLEVILLE, NJ — For the past few seasons under head coach Gary Polewka, the Belleville High School boys soccer team has become one of the most respected teams in the area.
The Bucs have even gained the attention of renowned coaches, such as Doug Nevins of West Orange and Roger Rubinetti of Livingston, who Poleweka said have come up to him to praise his team.
The Bucs’ pinnacle came last season when they won the state North East F Group 3-B sectional championship. After a slow start to the season, the Bucs won two of their last three regular-season games before winning all three sectional games, capped by the 1-0 victory over Dwight Morrow in the final to end the 7-8-1 campaign. The season, of course, had its challenges with the pandemic.
“Last year was just a weird year altogether. But the kids stuck through it last year and they got hot at the right time,” Polewka said. “We were in the (Super Essex Conference) Liberty (Division) last year like we are this year. It was tough competition last year but it set us up for the run that we had, because we had the experience.”
The Bucs, like most teams, are trying to get back to some sense of normalcy, though it hasn’t been easy. Nevertheless, Polewka has high hopes for his team this season, based on the Bucs’ overall skill level and work ethic.
“This year, we were concerned about it, and some of it has come to fruition, that kind of COVID lag that they are having, virtual school and getting back to the groove of things,” Polewka said. “But we have a good core of kids. Overall, they might be more skilled with the ball as a whole this year than last year, at least my starting unit.”
Leading the Bucs are captains Brendon Diaz, a senior midfielder; Jonathan Ruiz, a senior striker; Leonardo Salomone, a junior center back; and Ivan Garcia, a junior midfielder.
Diaz has done a great job in getting his teammates ready for the season, Polewka said.
“Brendon really got everybody under his wing in the off-season,” Polewka said. “He got them involved in a winter league and got everybody out there playing the spring, moving the ball. The starting group all got together all year. They know each other well. It’s a tight-knit group of friends, which is nice. So that’s helpful.”
The Bucs rely on other key contributors. Junior midfielder Adonys Aguirre is exceptional at distributing the ball, and junior Gerber Coreas, in his third year on the team, is a solid center back, Polewka noted.
Juniors Logan Kutlu and Jason Penaloza have formed a nice goalie platoon.
The Bucs also have a promising group of freshmen, which bodes well for the future.
“I’m definitely excited about the freshman group we have coming up this year,” Polewka said.
The Bucs are off to a slow start again this season, going 1-3 through Sept.16. They defeated Newark Academy, 2-1, before losing to West Essex, Montclair Kimberley Academy and Caldwell.
Playing in the SEC, the Bucs could get enough power points to qualify for the state tournament, Polewka surmised.
“The mission is to make the state tournament every year,” said Polewka, who guided the Bucs to the SEC–Colonial Division title in 2017 in his first year when the Bucs finished 13-6-1 overall. “We’re looking to get into the state tournament, make a run, maybe make a little noise in the county tournament.”
The Bucs “just have to dig down within themselves and play their A game all 80 minutes,” Polewka concluded.
This season, the Bucs have added assistant coach and junior varsity head coach Mark Costa, a Nutley High School and Caldwell University alumnus.