NUTLEY, NJ — For the Nutley High School girls soccer team, the goal this season is simple: win a state sectional championship.
The NHS Raiders have the experience and talent to accomplish this goal.
“A lot of these girls have started as freshmen,” said NHS head coach Mike DiPiano, in his 10th year at the helm. “We have 11 seniors. I believe eight or nine have all got varsity letters since they were freshmen. This is their last chance to leave an imprint on the program and try to make it to a county final and sectional final. Our conference is extremely tough, our county is extremely tough, our section is extremely tough, but the county and conference will get us ready for state sectionals, which is what you play for.”
The Raiders, looking to build off an 8-7-1 record in 2020, dropped their first game of the season on Sept. 8, a 4-1 decision at West Essex in North Caldwell in a Super Essex Conference–American Division game. Three days later, they fell to West Orange, 4-3, at the Park Oval.
Leading Nutley are the senior captains: Mackenzie Albert, Mikayla Schoch and Sydney Hess. Albert, who entered the season with 50 goals, has a scholarship to play Division I soccer at Iona College next year. She had the goal in the season opener and added two goals against West Orange.
“They work hard,” DiPiano said of the captains. “They lead by example. They have done a good job.”
Senior midfielders Natalie Rufino and Olivia Real have started since their freshman year. Senior twins Rebecca and Rachel Echevarria and senior defender Ally Huelbig are other solid contributors.
The juniors also receive significant time as starters or off the bench. They include Taylor Hughes, Emma Chimento, Cameron Coffaro, Emma Kirby, a transfer student from Florida; and Marcella Blancato. Brooke Yero is a starting midfielder who has a bright future.
Junior goalie Catelena Robson has done a good job in net.
The American Division, the top division in the SEC, includes such strong programs as Montclair, West Orange, Glen Ridge and Millburn. DiPiano recognizes that the tough competition benefits his team as it prepares for the state tournament.
“The goal is to win a sectional championship,” DiPiano said. “That’s the goal every year. We do not have one in program history, so the goal has never changed. That’s the end game. Everything we do gets us ready for that state tournament, and this team has been together, this group of seniors and juniors have been together for a long time. We’re trying to tell people, we want to prove people wrong this year. We want to show people that we can contend for a state sectional title, the first one in school history. We want that. With the skill level or our conference, the skill level of our section, the state of New Jersey is packed with talent. But we have a very tough schedule, which we embrace. It gets us ready for the end of the year. We have to take it one game at a time, but all these games are getting us ready for that sectional tournament in November.”
DiPiano has enjoyed incredible success with the program. In his first year, 2012, the team went 14-7. They went 18-2-1 in 2013; 16-6 in 2014, 13-9 in 2015, 15-4-1 in 2016, and 12-3-2 in 2018. DiPiano also has been the NHS head wrestling coach since the 2015-16 season. He succeeded his brother, Frank DiPiano, as the head wrestling coach.
Photos by Joe Ragozzino