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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

RHS Soccer Team's State Championship Title

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Photo credits: Joella Chase, Bob Hansen, Kevin Torres

On November 21, 2020, the Rutherford High School Boys Varsity Soccer team defeated Northern Valley Demarest in the NJSIAA North East Regional championship game to become the 2020 North East Group 2-B Regional Champions. Although the team was behind at the half, they came back during the second half scoring three unanswered goals. This win marks the first boys’ first state-level title for the RHS Soccer program.

This is Rutherford spoke with Coach John Randazzo about the 2020 soccer season and NJSIAA North East Regional Championship. TIR also spoke with some of the Senior players on the team about their experiences this season and leaving RHS with a Championship title.

TIR: How was this year’s fall soccer season different from years past?

John Randazzo: This year's season was different in that we didn't have the opportunity to train much in the summer or have scrimmages in the early fall. The first few regular-season matches still felt like scrimmages so I think it took time for everyone to get up to speed. Additionally, there was the added attention to health and safety protocol so there's the wearing of masks, socially distanced halftime talks, etc. that changed the way we do things on a daily basis.

Cal Chase: This year's soccer season was different mainly because of COVID and quarantine setbacks. The one thing that was not different was our desire to work in practice and train to win games. This year and the last we have been hungry for a state title and I think it was no surprise that we won.

Henry Gomes: This year's fall soccer season was just magnificent compared to the rest. I have been on Coach Randazzo's team all four years, and I was grateful enough to be a part of some really outstanding teams. I felt that this year was a different approach than the other year, and how we executed the game plan. We had a group of guys who had the same mindset, the same objective, and came together to get results for the program. Especially as it is my senior year, each game became more important than the others, and really wanted to leave a mark for the future. The global pandemic was something that we never experienced before, so having to play with restrictions was very different. We were all eager to play and there was that fear that we wouldn't even have the chance to have a season, that we may have played our last game last year. It was just a different atmosphere this season, I felt everyone got along and had the desire to win for the school, the program, for Coach Randazzo and Coach Ron Galzara.

Gavin Siengsanaoh : This year's season was like no other. This has definitely been one of the weirdest soccer seasons ever. In the beginning, I was scared that I was not going to have a senior season but everybody on the team did the right things to make sure we had an opportunity to play this year.

Shane Kelly: With everything going on this year, practices were delayed and we weren’t able to get together as a team and play during the early months. Not being able to practice on the field with all the guys was definitely not the same and something that we knew we had to make up for with this accelerated season. Through constant focus and determination, we were able to make it back to the field and build our team and our chemistry throughout the season. Eventually, we had the opportunity to win the State Sectional title.

TIR: How did the team prepare for their big championship game against Demarest where they won the North East Group 2B state title?

JR: We watched films of them and participated in training sessions that were tailored to how we wanted to approach the match.

CC: We watched films and Coach Randazzo gave us a scouting report of the team as usual. This helped us shape our play style around Demarest and gave us the best chance to win. The most important part of preparing for me was working on my counter-attack punts that the coach had told me to work on.

HG: We had planned to have independent games in order to prepare ourselves for the state tournament. Unfortunately, the program got shut down for two weeks and we had to virtually train. Mentally, it drained mine and the others’ minds because we just wanted to play. We heard that Lyndhurst beat Wallington, which meant we finished second in the league. We were pretty upset so we were eager to win the state tournament, we didn't want to finish the season empty-handed. We came back and just played small scrimmages because we didn't play for so long with one another. Our first game got canceled so we automatically moved to the next round, so we were able to fit an extra practice. We really didn't change our approach to the state final game, we focused on what we needed to improve on as a team. I felt we were very organized defensively, and we needed to improve on through balls and finishing, and that's what we did. I felt we showed that we finished our chances in the game, as we were able to score 2 in quick succession. The other Captains and I kept encouraging the rest of the team that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we shouldn't be too confident that we can win, but we shouldn't degrade on losing either. I think we were all focused on thinking that we could win and finally bring a trophy home.

GS: The night before the game, I started to prepare what was at stake here. I went to dinner with a couple of my friends just to have a good time. When I got home I did a 30-minute stretching video on YouTube to make sure my body was physically ready. After all of that, I went to bed being ready for the morning.

SK: Coach Randazzo had us prepared for our big match and we had our game plan to execute when game time came. Collectively, we agreed to get good rest and hydration prior to game day, so we could be best prepared for our match. All the little things we did were really important to our success this season, during a season that was definitely different.

TIR: How were you all feeling going into the game after missing some practice time due to quarantining rules?

JR: The situation wasn't ideal but we felt like we did everything we possibly could have done in order to stay fit. We practiced over zoom and guys went out and did running and fitness on their own.

CC: Personally, I was very confident in my team. Our team had a very good year leading into that game and we were all prepared. During the two-week period where we had to quarantine, we practiced virtually and conditioned every day. Honestly, it might have been a little bit of a blessing because it allowed us to get players healthy and get in shape for the game.

HG: When we all heard that we couldn't train it was a little worrying at first. I felt that we wouldn't be playing at the right speed of the game and as a team, we have suffered goals or losses due to not playing at the right speed. At times we look lost and confused and that was my fear of us not being able to train or play because of COVID restrictions. Yet, I realized that this was a group of guys that really love the game, love the program, and would do anything to win. I knew everyone would hate the virtual training yet, still try their 100% in order to be ready for the game. We were assigned to do running, and we would run into the other guys running, and it created a positive attitude within the team.

GS: I was not that nervous going into the game because although we got shut down for two weeks, I knew that everybody on the team was doing what they had to do by staying fit and joining the virtual sessions. Once we got onto the field, everybody had their game face on. The whole team was serious and ready to play. It was quite funny because Coach Randazzo was constantly telling everybody to loosen up and enjoy the experience.

SK: Not being able to practice for a short time definitely put a delay on our on the field action and keeping our chemistry as a team. At the same time, all the players were very diligent in getting prepared to go back to training when we were able to resume to make sure we were ready for our upcoming games. In some ways, this time allowed us to be able to rest our bodies and replenish in order to put our best foot forward going into the latter half of the tournament.

TIR: This is the first time the RHS Soccer Team has won a state title, but the team often came close. How does it feel to have won the title this year, an especially challenging year for fall sports teams?

JR: It feels fantastic. This is a great group of guys and they all deserve to have this feeling. My only regret is that we've had so many good people and players come through our program that did not have the opportunity to have this feeling.

CC: I know I can speak for all of the seniors when I say that the win felt well deserved. To put it shortly, we wanted it more than anyone else and trained hard to achieve our goal. It feels great to win, but I stay humble because I know this is all because of the work we put in throughout the season.

HG: It feels great to end my senior year by winning a state sectional title. I remember when I was in the pep rally as a freshman, Coach Randazzo calling my name. Everyone screaming and chanting, getting excited about the new fall season, it felt amazing. I remember looking at that banner, and noticing that we hadn’t won a trophy since 2004. I knew I wanted to win so bad, and each year we were always so close, yet just missed it. I had some great seniors within my team each year, and they told me that high school soccer goes quickly. Winning this trophy wasn't just for Coach and the rest of the team, it was also for the former alumni that Coach Randazzo coached his first year all the way to this year. I just felt I made them proud and it was just a great moment and feeling when I heard that final whistle. Sometimes I still can't believe that I just finished my last year with this team, it felt like yesterday I was playing my first varsity game, nervous and excited. I think it was just a great way to end it, I was so grateful that we even had a season as I thought this pandemic would not let it happen. To finish my high school career with a trophy for the team is a great sending off.

GS: Since the 3rd grade I have been dreaming about wearing the captain's band and leading my team to a state championship. Not only does it feel good to win the title but to win my senior year is just an unreal feeling.

SK: Being able to finish our last year together as State Sectional champions is truly a rewarding feeling. Growing up through the years of high school soccer, our senior players definitely improved, grew as players and in our experiences. Most of all, the senior players led by example and helped the younger guys on our team grow and feel welcome on our squad. This allowed us to get the best performances out of everyone and eventually win the State Sectional title. For the Seniors, being able to create this winning culture for future state tournaments as well as other tournaments was even better. Allowing some of the younger players to experience what it means to be a champion and be the first to win the State Sectional title in the program’s history is something that they can carry through the program and something that our whole team will never forget.

Photo credit: Kevin Torres

TIR: What can you tell us about your team as a whole this year?

JR: My team this year is a hard-working bunch. They are great teammates. Our team was so successful because they were able to put aside their individual game and sacrifice stats for the group. We have kids who grew up playing forward that played defense and didn't score a single goal this year with not a complaint because they want what's best for the team.

CC: Our team this year was basically family. There was never a dull time during practice and everyone always had a great time. We trained together and put our blood, sweat, and tears into getting better every day. This is what made us a great team and helped us have maximum chemistry when the time came.

HG: The team as a whole this year was a group of guys who had the desire, dedication, and commitment to give theirs on the field and off the field. It was for every single player that we were able to clinch the state sectional title. The team had a set goal, a set objective, and executed it. It feels great to say that I was able to lead a bunch of great young men was a privilege and an honor. Each team year in and year out has always been hungry to win and compete, and this year's team was a great example of that.

GS: This year’s squad was something special. The team had a lot of returning varsity and a good group of seniors going into the season. Every single player on the team had a winning mentality and whenever we had a bad game or practice. We would find the positives and look to improve for the next game or practice. Also, we encouraged each other to play at our best and the standard was raised high.

SK: Our team is very hard-working, resilient, and goal-driven. Coming into the season, looking around at our squad, I knew that we had a great opportunity to do something special this year. Despite having limited practices and games, we used every time we were able to get out on the pitch as an opportunity to improve and learn as a team. Being dedicated to all of our fitness and technical work was a big part of our success this year. Training sessions were competitive and sharp which allowed players to help other players get better. For us, treating every time we stepped out onto the field like it was our last time with the current circumstances really narrowed our focus and broadened our desire to win. We knew what opportunities there were to win this year and we are very happy to have successfully met those achievements.

TIR: The town will celebrate and honor the RHS Soccer Team’s Title Championship with a caravan on Sunday, December 13th at 2 pm. How do you think your team feels about being honored on that day?

JR: I think they are going to be thrilled. Just as we start to get used to being champs, something new comes our way to remind us of our accomplishments. It's a great feeling.

CC: It is a great feeling to be honored for all of my hard work and dedication, and I think it is great that the town is commending us on our win.

HG: It feels great being honored that day, I never thought that I would ever be honored by the town. It's something that feels amazing as I felt we as a program made the town very proud and happy. I still cannot believe that we won, I've been reliving that day every day, and it just seems like a fairy tale.

GS: I am so honored to be a part of an event that not many get to experience at their time in Rutherford. I am extremely grateful to Mayor Nunziato and the Council for putting this all together.

SK: Being honored for our great win is going to be an amazing feeling and truly an honor. For us, we are lucky to have been able to compete, let alone win the State Sectional title this year. As a Senior, this remarkable win is extra special and a memory I will cherish. A special thanks to Coach Randazzo, Coach Galarza, Rutherford High School, and our town for putting us in a position to succeed. We are very appreciative of this honor and it gives us something to really be proud of and celebrate.

TIR: Now that this unique and challenging soccer season is over, what are you hoping for next Fall?

JR: Our hope for fall is the same as it always is. We hope to challenge for a league title and make a deep run in the county tourney or state tourney.

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