UNION, NJ--In what was truly a team effort, the Glen Ridge High boys’ soccer team won the program’s first-ever NJSIAA Group 1 championship, on Nov. 17, defeating Bound Brook, 2-1, in overtime.
The program was playing its 40th season in 2019, having begun in 1980. The team has had just three head coaches over those 40 years. Dr. Ohannes Voskian was the first coach before Stephen Reitberger came on board in 1981, and led the team for 38 seasons. This year, the Ridgers have a new head coach in Austin Alvarado.
Glen Ridge had set the tone for the season on Sept. 4, when the team walked from the high school to Carteret Field, for the season opener against West Orange. The Ridgers ended up winning, 1-0, in Alvarado's debut.
Fast forward to the end of the season and a level of trust and commitment was evident from both the players and its new coach.
Alvarado, who had won state titles as a player and assistant coach at West Orange High, was ecstatic after the Ridgers won its first state title in 2019, but preferred to heap the praise on the players, as well as Reitberger, who was on hand for many of the team’s wins, including the Group 1 final.
The players had a lot of fond memories, as well. Here are the thoughts of Will Livingstone, Matthew Whitney, Drew Hiner, Gabriel Cabrera and Logan Kotronis.
All five give Alvarado a great deal of credit, as the players learned a new system after playing for a tremendous coach in Reitberger.
“I am a senior on the team. Early on, I was very confused by Coach Alvarado's tactics and philosophies, at the start of preseason. When he told us we needed to carry around a rock, wherever we go, I thought it was a joke and I was scared to see how the rest of the season would be, if this was just a preview.
“But as pre-season progressed, we started to trust him and his philosophies more and more. Without him, I don't know how far we could have made it on talent alone. Carrying around sticks and rocks for the entire season, and doing team activities brought me closer to these guys than I ever would have thought was possible. I give full credit to coach for that. He believed in us from the first week of preseason, and it brought us to believe in ourselves, which allowed for us to win big games on our schedule, such as West Orange (in the season opener, on Sept. 4) and Montclair.”
"High school soccer is very different from club soccer, and his style was strongly oriented toward high school, while mine was toward club. I trusted him very much, but it was just hard to get used to the way that he wanted to me to play. It wasn't until the Montclair game that I realized that our talent wouldn't be enough to win the game by itself, so I had to drop the way that I had been playing my entire life, and played the way he wanted me to play. It wasn't until after we won that I realized that Coach Alvarado was a true coaching genius. because his tactics allowed us to beat one of the best teams in New Jersey. Not only was this win a big turning point for myself, but for the rest of the team as well. We realized that we could not only hang with the best teams in the state, but that we could beat them too.
“This led to a whole new sea of confidence that we sailed on throughout the rest of the season. For me, this was one of the highlights of my season, because not only did we beat our next-door neighbors, but we were able to prove that, although Glen Ridge is small, we have just as much, if not more passion and heart for the game than any other team in the state.”
"On top of stressing the fact that our record did not matter to him, Coach also said that he only cared about states. He would make sure that we understood the importance of states, which was frightening at times. When we finally reached the tournament, none of us felt nervous. Coach noted the importance of the state tournament, from day one, and that allowed us to be more prepared.
“Losing in the sectional final last year, we were ready for redemption, and a title (when the Ridgers hosted Technology for the sectional championship). We went down 1-0 toward the end of the first half, For some reason this only amped us up more, and everyone was flying around the pitch, but with composure. It really woke us up, and allowed for us to score two goals to win it.
“Next came the state semi-final against Waldwick. Our coach told us about 'Thunderbolts', which was anything that would take a toll on the team, such as an injury to our best player, or a goal against us. When we went down 1-0, against Waldwick, we huddled up and talked about how this was just a thunderbolt. We were no longer shaken by this goal, and that immediately brought us more energy.
“About 30 seconds after the kickoff, we managed to create a chance and hit the post. This is when I knew we were still in the game. I put in a corner to Travis Burnett who headed it in, and I realized that not only did we have a chance at winning, I knew that we would win. Our energy was unmatched, even against a good side such as Waldwick. It just seemed like they had to stop a train coming at them full speed.
“Toward the end of the second half, Ian Heinicke scored off of a cross from Matt Whitney and we realized that all we needed to do was just stay composed and hold them off. We had made history by being the first Glen Ridge boys soccer team to make it to the state finals, but even with that, the sectional title, and our big wins in regular season, we could not be satisfied. We could not stop working until we won the state final. When we went down 1-0 pretty early on in the first half, it did not feel like the previous two games, when we went down first.
“This one felt different, and left a bad feeling in my stomach for the rest of the first half. Coming back out in the second half, the ball did not leave their half for the first ten minutes and I knew that not only were we right back to where we had started, but we were playing better than we had before. We looked deadlier, sharper, and faster, than we had in the first half.
“After Lucas Costa scored, I had a strong feeling we were going to win. For some reason, going down 1-0, and then scoring, seemed to make us better in almost every aspect. When we finally won, it was an unmatched feeling of bliss, excitement, and relief. There was no other way that I would rather have had my senior year end.”
“I’m a senior on this year’s team. This season felt like a fairy tale, from start to finish. After an interesting (pre) season that had our team feeling a strong culture shock, starting the year off right against West Orange catalyzed a deep passion, love, and dedication for my final season. We had some pretty exciting moments early on, as well. Games versus Seton Hall Prep, MKA, and Millburn showed us how hard we can fight against big-program schools.
“More specifically, the game versus Montclair (a 2-1 win on Sept. 14, in overtime) obviously played a pivotal role in our season. Personally, I knew almost everyone on the Montclair squad, most of which were my club and academy teammates throughout my youth. Defeating our Goliath neighbors (ranked third in the state, and on their home field), was undeniably a bookmark moment in my career, and I’m sure that goes with everyone else involved in that game.
“Beyond the beginning half of the season, which was extremely challenging, we cruised into counties after losing some here and there. I was also happy with the fact we conquered our two primary neighbors, Montclair and Bloomfield. By this point we were confident in ourselves, we could hang with the big teams and a true sense of brotherhood was manifested toward the later stages of the year.
“Our coach, Austin Alvarado, preached that ALL we should care about is the state tournament. He knew from the beginning what we would be capable of, and I have no one else but him to thank for the connections I’ve made this season. His process truly worked, even with the strange nuances like carrying around rocks and sticks.
“The sectional final versus Technology was a special game for me. I had gone scoreless throughout the season, and I scored the game tying goal after going down 1-0. We won the sectional final and at this point, the team was amped to keep it going. Getting some hardware was a big highlight, it was the first time I felt rewarded for a long season of work.
“After the sectional finals though, everything went right. The semifinal was incredibly instrumental and taking home a win was the first step in our historic finale. I had a great game, and we once again pulled out a comeback result. Our confidence was through the roof. Finally, the state championship game was a roller coaster of emotions, but it couldn’t have gone any more perfect.
“After going down early, which was characteristic of us, scoring to tie it up and then putting it away early in OT, it all felt like a movie and we hit our plot’s climax. I was personally overwhelmed with emotion, everything had come to a close, and it couldn’t have had a better outcome.
“Overall, this whole season was an unforgettable journey, and it was all the more rewarding to come back after a junior season injury that had me out for a year. As my career comes to a close, looking back, this was an historic year, and this is undeniably a golden generation of Glen Ridge boys soccer.”
“From the beginning of the season, we really connected. This group has been friends from a really young age. We had a lot of confidence going into this season, because we came up just short last year, in the sectional finals. We didn’t know what to expect from Coach Alvarado, but quickly realized we all had the same goal as him, to win a state championship.
“Our first couple of games, we showed we can play to our full potential. A big turning point was our win against Montclair, in overtime. We gained a lot of confidence from that game. Once the state tournament started, we really turned it up. We were battle-tested after a tough regular season and that helped us win the state championship. We trailed 1-0, in the sectional final, state semi and state finals, and came back to win.
“I’m so happy for this group. We worked so hard, every day at practice by pushing ourselves, and it really paid off in the end.”
“Of course the season was going to be full of surprises and new things. We had to adjust to, and so as a team, stay open to what Coach Alvarado’s process was. At first, most of us weren’t so trusting in Coach, but by the end of the season, especially after beating big teams like Montclair and West Orange and holding our own, for the most part of the game against Seton Hall Prep, we all bought in and did whatever was necessary to win.
“I’ve had so much fun playing soccer this year, mainly because of the group of guys that I’m surrounded with. Everybody, whether they’re a starter, or not, contributed immensely to what this team had become. If I could go back and do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
“Ultimately, I’m just very happy that I’ve created an everlasting bond with such a great group of guys and finally win the first state championship for the boys program.”
“This season, for me, was about improving ourselves on, and off the field. Coach Alvarado had us get really involved in each other’s lives to form a greater bond then just soccer.
“He started us off in pre-season by pushing us harder then we have been in the past. He promised us it would pay off, and he’s never broken a promise to us. We were skeptical at first, but once we saw the results early in the season, it became religious. We really focused on what we could all contribute to the team, and how our team plays as a whole.
“I’ve noticed we are a very defensive team, we got a lot of our wins from giving up a goal early, then coming back in the second half when the other team was tired. I think what gave us the biggest advantage was the size of our school. Most guys on the team have played with me since I was 7 years old.”