First township soccer doubleheader at Veterans Park earns rave reviews from all involved

Nottingham Steinert Boys Soccer
Nottingham and Steinert boys soccer teams are introduced to the crowd at Veterans Park and get ready to play under the lights.  Photo by Michael A. Sabo

By Rich Fisher
Sep. 16:
It was truly a banner night for Hamilton Township soccer Friday, as the new lighted field hosted its first two soccer games to nothing but positive feedback.

In what was the first of three township doubleheaders this fall, Steinert swept Nottingham as the girls won 6-1 and the boys won 2-0. But all four programs were winners as both games were played before large, enthusiastic and well-behaved crowds on a beautiful pitch.

In the girls’ game, Casey Grehan scored two goals, Emily Gulsby had a goal and an assist, while Ashley Navarro, Linzy Morgan and Margarita Ivanova also scored for the Spartans. Ivonne Vasquez had the Northstars goal while Sara Haas made 12 saves in goal for Nottingham.

The boys game was a hard-fought battle of goalies, as Steinert’s Thomas Kozemchak and Nottingham’s Pat Luckie each made five saves; and several of them were brilliant by both. Steinert broke through when Adrian Strawinski scored off a free kick deflection in the 21st minute of the second half and Justin Brunow iced it with a goal in the 38th minute.

“Kozemchak played out of his mind,” Steinert coach Anthony Tessein said. “Every decision he made today was perfect. He made a big save in the beginning of the game. If they score that goal, who knows how this game goes. He allowed us to play the way we did today. He’s just been really great this past week.”

Nottingham coach Mike Braender agreed, saying, “We had a couple opportunities early, he made some great saves and I give him credit. I thought Pat kept us in it too. He made two or three big saves early. It was a hard-fought battle on both sides.”

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It was a battle worthy of the night. Behind the direction of township recreation director Jeff Plunkett with the support of Mayor Kelly Yaede, the night raised money for the Patriotic Committee, which donates military memorabilia to the park in honor of the veterans. All four teams wore red, white and blue socks.

The following is a sampling of what coaches, players and administrators felt about the evening.

Jeff Plunkett, township recreation director: I’m ecstatic, Mayor Yaede’s ecstatic. I thought it was just a tremendous community event. I think we had close to 1,000 people here. Everyone I spoke to can’t wait for the next night. The atmosphere was great, the intensity was great and I think that’s what Hamilton soccer should be all about. We as a department couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait for the next West-Steinert game on October 12th.

Gianna Pittaro, Steinert girls’ midfielder: Oh my God it’s something definitely unrivaled. We’ve never had something like this in the (previous) three years I’ve been here. I really feel like it’s something I’m lucky to be a part of as the first senior group. Hopefully it will continue for the years to come. I didn’t expect this crowd. We hoped this kind of crowd would show up and I’m glad they did.

Tom Kozemchak, Steinert goalie: Oh man, it was electric. This is where you want to be. If you’re not ready to play in this game, you shouldn’t be out there. It’s amazing.

Nate Webber, Steinert principal: Just an amazing event. So much support from the township. Jeff Plunkett’s running a great event. All the schools are involved. It couldn’t be better. I’m so excited to be here. It’s just awesome. We have a nice turnout, we got the concessions over there. I’m proud to be in Hamilton Township.

Mike Braender, Nottingham boys coach: Unbelievable. This is something we don’t to experience a lot – home night games. It doesn’t really matter which team is home or away, it’s a home game for both of us. We get to come back and do it later on in the year. It was a good atmosphere, nice environment. We got a nice night tonight and obviously the fans are out for both schools. It’s impressive.

It felt like an event, with the whole introduction (of players). Coming on the field with the lights. You don’t get to play under the lights too much in Hamilton. It was a good atmosphere, I think the kids were excited and we were ready to come out here and do it.

Frank Ragazzo, Nottingham principal: I think it’s a great community event. I think any time we get the schools out at night playing against each other it’s great for the community. The competition is good, the teams are great. It’s fun for everyone. It’s a win all around. The crowd looks good and it’s getting better. I know that because I couldn’t find a parking spot as I was pulling in. I’m happy with this, I think it’s great.

Anthony Tessein, Steinert boys coach: Great atmosphere. The teams have a pretty heated rivalry as you could see, but overall the fans were great, both schools were kind of going at it in a fun way. I like it, playing under the lights is fun. It did feel like an event, and it was a good event.

Christie Fink, Nottingham girls coach: I thought they did a really nice job getting everything together, having the socks. I thought it was a really nice community event and really a great atmosphere for the girls and the guys to play in, and for the schools and the rivalries. I would have loved this when I played. Beautiful field. They did a really nice job. It’s really cool.

Sara Haas, Nottingham girls’ goalie: It was pretty special. We were just trying to come out like it was a normal game just on a different field. I know our student section was pretty crowded and they’re all proud to be here.

Mike Hastings, Steinert girls coach: It’s awesome. This is the coolest thing. Knowing Jeff and the crew, he said ‘Any time you want to come over.’ I’m gonna start moving some games. It’s a great atmosphere, it’s a beautiful facility, the veterans thing is big for me since my dad fought in the Viet Nam War, so this is all wonderful. And I get to coach against one of my best friends (Christie Fink) so it’s even better.

Casey Grehan, Steinert girls forward: It’s the perfect atmosphere for soccer. It’s what every high school soccer player dreams of.  I definitely thought this many people would come. It’s a big deal because this is our rivalry.

John Costantino, Hamilton athletic director: I think it’s just great for the community. Pulling in Veterans Park, pulling in the Veterans Committee. All the work the township has put in making this facility top notch and being able to display our athletes out here is great. Considering Steinert had a football game tonight, I think this is a pretty great crowd.

About The Author

Rich Fisher has been around the Hamilton Township sports scene for so long that he actually got Rich Giallella’s autograph when Giallella was still a player! Proud product of Hamilton YMCA and Lou Gehrig baseball leagues and former teammate of Jim Maher on a very average Barton & Cooney rec basketball team, Fish graduated from Nottingham Junior High and Steinert High school and has covered township sports since 1980. His goal in life is to convince Maria Prato that Jersey tomatoes are at least 100 times better than California tomatoes.