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The West Essex boys soccer team gathers around Super Essex Conference championship plaque after recently clinching the Liberty Division title. The Knights are the No. 7 seed in ECT. (Photo by Bill Allen-NJSportAction.NET)
SEC-Liberty Champion Wessex
NORTH CALDWELL- In 1997, the band Foreigner had a mega-hit with the song “Feels Like the First Time.”
In that vein, one cannot blame the parents and other older fans of the current West Essex Regional boys soccer squad if they felt like they were having a flashback to that notion when the 2014 Knights contingent clinched a conference crown on Saturday, Oct. 11, with an overtime win at Belleville.
Clearly, considering the long and storied history of the Knights kickers contingent, Saturday's success was far from the first time that the locals had earned a championship, but, to many, it seems, it certainly felt that way.
By going 9-0-1 in their 10 Super Essex Conference/Liberty Division tussles this year, the locals earned their first title of any kind since the Knights copped an Iron Hills Conference crown in 2004, after having won the State Group 2 championship in 2000 and tying for the Essex County Tournament title back in 1995.
The Knights' SEC-Liberty Division crown clincher came on Saturday afternoon, when WE outlasted homestanding Belleville, 2-1, in OT. That triumph also moved Wessex to a very healthy 11-1-1 overall on the year. The locals' sole setback so far this season came against perennial power Montclair High, 1-0, on Sept. 22.
WE finished at or close to the bottom of the SEC/American Division standings the last two years, as the Knights finished at 2-13-2 overall in 2012 and at 3-15-1 last time around.
“We knew we'd have a chance to have a better record when we were moved from the American to the Liberty Division this year,” said third year WE head coach Rob Grosso, a member of the WE Class of 1996 who was graduated from Montclair State University in 2001.
“However, I don't think that the change in division is the whole story,” expounded Grosso. “It takes time for a program to adapt to a new coach and, now, I think the coaching staff and the players are much more in sync and, as a result, overall, the team has improved.
“Whatever the reason, though, we've won a title and we're very proud of this group of very dedicated players.”
Captaining the current club are two 12th-graders and a junior: Chris Pezzuti, a senior left fullback who has recorded one goal and two assists so far this season, Jake Gilbert, a senior attacking central midfielder who boasts six scores and one help, and Kyle Ribeiro, an 11th-grade sweeper.
At the Essex County Tournament's seeding meeting on Tuesday night, Oct. 14, at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, WE was slotted seventh and crosstown competitor Caldwell (8-5) got the 10th spot, meaning that the two will face each other in an ECT round of 16 tussle on Saturday, Oct. 25, at Travis Field in North Caldwell.
“This couldn't have worked out better than if we had written a script,” celebrated Grosso. “We haven't faced Caldwell yet this year, because, as a result of the realignment and the switch from four divisions to just three in the SEC, Caldwell was moved up to the American Division and we were dropped down to the Liberty.
“So, getting a chance to face them in the county tournament is just perfect.
“Anytime West Essex faces Caldwell in any sport it's something special and to get to face them in the county tourney is just much more special and something we're very much looking forward to.”
The survivor of the Chiefs at Knights tussle will move on to battle either second-seeded Seton Hall Prep (12-2-1), No. 15 Orange (6-7) or No. 18 Nutley (3-10).
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