NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Shouts of “Be on your toes!” and “Quality over quantity!” could be heard from the soccer fields at New Brunswick High School on Saturday, August 16, as both the boys and girls soccer teams were working hard to prepare for the upcoming season.

The teams practiced ball control drills, quick touch passes to teammates, and making accurate crosses and finishing at the net. With new head coaches for both teams, the Zebras boys and girls soccer teams are looking to take some big steps forward this season.

The Lady Zebras are looking to bounce back from a tough season last year with a strong junior and senior class.

“We’re here at 7:30 [a.m.] everyday, getting started early,” said girls head coach Mike Shymanski. “We’re going to rebuild from the ground up.”

“I definitely think we’re going to have a vast improvement,” Shymanski added.

Among the key leaders for the lady Zebras are Jackie Juarez, Kelly-Annie Mercado, Odallis Montes, Annalee Reyes, and Anahy Alvarez.  Junior Erica Rodriguez will be goaltending for the Zebras.

“The leadership that they’ve shown already is tremendous,” Shymanski said of his upperclassmen.

While the defense and attack will be anchored by juniors and seniors, some of the team’s younger players may get a shot in the midfield, the new head coach said.

The new coach said creating a “family atmosphere” will help to build a winning culture.

“We’re going to have each other’s backs,” Shymanski said. “Wins, losses, that’s not what’s going to define us. When we come together as a family that’s when the wins are going to come.”

Meanwhile, the Zebra boys are led by Rafael Castillo, who has transitioned into the head coaching role after years of supporting the team as an academic coach through the school’s “Play It Smart” program.

“Play It Smart” is a program available for every NBHS athlete, which provides tutoring, community service opportunities, college preparation and leadership training, Castillo said.

“I have a good rapport with this team, because of that relationship that I built with them [through Play-It-Smart],” Castillo, said.

In addition, the fact that Castillo is bilingual is another benefit to the team, as many of the players are ESL students who speak Spanish as their native language.

“It definitely helps to have a coach who speaks Spanish,” Castillo said.

Assistant Coach Victor Martins provides additional support to the team during its training.

Castillo believes the Zebras, who finished with a losing record last year, can not only win a majority of their games, but also compete for a Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) championship and make a run at the state tournament.

Enthusiasm for the team has been high, as over 60 players tried out for the boys squad.  In addition to varsity and junior varsity, the Zebras will also add a freshman team this year.

“That’s a good start for the program,” Castillo said about adding the freshman squad. “We just want to sustain it for years to come.”

However, the Zebra’s are built around upperclassman at key positions.

These include Raul Galindo, a right midfielder, and Scott Ortego, who will be anchoring the defense as center back.

“He’s a leader, very vocal,” Castillo said of Ortego. “He’s very committed to the team.”

Between the pipes will be junior goalkeeper Alexis Narvaez.

“He stepped up this year into that position,” Castillo said.

The Zebras play their first league game on Friday, September 5 against Colonia, while the Lady Zebras open their season against Cardinal McCarrick on Wednesday, September 10.

Sports Reporter at New Brunswick Today | 732-208-5651 |

Experienced journalist and educator who loves writing about local issues and social justice. Also a big fan of Rutgers sports.

Experienced journalist and educator who loves writing about local issues and social justice. Also a big fan of Rutgers sports.