The gate to Glotzbach Park opens at 7 a.m. on Saturdays in the spring, and for anyone passing Nutley, that time also opens up the opportunity to watch the state’s top scorer get down to business.
An hour later, senior Matt pergola is already drenched in sweat. He took nearly 500 shots. All this before training officially begins.
It became routine before two-hour sessions with the team.
Yet it never ceases to amaze Michael Salvatelli, Nutley’s trainer to see that before the rest of town wakes up and grabs their morning coffee, their star player is right there, on that pitch tucked away off Park Ave. and sandwiched between two Dunkin’ Donuts, working.
Pergola lost a year of high school lacrosse as a sophomore and has been making up for lost time ever since. This pedal-to-the-floor process turned the senior into one of the best players in the state and he just set up a season for the ages, becoming the third player in state history to score more than 100 goals in one season.
That’s right. Not in a career. In a single season.
Pergola joins an exclusive roster that includes the state’s all-time leading scorer, Manasquan’s Canyon Birch, and Johnson’s Matt Poskay, who left high school in 2002 with the national record for career goals.
“The hard work paid off,” Salvatelli said. “It’s what you dream of as a coach. You tell a child what they can do to get better, and they come out and actually do it. He puts in more work than most players want and that’s why he’s in the position he’s in.
Pergola earned a varsity spot as a rookie in 2019 and was part of a team that staged just the second undefeated season in the program’s 20-year history, finishing 9-9. It may not seem like much to some, but for this city, this year has been a sign of positive progress.
Then, COVID-19 wiped out the following spring.
Salvatelli became the head coach last year and between the last time Nutley stepped onto the pitch in 2019 and the first training session of 2021 he was in constant contact with Pergola. The skill was there, but Pergola needed to tweak some things if he wanted to get where he wanted to be.
It started with his club team at Building Blocks Lacrosse, then continued in high school when he returned to brown and gray.
“I always dreamed of playing lacrosse in college and when I went through the recruiting process, I wasn’t looked at as much as I wanted to be,” Pergola said. “It fired me up. I wanted to show that I was capable of that and in the last two years I think I’ve shown that I have that fire under me and put myself in a position where I have coaches reaching out to me instead of me always reaching out to them I wanted to prove to myself that I really could do it and the hard work paid off.
The first step was to develop a right hand.
As a rookie, Pergola registered 36 goals and 34 assists. It’s a serious game-playing ability and puts him on track to be one of Nutley’s greatest ever players. He didn’t want to become complacent though. He broke all offensive records at Nutley, but Pergola wanted more.
He wanted his game to be one of the best in New Jersey.
That meant he couldn’t just rely on his left and allow the teams to see what was to come. He needed the ability to shoot both ways and keep the defenses on their toes. Last year he added that right-handed shot to his arsenal and finished the year with a team-high 52 goals.
The next step was to build muscle.
Pergola is 5ft 10in so its length was not going to help it have space to pull. This meant he had to be able to break through defenses and use a faster step to get the upper hand on whoever was guarding him.
Over the past two years, the star scorer has added 15 pounds of muscle.
Add that explosiveness and strength to a lacrosse addict who eats, sleeps and breathes the game, and you can begin to piece together exactly how Pergola was able to score 116 goals this season in just 17 outings – a jaw-dropping average up close. seven per game.
“He always had a good shot and was tough, but Matt was smaller,” Salvatelli said. “He hit the weight room and now his shooting is faster and his footwork is better. Besides that, he has a right hand. I didn’t predict it, but I knew he would have a big senior season. There weren’t many long sticks we were going to see – and that’s no disrespect to anyone – that could follow him one on one, and a short stick? Forget that. I told him before the season that if you think you can go, go. The other guys will play from there and if you want to completely take control of a match, make it happen. He’s the infield quarterback for us.
Pergola came out in 2022 and scored six goals in a loss to Parsippany Hills. A week later he scored 10 goals in a 20-12 win over Governor Livingston and added 11 in a 20-13 win over Morris Catholic a few days later.
The double-digit senior hit scores four times this year.
Pergola scored at least one goal every time he entered the field and scored five or more goals in 11 of his team’s 17 games. He averaged 6.8 per game, led Nutley to some impressive wins in NJILL’s Klank Division, and helped his team win their division in the Super Essex Conference for the first time.
He also achieved his dream and secured a spot at Stevens Institute of Technology, where he will continue his lacrosse career next spring. Pergola is the latest Nutley alum to take his talents to the next level, joining fellow seniors Jake Cirminiello and Rocco Albanese as well as alums Dominic Contella and Johnny Matrona. It’s a trend that shows city kids that lacrosse is growing in Nutley.
You can hit the calendar if you want to or if you doubt Pergola’s skill, but what he did was no accident. This ungodly year of goal production is the culmination of a decade of hard work. It’s a level of commitment that has grown over the past four years that has produced history.
No one can take that away from Pergola, whose name will forever live on as one of the greatest single-season scorers in state history. And right next to his name, Nutley will also share the limelight in these history books. It’s something special.
“It’s a great list,” Pergola said. “Canyon Birch is a high school lacrosse legend and I’m proud to be mentioned with a guy like him. I worked hard, trained hard, hit the weight room and it all paid off. I’m honored to be up there and can’t thank my teammates enough for helping me get there. I’ve put my heart into this program since second year and it means a lot to help put Nutley on the map.
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