Retired Hightstown High School teacher and coach Chuck Pesce gathers with his former colleagues for happy hour every Friday in Bordentown, and much of the talk centers around sports. Most of the participants—football and baseball guys at heart—bemoan soccer as boring, and Pesce goes along with them for appearance’s sake.

Notre Dame junior Bella Pesce has impressed in her first season as a center-midfielder, ranking second on the Irish girls’ soccer team in points. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

But he has become a closet fan, as one can find him at most Notre Dame High girls’ soccer games.

“Don’t tell the boys,” he said when spotted. “They’ll never let me live it down.”

But Pesce has a very good reason for going against the grain. He is the grandfather of Irish junior Bella Pesce, one of the top midfielders in the Colonial Valley Conference.

When told of Chuck’s conversations, Bella laughed.

“I’m not surprised,” the Hamilton resident said. “I’ll have to have a talk with him.”

Actually, her granddad is in his second stint of attending Irish soccer games, as Bella’s father, Brian, also played for Notre Dame. Chuck enjoys being a fan, and who can blame him considering how his granddaughter plays.

After a career of playing outside defender, Pesce is in her first season as a center-midfielder and looks as if she is born for the position.

Through Notre Dame’s first 18 games, which resulted in a 12-5-1 record, Pesce was second on the team in points (23). Megan Tash, also from Hamilton, led the team and was second in the Colonial Valley Conference in points with 40 (16 goals, 8 assists) while Pesce led the CVC in assists with 13, to go along with five goals.

“We had some girls defensively that we were confident in, so we were able to push her up and still have confidence in the players in the back,” ND coach Vicky Camera said. “She’s very versatile and she has worked her way up the field. She’s always asking, ‘Can I be part of the attack?’ She started out in the back and now we have her in an offensive-mid role. She becomes so aggressive, it’s a tremendous quality to have to be aggressive all over the field and in front of the goal. She can finish, she’s been an aggressive player, playmaker. She’s been doing a lot of stuff for us this year.”

Pesce has enjoyed the switch, saying, “It’s definitely been a change but I love the midfield. I like it so much better now. I can get involved in the offense a lot more and I think it was definitely a good switch with the players we have. I just love it.”

Pesce has been an impact player everywhere she has played but mostly on defense. She started playing travel with the Hamilton Wildcats, and the coaching staff there pretty much told her she would be a defender. From there, Pesce went on to win national championships with the New Jersey Rush in 2016 and with PDA last year.

“It’s definitely a lot different playing in those games because the level there is so much more intense,” she said. “When I get here, I kind of raise the level for myself because I want to play the exact same as if I were in those games. So for Notre Dame I’m still competitive, and it’s still intense.”

Pesce started her freshman season on the JV but got moved up toward season’s end.

“Just her skill alone was noticed,” Camera said. “She set herself aside for sure.”

And a person with that kind of talent needs to be utilized in other ways, which is why Camera was happy to move Pesce up once she had other defenders to slide into her role.

“As I got older, I kind of wanted to get more involved in the offense,” Pesce said. “I would play up top in the midfield once in a while but this has definitely been different and I just love it. When she told me she was moving me, I was so excited. It’s definitely hard because center-mid is one of the most important positions on the field, but I have some great players with me. We all kind of string passes along together in the midfield so having them definitely helps. But it is stressful at times because you kind of have to take control of everything.”

Pesce has handled the stress well, as she appears to have an idea of what to do whenever she has possession of the ball.

“She has definitely improved with her composure,” Camera said. “She’s smart, she adapts to the people around her, which she needs to do, especially when you’re playing in different positions. She’s grown more poised. She’s been able to have better vision of the field. She’s more confident in herself to finish the ball because she always looked at herself like ‘I’m a defender’ and defenders don’t score. Now that she’s part of the attack she wants to score.”

Her ability to control the ball is impressive, as she dribbles as though the ball is attached to her foot.

“I had to work on that,” Pesce said. “Going to PDA definitely helped me on my ball skill and my touches. When I came here, I had a lot more control of the ball.”

Although defending is part of her past soccer life—at least for now—Pesce can still appreciate junior goalie Nicole Rende, a long-time teammate and fellow Hamiltonian.

“I’ve been playing with her since I was eight years old,” Pesce said. “I think she’s definitely one of the best goalies around here and very reliable. She’s very trustworthy. She’s one of the best goalies I’ve ever seen.”

Camera agrees, saying, “Nicole’s been great for us. It’s her third year now on our team, she’s grown tremendously, confidently. She’s really been speaking out more and really commands that back. And she truly sees everything in front of her and communicates with the girls.”

At the opposite end of the field is Tash. The senior forward from Hamilton Square had six goals and seven assists as a junior, and has exploded this season.

“Meg has stepped it up so much since last year,” Camera said. “Even though she’s not a captain, he’s been such a leader. She is such a coachable player. She’s such a team player and she has put 100 percent out every single game for us. We couldn’t ask for more with her.”

Part of Tash’s emergence has been the help she is getting from Pesce.

“Yeah, with the distribution, definitely,” Camera said. “Meg’s always checking back with what she has to do, and Bella is always trying to find the forwards’ feet.”

Which is something her grandfather may want to bring up the next time he’s at happy hour.