For all intents and purposes, high school soccer teams don’t recover from losing 12 seniors to graduation, including four who went on play collegiate soccer, two of whom (Paul Kondranowicz and Luc Smith) play at NCAA Division I New Jersey Institute of Technology.
But that’s what the St. Peter’s Prep soccer team had to endure after the pomp and circumstance of commencement last June.
However, those weren’t the only obstacles that the Marauders had to endure.
The Marauders were faced with the unexpected departure of two standout players in Christian Arcos and Julian Gibson, to play for academy teams instead of their high school squads for their senior seasons.
Gibson, considered to be among the top 15 players in the state, went on to play for the Cedar Stars Academy. Arcos, arguably the best returning player in the entire state, left Prep to play for the Players Development Academy, more readily known as PDA – and it has nothing to do with kissing in plain sight.
So the Marauders lost 12 program players the conventional way and two the unconventional way due to getting plucked out of high school for the lure of academy soccer.
“It’s a lot to lose,” said veteran St. Peter’s Prep head coach Josh Jantas, who is in his 11th season as head coach. “Each kid has to make their own decision. It’s his personal choice. We’re hoping to give these kids a chance to make memories to last a lifetime, but what can we do? Losing kids of that talent obviously hurts and obviously leaves holes to fill.”
But Jantas didn’t fret too long about the situation.
“We preach ‘the next man up’ mentality,” Jantas said. “We have players who when their time comes up, they’re ready to go. We have had a number of guys who have stepped up. Sure, when you lose kids like that, there’s a sense of disappointment, but the kids needed to have a sense of resolve to put in the work and get ready to compete.”
Jantas said that he had a sense the Marauders were going to pull themselves up by the collective boot straps when they attended preseason training camp together at the International Sports Training Camp in Stroudsburg, Pa. for four days.
“We showed a lot of closeness and togetherness those four days,” Jantas said. “The kids decided that they were going to play for the guy next to them. That camaraderie propelled us. We determined the sum of the parts was better than one player.”
There’s no arguing with the results.
The Marauders owned a 10-1-1 record as of Oct. 5, with the lone loss coming at the hands of Union City, a team that they eventually defeated last week. The tie came against defending Hudson County Tournament and overall NJSIAA Group IV state champion Kearny.
“I think I had a good idea where we were headed when we went up to Mamaroneck, N.Y. and came away with a 1-0 victory,” Jantas said. “We also defeated a good Wallington team. Each night, I would go back to my coaching staff and kept saying, ‘Hey, we’re looking pretty good.’ I’m generally optimistic and get excited about each season, but we now go to every game thinking we’re going to win. We’re obviously happy with where we are right now.”
Part of the reason why the Marauders have enjoyed a great start to the soccer season has been the contributions of two baseball stars. Seniors Kyle Hess and Matteo Sollecitto have been nothing short of spectacular for the Marauders on the soccer pitch. Both enjoyed great baseball campaigns last spring.
Hess is the team’s center midfielder who will go to the University of Notre Dame next fall to play baseball. But for now, Hess is the senior captain and main distributor for the soccer team, collecting seven goals and five assists in the early going.
“He’s a gifted soccer player,” Jantas said of Hess, who missed three games in the early going with a sprained foot. “He’s gifted in scoring goals, but he’s also good with making that final pass. He can shoot with either his right or left foot with the same ferocity. He’s a leader and does things the right way. He’s the first one to practice and the last one to leave. He makes others want to follow him. He’s certainly a big reason why we’re doing so well.”
Sollecitto plays forward for the Marauders and he has contributed to the team’s success as well.
“He’s a big imposing figure on our front line,” Jantas said. “He stands about 6-foot-3. He gets to a lot of balls in the air.”
The team’s goalkeeper is senior Ulises Rodriguez, who is also considered to be one of the best net minders in the state.
“It’s certainly comforting as a coach to have someone like Ulises back there,” Jantas said. “He’s good with his feet and makes saves with his feet. When a shot is at close range, he’s at his best.”
Senior Jacob Brozon is a captain, a two-year starter and center defender. Brozon is an Ivy League candidate and a highly regarded honors student at the school. Junior Jacon Bacha is another center defender. The back line gets bolstered with the addition of transfer Matt Jasinski, who just became eligible after transferring from Elmwood Park.
The other starting defenders are senior Chris Tolkin and junior Kevin Diaz.
“We’re very solid back there,” Jantas said of his backline. “We have four returning starters and a lot of depth.”
Seniors Jon Torres and Chris Cunningham and sophomore Soren Mayendia add strength and depth to the backline.
The defensive midfielder is senior Colin Plunkett, with junior Antonio Callegari adding offense from the midfield. Callegari has scored 11 goals and added eight assists, an explosion no one saw coming.
“We always had high hopes for him,” Jantas said of Callegari. “Last year, he had the knack of scoring important goals, but this has been quite impressive. He’s the best finisher on the team and puts the ball into the back of the net.”
Senior Ryan Emma, junior Gabe Guedez and sophomore Jair Arriaga are other contributing midfielders, although Arriaga has been missing due to an undisclosed illness.
Senior Patrick Koenaghan and junior Matias Carrion are the other starting forwards. Carrion has six goals and four assists.
Senior Quinn Conlin, junior Oleg Prots and sophomore Anthony Warmuz are reserve forwards. Yes, this is a very deep team.
“Each one of them has contributed in their own way,” Jantas said. “Everyone sees the field on this team.”
So it has been a lot of fun for the Marauders, despite the massive turnover.
“We’re pleased to be in the position we’re in,” Jantas said. “We’re doing well, but we can’t let up, because in this league, each game has the possibility of being an upset.”
Not up until now, it hasn’t. The Marauders haven’t been upset at all. They’re rolling along.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com and you can follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar.