When the NJSIAA’s truncated state soccer playoffs began a few weeks ago, with brackets being moved and shaped to fit the state’s unfathomable chore of putting together a state tournament within the restrictions of a hellacious pandemic, St. Peter’s Prep didn’t really know where it stood.
The Marauders struggled through the final stages of the season, losing three of their last four games, including a crushing 5-2 defeat at the hands of Oratory Prep of Summit in the final regular season contest.
So as the state playoffs approached, veteran Prep head coach Josh Jantas decided to make some personnel changes to his lineup.
“We brought up some young guys who brought some enthusiasm,” Jantas said. “We changed some things tactically. We moved our center back [Max Kirk] to the midfield to get some offense and win some balls.”
The changes seemed to work, because the young Marauders clicked at the right time.
“The kids all bought in,” Jantas said. “Our young kids probably arrived a year ahead of time.”
That’s because they had to play. Jantas had no choice, as the Marauders suffered through injury after injury, the biggest coming when the team’s leading goal scorer, senior Anthony Warmuz, was lost for the season with a knee injury.
“It was really tough losing him,” Jantas said of Warmuz. “He’s a big-time goal scorer. He was playing the best soccer of his life over the last two weeks.”
Warmuz tallied 16 goals in 14 games, placing him among the top 30 goal scorers in New Jersey. Losing Warmuz could have been a devastating blow.
The Marauders also had a budding star in freshman Andy Mayorga, who scored two goals in his first varsity game of his career against Memorial and then had the three-goal hat trick in a win over Hudson Catholic, but then suffered a hip fracture and was lost for the season after just two games.
Senior captain Soren Mayendia suffered a dislocated knee and was lost for the season.
Center back Leo Moura broke his arm just 30 seconds into the Marauders’ lone scrimmage in September.
“We were really unlucky,” Jantas said.
But the young Marauders trudged on. They defeated Newark Academy, 3-1, in the opening round of the state playoffs, with two freshmen, Christopher Barbosa and Del Lindsay, scoring a goal, along with sophomore Jon Dereka.
That says a lot about the youth of the team.
In the second round, the Marauders defeated St. Joseph of Montvale, 1-0, on a penalty kick goal by senior Jair Arriaga, who simply had a brilliant campaign all season, creating plays and making passes. Arriaga had 13 assists, good for 21st place in assists in New Jersey.
Junior Connor Bankuti made five saves in goal to earn the clean sheet for the Marauders.
The wins enabled the Marauders to advance to the state sectional championship game against Seton Hall Prep, ranked No. 6 in the state.
It was only the fourth time in the school’s history that the Marauders played for a state sectional trophy, joining the years 1978, 1993 and 1998.
But it wasn’t meant to be. The Marauders lost to the Pirates, 4-0, in the title game played at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium in clearly the best November weather known to man.
Usually down at Caven, the wind howls and the chill gets bitter. Soccer games at Caven are not pleasant experiences, especially with the wind. Long balls are non-existent and crazy things generally occur.
But the conditions were downright delightful. Too bad the result wasn’t for the Marauders.
Still, there was nothing to be ashamed of. The Marauders pumped a little life into their season and played for a state sectional trophy.
“I think a lot of the credit goes to our seniors like Jair and Soren,” Jantas said. “Their leadership was tremendous. Once we brought the younger guys up, we took a chance. For them to come and perform at that level is pretty impressive.”
The Marauders started four sophomores and four freshmen in the state title game. That says it all.
“I absolutely couldn’t be more proud of these kids,” Jantas said. “The future is obviously bright. We’re obviously disappointed with the result. We always preach that we want to play for a championship. To get where we are is a step in the right direction. That state championship is going to come very soon.”
Unfortunately, Arriaga, easily the best player on the field against Seton Hall Prep, won’t get a chance to play for that title. He’ll be playing college soccer somewhere. He’s that good.
But Arriaga will be remembered as the one who helped to lay down the groundwork for the Marauders’ success on the state level.
Warmuz also moves on, but will also get a chance to play on the next level.
Just like Jantas said, it’s coming. Count on it.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to the Hudson County Sports Podcast, brought to you weekly by Stan’s Sports Center, 528 Washington Street in Hoboken, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Listen to this week’s guest, namely former Hudson Catholic and St. Peter’s Prep head basketball coach Bob Ryan.