Special to The CS&T
Coming out of the preseason, Father Judge High School’s soccer team didn’t exactly resemble potential world beaters.
After three non-league wins came the Crusaders’ first Catholic League game, a visit to league powerhouse Archbishop Ryan on Sept. 13. From that point on, everything changed.
“I really liked what I saw,” said Judge coach John Dunlop. “We kicked into gear, and I was actually kind of shocked. We didn’t allow a shot in the second half.”
Visiting Judge won that contest 2-0. Although they faced some challenging games for the next two months, the Crusaders forged ahead and developed a reputation as being the team to beat in the highly competitive Catholic League Red spanision, where teams such as Ryan, La Salle, North Catholic and St. Joseph’s Prep often make life miserable for opposing squads.
With everything on the line in the Catholic League championship Nov. 3, Father Judge returned to the scene of their league-opening victory. And although it was once again Archbishop Ryan standing tall as a worthy, albeit underdog, opponent, this occasion contained significantly more expensive stakes.
“We knew what we had to do,” said Judge senior Nick Morris. “We had a good feeling about our chances.”
After the Raiders (12-7-3) played the Crusaders (19-2-1; both were 1-0 losses to North Catholic) tight early in the first half, Father Judge began to take control of the momentum. About 32 minutes into the game, that resulted in some offense when sophomore Nick Battaglia assisted Morris for the 0-0 tie-breaking tally.
With 10 minutes gone in the second half, Father Judge basically secured its victory when Morris scored following a setup from teammates Matt Kerns and Kevin Bushbeck. Any remaining suspense evaporated when junior Eric Goldbloom outmaneuvered Ryan’s defense and found the side of the net with about 10 minutes remaining in regulation, making the score 3-0.
While Ryan, always a mighty force in the postseason, had certainly maximized a season that included upset victories over North Catholic and La Salle to reach the final, Father Judge proved to be an overwhelming foe.
Dunlop seemed like a proud father when he spoke about a group of players that had helped secure the school’s second Catholic League title in three years after a previous 31-year wait.
“Our team was pretty loose, very focused, and they understood the system,” said Dunlop, who lauded assistant coaches Tony Parsons, Scott Wimsey, Fred Costello and Joe Hosephros. “When we play to our potential, good things will happen.
“We are big, strong, fast and our fitness is phenomenal. When that all comes together, it makes us a tough team to beat.”
After flip-flopping goalies Chris Schwartz, a senior, and Colin Sulipizo, a junior, throughout the season, Schwartz received the nod to play in all three playoff games. Including wins over Roman Catholic and St. Joseph’s Prep, the Crusaders outscored their opponents by a decisive 12-1 en route to the title.
“We have 26 guys this year, and although that is a lot, we usually play at least 20 of them every game,” said Dunlop. “We’ve got some good kids, and I have assistant coaches that make it very easy for me. It takes away all the pressure.”
And when you are the Catholic League champ, no one can argue with the results.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.