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St. Joseph boys soccer ready to contend for playoff victories

September 23, 2018
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St. Joseph’s goalkeeper Zach Szep makes a save during practice Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, at Freeport Community Park.

The St. Joseph boys soccer team has been there, but, just hasn’t done that ... yet.

Coming off a rebuilding year, the Spartans feel they have the talent and experience to be a playoff contender and the potential to do what past teams were unable to do -- win a playoff game.

“Speaking from my point of view, we had one of the most talented teams in St. Joseph history both my freshman and sophomore years, and we got knocked out of the playoffs right away,” senior midfielder Daniel Fabregás said. “I see the talent on this team, and I know the capabilities on this team. I do not want us to lose in the first round this year.”

Last year was a difficult one for a team that had experienced more winning than losing in the previous years. Gone were players like Vincenzo Schiano diCola, Jack Farrell, Austin O’Hara and Mitchell Kuczynski, making it time for a young and inexperienced group of players to take the field and carve out the new era of St. Joseph soccer.

“We use the 2016 team as an example of that and those nine seniors on the team all played as freshmen and they weren’t great their first few years, too,” said St. Joseph coach Matt Skoda, who is in his 10th season as the Spartans’ coach. ”(Last season) they kind of took their lumps along the way, but we kind of beat it into their heads that they will be better for it.”

The 2017 season could have gone either way. After starting the season with a 2-2-1 record, the Spartans slipped into a four-game losing streak before getting back in the win column with a 5-2 win over Section 2-A rival Geibel. But when it came time to drop the curtain on the 2017 season, St. Joseph finished 5-10-1 overall (4-8 in section), placed fifth in section standings and consequently were shut out of the postseason for the first time in two years.

“A lot of younger players played last year out of necessity, and a lot of them were freshmen,” Skoda said. “They were good players, but a lot of teams in our section were senior-laden.”

The Spartans have three seniors in Fabregás, midfielder Dominic Ferrante and defender Seth Jordan. Fabregás led St. Joseph in both goals (17) and assists (8) last season. Ferrante finished second on the team in goals (5) and assists (6). Junior Eli Swierczewski finished third in points (10) and is expected to continue to improve at his midfielder spot.

“We might be one of the more experienced teams in our section this year, despite the fact that we have three seniors,” Skoda said.

The attack will be spearheaded by sophomore forward Paul Shadel with help from Swierczewski, Ferrante and Fabregás. Freshman Rylan Zale will get the start at the center-midfielder spot.

After playing all over the field last season, junior Luke Zagurski will settle in at defender. Zagurski will help lead a back line that includes Jordan, junior Andrew Sullivan and sophomore Sean LeMay.

“There’s not a deep bench, but there’s a lot talent on it, and I feel comfortable about putting them in at any given time,” Skoda said.

One of the big changes going into the season will be at goalkeeper, where sophomore Zach Szep unseated last year’s starter in junior Mason Hurlbut. Szep didn’t see the field last year while Hurlbut stopped 90 of 127 shots in his 14 starts. Skoda said while Hurlbut will see some action between the poles, Szep’s attitude and offseason work ethic propelled the untested keeper into the starting spot.

“Basically, we’re going to go with who we feel is the best fit for each game, and Szep is definitely our starter now,” Skoda said. “Physically he’s pretty long. He’s about (6-foot-2), 6-3 and he kind of has the prototypical body to be a goalkeeper.”

The Spartans will open the season Saturday at the Avonworth tournament against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart before opening Section 2-A play at home against Geibel on Sept. 4.

“I’d have to say that this is probably the most cohesive group, and it’s not a large team, but there’s a lot of talent on it,” Skoda said. “We’re expecting much improvement from last year.”

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