Northeast Times

Wounded Warriors

With seni­or cap­tains Justin Hartwine and Steph­en Smeck gone for the sea­son with knee in­jur­ies, Fath­er Judge will look to play­ers like Vontae Hil­liard (above) to help get the Cru­saders back to the Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship game. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIME

— After mak­ing the Cath­ol­ic League soc­cer play­offs a year ago, Judge and Ry­an are back at it — with a few key in­jur­ies.

Start­Frag­ment

In any sport, be­ing good on pa­per is al­ways a dan­ger­ous thing. Just ask the 2011 Phil­adelphia Eagles, or this year’s ver­sion of the Phil­lies. In­jur­ies or oth­er un­fore­seen factors can af­fect — or com­pletely de­rail — a sea­son once the games start play­ing out.

John Dun­lop un­der­stands this, and he bet­ter, be­cause he’s just star­ted liv­ing it.

Dun­lop, the head coach of the Fath­er Judge soc­cer team, en­joyed his off­season know­ing his Cru­sader squad would be one of the top groups in the Cath­ol­ic League, es­pe­cially with seni­or cap­tains Justin Hiltwine and Steph­en Smeck due to re­turn. Hartwine, a for­ward, was poised to make a run for league MVP, while Smeck, a back, would be the cent­ral fig­ure of the Judge de­fense. Dun­lop hoped to ride both to a title and con­tin­ue on the re­cent string of soc­cer suc­cess at the school, which in­cluded an ap­pear­ance in last year’s Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship, where Judge fell to LaS­alle in over­time.

Then came those afore­men­tioned un­fore­seen obstacles. Hartwine and Smeck both suffered sea­son-end­ing knee in­jur­ies in the past few weeks, leav­ing Judge with two in­act­ive cap­tains and a lot of ques­tions to an­swer.

“First we lost Justin, then the next week it was Steph­en,” Dun­lop said. “We came out of camp say­ing, ‘What are we go­ing to do?’ When the Phil­lies lost Chase Ut­ley and Ry­an Howard, the team asked oth­er guys to step up, which cre­ates pres­sure. Some couldn’t handle it. I’m not say­ing my guys can’t handle it, but we’re grind­ing it out. We aren’t hand­ling it great right now, but it’s a time thing.

“On pa­per com­ing in­to the sea­son, I think we were the top team, tal­ent-wise,” he con­tin­ued. “Now, we’re in the middle of the pack with every­one else, which is fine. We’re go­ing to have to earn it now.”

So far, the res­ults have been mixed. Judge won its sea­son open­er, a 5-1 de­cision over Spring­field. Then came a 3-0 de­feat at the hands of Park­land, an Al­lentown-based school that Dun­lop said was ranked in the top 20 na­tion­ally. Last Thursday, the Cru­saders fell be­hind 2-0 to Holy Ghost at half­time, staged a furi­ous second half rally to tie the score late in reg­u­la­tion, then fell 3-2 in double over­time. The fol­low­ing day, they shel­lacked Car­din­al O’Hara, 5-0, so Dun­lop isn’t quite sure what to ex­pect as the sea­son pro­gresses, but he hopes to fig­ure it out in the weeks to come. (Judge will travel to neigh­bor­hood rival Arch­bish­op Ry­an on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. for a highly-an­ti­cip­ated match-up.)

NO EASY FIX

“Steph­en was our heart and soul back there, he really kept guys or­gan­ized,” Dun­lop said. “And Justin is a Di­vi­sion I schol­ar­ship play­er and one of the top tal­ents in South­east­ern Pa. Now, we have to kind of re-cre­ate our sys­tem and fig­ure out the roles of oth­er guys, some of who haven’t star­ted on varsity be­fore. For us, it’s go­ing to be a mat­ter of lim­it­ing our mis­takes and turnovers and be­ing the smartest team on the field.”

Step­ping in­to an im­me­di­ate con­trib­ut­or’s role will be George Wash­ing­ton trans­fer Mo­hamed Conde, who was the North­east Times’ sports­man of the year last sea­son. Conde, crav­ing a lar­ger role on of­fense, trans­ferred to Judge, and he will cer­tainly get his op­por­tun­it­ies to shine up front. Seni­or Von­tez Hil­liard will be ex­pec­ted to score up top, while his twin broth­er, Vontae, will step in as the team’s sweep­er and will be flanked by Matt Matwiejczyk and Joey Malves­tuto on the back line. Mid­field­er Kev­in Lock­hart, whom Dun­lop called one of the team’s best play­ers, will be a “float­er” util­ized at all po­s­i­tions. An­drew Smeck, an­oth­er twin broth­er on the Judge roster, will serve a sim­il­ar role, while Ry­an Nork and Joey Hansen round out the mid­field. In goal, the Cru­saders will use both seni­or Dylan Trush and ju­ni­or Dan Sulp­iz­io un­til one of them grabs hold of the start­ing job.

Learn­ing on the fly was not Dun­lop’s plan com­ing in, but as the coach found out, plans of­ten change, for­cing teams to ad­apt.

“I do think this is a good team,” Dun­lop said. “We just have to lim­it mis­takes. It’s com­ing in pieces, which is a hard way to play in the Cath­ol­ic League, where there’s nev­er a night off. But fa­cing ad­versity with more play­ing time is only go­ing to be­ne­fit these guys, and we plan on work­ing it out, knock­ing out the kinks and put­ting it to­geth­er in time for a play­off run.”

GEORGE KNOWS BEST

Mean­while, over on Academy Road, Judge’s chief rival is sort­ing out some in­jury is­sues of their own.

George Todt is en­ter­ing his 44th sea­son as boys’ soc­cer coach at Arch­bish­op Ry­an. Todt, the win­ningest boys’ soc­cer coach in Pennsylvania and sixth-win­ningest coach na­tion­ally, has also served as the school’s ath­let­ic dir­ect­or for the past 40 years. Any­one who has a field named in his or her hon­or, as Todt does, has seen and heard it all, so noth­ing sur­prises him at this point. He knows that mak­ing pre­season pre­dic­tions is an ar­bit­rary act, as the late-sea­son “one goal” Cath­ol­ic League games can go in either dir­ec­tion. Hav­ing been the soc­cer coach at Ry­an since he gradu­ated from col­lege in 1969, Todt tries to look at key in­jur­ies with a glass half-full ap­proach.

“Everything trans­lates to op­por­tun­ity out there on the field,” Todt said, while watch­ing his team prac­tice on Monday af­ter­noon. “In­jur­ies al­low for oth­er guys to step in and see what they can do. Be­cause we haven’t played too many games yet, kids will get op­por­tun­it­ies to shine and strengths and weak­nesses will be ex­posed as we go. It’s all about find­ing a mix­ture that works, and we still have an­oth­er couple of weeks to do that.”

Just like Judge, Ry­an has lost two key play­ers to ser­i­ous knee in­jur­ies in seni­or striker Brett Beau­mont (a re­turn­ing All-Cath­ol­ic se­lec­tion) and ju­ni­or mid­field­er Sam Ba­thurst. For­tu­nately for the Raid­ers, these in­jur­ies happened back in the spring, so they should get both guys back this sea­son, where­as Judge won’t be as lucky.

At press time, the Raid­ers were 1-1 and still feel­ing things out as a unit. Todt said the team has three cap­able goal­tenders, with the main battle brew­ing between seni­or Mar­cus Otto and ju­ni­or Jared Ott. Otto is the in­cum­bent but is be­ing pushed hard by Ott, and Ry­an also has tal­en­ted sopho­more J.T. Boyle, if needed. The cap­tains are seni­ors Kev­in Galm and Jimmy Smith, both re­turn­ing starters. Ry­an lost three starters to gradu­ation, and Todt hopes play­ers like seni­ors Jim Fee­ley and Kyle Moyta and ju­ni­or Marco Cavallo can be in the ro­ta­tion at mid­field and on de­fense.

DEPTH PER­CEP­TION

The team has three dan­ger­ous strikers in sopho­more Mi­chael Kirby and seni­ors Mi­chael Ush­er and Miguel Ren­don, while fresh­man Chris Schle­gel and sopho­more Joe Stock will be in the mix as well. So des­pite the key in­jur­ies, the Raid­ers are deep, which should al­low them to stay in the thick of things in league play and be in the mix come the play­offs, which Ry­an hosts at the school. (The Raid­ers were elim­in­ated by St. Joseph’s Prep in last sea­son’s quarterfi­nals, but hope to ad­vance fur­ther in 2012 to win Todt his 14th league title.)

“Really, any­one can beat any­one, which has been the his­tory of the league,” Todt said. “We’ve all won cham­pi­on­ships, and we’ll be fight­ing each oth­er all sea­son un­til the fi­nal whistle blows. The com­pet­i­tion is what makes it so good, and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how it un­folds.”

So is it the fierce com­pet­i­tion what keeps Todt com­ing back year after year?

“I al­ways say ‘one more year,’” Todt said. “But nobody be­lieves me be­cause I’ve been say­ing that the last 15 years. Look, this is what I do and who I am. I be­lieve in the tra­di­tion of Ry­an soc­cer, and Cath­ol­ic League soc­cer has been my life. That’s what I’m all about.” ••

The boys Pub­lic League soc­cer pre­view will be pos­ted Thursday at www.bsmphilly.com/sports. Check back in next week’s edi­tion for a com­pre­hens­ive look at the North­east Philly girls soc­cer land­scape.

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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