N.E. well-repped for ‘blue-collar’ Roman Catholic soccer

  • Roman Catholic head coach Ray DeStephanis has guided the Cahillites into the Catholic League semifinals for the second time in three seasons. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • Roman’s Mariano Cepeda, a transfer from Abington Friends School, is one of several Northeast Philly residents on the Cahillites roster. PHOTO COURTESY OF RAY DESTEPHANIS / ROMAN CATHOLIC SOCCER

North­east Phil­adelphia al­ways has had a repu­ta­tion of be­ing a blue-col­lar part of town, and its cit­izens know they must work painstak­ingly hard for everything that comes their way.

With such a heavy in­flux of North­east kids on its roster, the Ro­man Cath­ol­ic soc­cer team has rid­den that blue-col­lar men­tal­ity to a top-three fin­ish in the Cath­ol­ic League for the first time in head coach Ray DeStephanis’ sev­en-year ten­ure.

“The great thing about us is that we are a blue-col­lar team,” said seni­or Diego Ramirez, a North­east res­id­ent who at­ten­ded Present­a­tion BVM in Chel­ten­ham and has played on Fox Chase Soc­cer Club since he was 4 years old. “We work for everything and we have to lay it out on the field so that the league will re­spect us.”

Gar­ner­ing that re­spect has been easi­er said than done. In con­ver­sa­tions with Ramirez and fel­low seni­ors/North­east res­id­ents Mari­ano Ce­peda, Nor­man Hansen and Matt De­Treux, the quar­tet all main­tained that since Ro­man was nev­er really known as a soc­cer power the way that rival schools like Fath­er Judge, Arch­bish­op Ry­an and La Salle are, they have had to work ex­tra hard to build a revered found­a­tion in one of the sport’s most chal­len­ging leagues. 

The pro­gress has been stead­fast. After fall­ing to Judge in the semis two years ago and Ry­an in last year’s quarterfi­nals, this year’s Ro­man squad fin­ished third in the league with a re­cord of 8-2-1. For the first time in pro­gram his­tory, the Cahil­lites beat La Salle this sea­son, which has the team think­ing cham­pi­on­ship. After a 1-0 over­time win over Arch­bish­op Wood in the quarterfi­nals on Tues­day night, Ro­man ad­vanced to face Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic in Sat­urday’s semi­finals to be played at Ry­an. The win­ner of that match gets the win­ner of Judge-Ry­an in Tues­day’s cham­pi­on­ship, also to be played at Ry­an.

“Ro­man isn’t giv­en any re­spect in our league and the team real­izes this,” said Hansen, a Fox Chase res­id­ent. “That is why we take it in­to con­sid­er­a­tion to put Ro­man on the map, for our team and the fu­ture of the pro­gram. Hard work and ded­ic­a­tion al­ways pays off. ‘Quiet con­fid­ence’ is our motto be­cause we fly un­der the radar, but we be­lieve we have what it takes.”

De­Treux, a Somer­ton res­id­ent, said he grew up go­ing to sports camps at Ry­an and fully ex­pec­ted to end up there. He figured end­ing up at the school on Academy Road was “kind of my des­tiny,” but he gave in to his par­ents and con­sen­ted to a vis­it to Ro­man. He couldn’t be hap­pi­er with his de­cision.

“My mom wanted me to take a look at Ro­man, and I wasn’t really ex­cited about it,” he said. “But when I vis­ited, I fell in love. I knew it was the place for me. The soc­cer pro­gram ac­tu­ally didn’t play a huge role in my de­cision to come to Ro­man. My dad al­ways stressed to me that I shouldn’t choose a school be­cause of sports, but rather be­cause of aca­dem­ics and where I would be hap­pi­est.”

And has De­Treux been hap­pi­est as a stu­dent-ath­lete at Ro­man, now that he has helped turn the Cahil­lites in­to a le­git­im­ate cham­pi­on­ship con­tender? 

“Play­ing soc­cer at Ro­man has truth­fully been one of the best ex­per­i­ences of my life,” he said. “This pro­gram is what I’ll miss most about the school. That is a cred­it to Coach Ray and (as­sist­ant) Coach Jerry (Brind­isi, who also hails from the North­east). Ro­man was nev­er a soc­cer school and they’ve built it from the ground up. We truly are broth­ers. We fight like broth­ers too, but no mat­ter what is said or done we all know at the end of the day we love each oth­er and there’s noth­ing we wouldn’t do for each oth­er.”

There is also the in­ter­est­ing wrinkle of the play­ers on the team, once rivals for com­pet­ing soc­cer clubs grow­ing up in the North­east, be­com­ing best friends as part of a grow­ing broth­er­hood.

“I played against Diego, Nor­man and Mari­ano grow­ing up,” De­Treux said. “We were rivals and every time I played against them it was a chippy game. Now they are my closest friends at Ro­man. Look­ing back, it’s weird how it all worked out.”

Ce­peda, who was born in Ar­gen­tina and moved to the United States at age 3, is the new­est mem­ber of the Cahil­lites. He ori­gin­ally in­ten­ded to go to North Cath­ol­ic, where his older broth­er went, but de­cided on Abing­ton Friends School when North closed. “Want­ing to ex­per­i­ence what it was like to be at a Cath­ol­ic school,” Ce­peda trans­ferred to Ro­man for his seni­or year and was wel­comed in im­me­di­ately with open arms.

“I knew some of the guys, but I hadn’t seen them in years,” said Ce­peda, who has lived near Bustleton and Tyson since he was 9. “Play­ing for Ro­man is like no oth­er feel­ing. We are a really close group. We all feel that if we can lower the amount of mis­takes we make in a game from few to none, no team is bet­ter than us.”

Re­gard­less of how this sea­son ends for the Cahil­lites, the North­east-based seni­ors are proud at how far the pro­gram has come. A soc­cer af­ter­thought no longer, Ro­man is now a bon­afide Cath­ol­ic League con­tender year in and year out.

“Ro­man will live on in my heart and the soc­cer pro­gram is one of the best,” Ramirez said. “I wouldn’t change any­thing even if I had the chance.”

“Noth­ing is bet­ter than hav­ing a fam­ily away from home that you know will al­ways be there if you need any­thing,” Hansen said.

De­Treux con­curred.

“I know they all will be there for me and I’ll be there for them,” he said. “They are my broth­ers.”

“This is just the be­gin­ning, though,” Ce­peda con­cluded. “We will def­in­itely con­tin­ue to be great friends.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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