Senior captains guide Judge soccer to title

  • Head coach John Dunlop embraces three of his captains — Joey Hansen, Ryan Nork and Dan Sulpizio — as they exited the field as champions on Tuesday night. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

  • The Crusaders celebrate as one following the championship win. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

  • Captains of the ship: (left-right) Father Judge seniors Ryan Nork, Dan Sulpizio, Joey Hansen and Joey Malvestuto celebrate following the Crusaders’ 3-1 win over Lansdale Catholic in the Catholic League championship. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

All stor­ies have a be­gin­ning, but of­ten­times it’s the ones with the best end­ings that make the ori­gins that much more mean­ing­ful.

The story of the 2013 Fath­er Judge soc­cer team is one of them.

The fi­nal chapter to that story played out Tues­day night be­fore an over­flow crowd at Arch­bish­op Ry­an’s George Todt Field. After 80 minutes of soc­cer on a brisk au­tumn even­ing, the Cru­saders held the prize they had coveted for so long — a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship — after dis­patch­ing Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic, 3-1, to put a cap­stone on one of the more spe­cial sea­sons the school has seen in some time.

So many had a hand or foot in this tri­umph, be it sopho­more Kev­in Ceno, whose game-win­ning goal in the semi­finals had helped place Judge on this stage, or head coach John Dun­lop, who had taken teams in­to this game the last two sea­sons, only to exit with heart­break­ing de­feats.

But really, in the end, this night was about Judge’s seni­or cap­tains. There were four of them: cen­ter back Joey Malves­tuto, who put the Cru­saders on the board with the game’s first goal in the 29th minute of the first half (sopho­more Eric Trush and ju­ni­or Ab­ra­ham Krama ad­ded the oth­er two goals); goalie Dan Sulp­iz­io, who came in to his own as one of the stingi­est keep­ers in the league; and mid­field­ers Ry­an Nork and Joey Hansen, play­ers so tal­en­ted that they both earned soc­cer schol­ar­ships to La Salle Uni­versity to re­main team­mates for an­oth­er four years.

The story of this quar­tet goes way bey­ond Tues­day night’s game. In fact, it stretches all the way back to the early throes of child­hood, when these four be­came best friends around the age of 7. They met as kids, bond­ing over a game they all loved.

The game brought them to­geth­er to the Fath­er Judge soc­cer camp as sev­enth graders, where they set a goal to get to ex­actly where they ended up on Tues­day night, as cham­pi­ons at a school that had be­come starved for a title. There, at the camp, they met fu­ture class­mates who would join them on this cham­pi­on­ship quest, names like Aaron Povlow, Geoff De­g­nan and Dav­id Rodrig­uez, all of whom be­came starters on this Judge team.

From the time they were 12, they knew ex­actly where they wanted to go to­geth­er, which is what made this win, where it fi­nally all came to fruition, so emo­tion­al.

“Oh my God, I’m just so over­whelmed by everything,” said Hansen, a First Team All-Cath­ol­ic and all-state se­lec­tion, on the verge of tears in a post­game con­ver­sa­tion. “All of my best friends are on that team, and we’ve been wait­ing so long for this. We all love each oth­er to death. I can’t even put it in­to words or ex­plain what this means.”

“Twenty years from now,” said Nork, still cradling the game ball from the vic­tory. “We’ll be able to look back on this day and re­mem­ber how ex­cited and happy we were to be here. We set a goal for ourselves, and we nev­er took our foot off the gas.”

For awhile, this Judge pro­gram seemed to be snake­bit­ten, a group that climbed and climbed the moun­tain only to be knocked down be­fore hoist­ing it­self on to the sum­mit. After fall­ing to St. Joseph’s Prep in the 2011 title game when this seni­or group were sopho­mores, they re­turned as ju­ni­ors as the pro­hib­it­ive fa­vor­ites.

Then, the team lost its seni­or cap­tains, Steve Smeck and Justin Hiltwine, to identic­al sea­son-end­ing in­jur­ies in pre­season prac­tice. While de­flat­ing, it al­lowed the cur­rent seni­or quar­tet to get an early start as team lead­ers, and they led the Cru­saders on an im­prob­able run in­to the title round. However, Nork, Hansen and com­pany were upen­ded 3-0 by La Salle, and they trudged home un­happy once more.

But seni­or year was dif­fer­ent. Judge began the sea­son on top and nev­er left, win­ning 19 of its 20 games, the lone blem­ish a 1-0 loss to Arch­bish­op Wood in the Oct. 16 reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale. The seni­ors nev­er took their eye off the prize, and there was nev­er much doubt they would be the last team stand­ing. That said, the mo­ment was just as spe­cial as every­body thought it would be, if not more so.

“Me, Joe, Ry­an and Dan, we’ve been best friends for I don’t even know how long,” Malves­tuto said. “We were all so young. Then we met Aaron and Geoff and Dave at the camps, and they all just be­came my boys. We all played for each oth­er. It’s the greatest feel­ing in the world, and I’ll re­mem­ber it for the rest of my life.”

“This is what we’ve all dreamed of since grade school,” Sulp­iz­io ad­ded. “We did it. Now, it’s come true. To do it with my boys who I’ve played with since fresh­man year, then those guys I’ve played with since I was 7. To be here with them as a seni­or cap­tain, it means a lot to me. This was our year.”

By vir­tue of win­ning the Cath­ol­ic League, the best part for this group is that it buys them more games to play. Judge (19-1) will play Pub­lic League champ Cent­ral on Fri­day night in the Dis­trict 12 Class AAA title game (7 p.m., North­east High School), with the win­ner grabbing a spot in the PI­AA state tour­na­ment. The Cru­saders, who many be­lieve are the top team in south­east­ern Pennsylvania, now will likely have a chance to show­case what they can do at a statewide level.

“We know every game we win means an­oth­er chance we get to play to­geth­er, and that’s all we want,” Hansen said. “From fresh­man to seni­or year, we’ve been the tight­est group around, so we want to stay to­geth­er for as long as pos­sible. These are my best friends for the rest of my life.”

“We ob­vi­ously nev­er want to stop,” Nork said. “Throughout this whole year we’ve just kept say­ing, ‘Let’s keep go­ing, let’s keep go­ing.’ Our foot is still on the gas.”

Sulp­iz­io men­tioned the game against Wood, the one blem­ish on a nearly per­fect sea­son, as mo­tiv­a­tion for want­ing to march un­defeated through the state tour­na­ment.

“We were down after that game, them tak­ing our un­defeated re­cord away from us,” he said. “But it made us stronger. We kept mov­ing to­ward our goal. We know that we nev­er want to feel that way again. We’re ready to go on an­oth­er run to­geth­er and take it to that next level.”

And what a story that would be. ••

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