Kevin Ceno always dreamed of this moment. He just didn’t think it would come so soon.
Ceno, a sophomore midfielder and first-year varsity player for the Father Judge soccer team, usually plays a reserve role for the Crusaders, which comes with the territory on a team with 14 seniors that produced an 18-1 record. Ceno told himself to wait his turn … his time would come.
Little did he know it would come during Saturday’s league semifinal game against Archbishop Ryan. Due to the strength of Ryan’s back line, headlined by First Team All-Catholic selection 6-foot-5 goalkeeper Jared Ott, Judge head coach John Dunlop tabbed Ceno to start to give the Crusaders an extra attacker up top.
Suffice to say the decision paid off.
Roughly 14 minutes into the second half of a previously scoreless game, Ceno gained possession near the top of the left side of Ryan’s 18; once there, he spun his defender around, dribbled right and fired a beautiful shot into the bottom right corner of the net past a diving Ott to give Judge a 1-0 lead. With under 10 minutes to play, Judge’s lethal senior combo of Joey Hansen and Ryan Nork did the rest, as the latter headed in a cross from Hansen to send the Crusaders to the league championship game for the third consecutive year.
“I always think about goals like this,” said Ceno, the unlikely interviewee. “In bed before I go to sleep, in school during the day, just everywhere I go, really. You think it’s impossible, but when it comes down to it, you see those guys encouraging you to shoot and saying how much they love you … it just made me feel great about myself.”
Teammates couldn’t stop raving about Ceno’s shot after the game, which had to be perfectly placed to beat Ott, a goalie so hard to score on because of his side-to-side length and extension.
“Their goalie … man, he’s huge. He’s a monster,” Ceno said. “I knew I had to shoot it low and hard, and it was just a shot I had to take.”
Scoring the game’s first goal alleviated some pressure, and the Crusaders were able to close it out from there, especially after the late goal that originated on Hansen’s foot and finished on Nork’s head. The highly-skilled duo, both of whom earned soccer scholarships to attend La Salle University next fall, has made it easier on inexperienced players like Ceno to flourish within Dunlop’s system.
“Those guys are amazing,” Ceno said of Hansen and Nork. “They play amazing balls and make everything look so easy. They’re just great players in general, and it’s a pleasure playing with those two.”
And not only has Ceno been able to take advantage offensively by playing closely with Nork and Hansen, but the youngster has learned a lot about how to carry himself as a leader, which will certainly come in handy when those two — along with Judge’s other 12 seniors — graduate this spring.
“All of those guys, they’re all people to look up to,” Ceno said. “They’re great motivators, great captains. I just have to listen to what they’re telling me so hopefully we can win a championship my senior year. I can’t even describe the feeling, being able to come in my first year on varsity and playing with these amazing players. As young as I am, it’s just an incredible feeling.
“It gives me a lot to look forward to. Accomplishing what they’ve accomplished, it’s going to be hard following in their footsteps and filling their shoes. But that’s the whole point, to get connected, getting to know each other and becoming friends, becoming a family. It’s all about chemistry on this team, and hopefully one day I can get to where they are.”
Learning from guys like Nork and Hansen, as well as standout seniors such as midfielders Aaron Povlow and Geoff Degnan, backs Joey Malvestuto, Sam Carancia and David Rodriguez and keeper Danny Sulpizio, Ceno isn’t as far off as he might think. Judging by the teammate reactions to his pristinely difficult goal, it’s been easy for sophomores and juniors to feel right at home.
“Ceno is big and fast, and he has a great shot, obviously,” Dunlop said. “He got an isolation at their 18 and did a great job spinning his defender and hit one hard and low. It’s a big goal for Ceno, and I’m real proud of him, because he’s been working really hard.
“It’s a credit to these seniors for guiding the younger guys through the process. It makes my job so much easier. We have the advantage of experience, and that takes away any nerves. We have great kids who we can have fun with and joke around with.”
Ceno was given the nickname “Nose” by his teammates for the distinctive sniffler that sits perched in the middle of his face.
“He’s one of those happy-go-lucky guys that you can joke with,” Dunlop said. “Someone came up with the nickname ‘Nose’ for him, and all week we’ve been telling him, ‘Follow your nose, follow your nose.’ Today, he had a nose for the goal, and I’m really happy for him.”
It’s likely Ceno would be fine with any nickname thrown his way, so long as he can punctuate that with another name … Catholic League champion, which he did after Judge’s 3-1 championship win over Lansdale Catholic on Tuesday night.
“These guys, the players and coaches, they make you feel welcome,” he said. “They bring you in like a family member and make you feel good about yourself. I’ve trained real hard to be out there, and I think they’re starting to see what I’m capable of. I might not be all the way there, but I know what I can do. Today, I just ripped it.” ••