Twice as nice

  • Joey Hansen has four goals for Judge during the team’s 8-0 start. JASON ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

  • Ryan Nork has three goals for Judge during the team’s 8-0 start. JASON ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

  • Double play: Father Judge senior midfielders and captains Ryan Nork (left) and Joey Hansen have been best friends since the second grade. After both committed to play soccer at La Salle University next fall, all that’s left for the high-scoring duo is to capture that elusive Catholic League championship. After falling short three straight years, they think 2013 is their year. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

Hav­ing been best friends since the second grade, Ry­an Nork and Joey Hansen have spent ample time talk­ing about at­tain­ing fu­ture goals to­geth­er.

For starters, in sixth grade, the soc­cer-play­ing young­sters vowed to en­roll at Fath­er Judge and play on the same team, even­tu­ally win­ning a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship.

Then, they would fol­low one an­oth­er to the same col­lege, be room­mates, and maybe, if things worked out, they could con­tin­ue play­ing the sport that’s bon­ded them like broth­ers for four more years.

Hav­ing been a part of the Cru­sader soc­cer pro­gram the last four years, Nork and Hansen, now seni­or cap­tains, have already reached part of their first goal. And now that the duo has reached its sec­ond­ary goal of en­rolling at the same col­lege, hav­ing form­ally com­mit­ted to at­tend La Salle Uni­versity on aca­dem­ic/soc­cer schol­ar­ships, all that’s left is win­ning that elu­sive Cath­ol­ic League title.

Well, al­most.

“Joe and I have al­ways wanted to win a cham­pi­on­ship, and we’ve come up short in the title game each of the last three years,” said Nork fol­low­ing a 6-0 Sat­urday win over Bish­op McDe­vitt in which he scored two goals. “But also, there were two play­ers on La Salle last year that com­bined for 19 goals, and the two of us want to com­bine to beat that.”

The play­ers Nork was al­lud­ing to were La Salle’s Jack Dus­ing and Mark Gra­sela, who com­bined for 19 goals and 22 as­sists in their seni­or sea­son, which in­cluded a 3-0 win over Judge in the league title game. Nork and Hansen real­ize they can’t win the same num­ber of titles as the La Salle duo (three), but the oth­er mark seems to be in reach, as the two have com­bined for sev­en goals in Judge’s first eight games, all wins (the Cru­saders have outscored op­pon­ents 23-2). After the McDe­vitt win, the tally stood at Nork 3, Hansen 2, but Hansen tal­lied two of his own two days later in a 3-0 win over O’Hara to re-take the lead.

But does it mat­ter who scores more goals?

“We don’t care who has more,” Hansen said with a laugh. “As long as we beat it.”

Of course, for the re­cord, the two could com­bine for few­er than 19 goals and would still grate­fully ac­cept a cham­pi­on­ship, es­pe­cially after three straight de­feats (La Salle the last two sea­sons, St. Joseph’s Prep the year be­fore). After a strange 2012 sea­son that saw Judge’s two top play­ers, Steve Smeck and Justin Hiltwine, suf­fer sea­son-end­ing knee in­jur­ies in pre­season prac­tice, Nork and Hansen know bet­ter than to take any­thing for gran­ted. Des­pite be­ing down two of the Cath­ol­ic League’s best play­ers, the Cru­saders still de­fied the odds and reached the title round, mostly due to young­er play­ers like Nork and Hansen tak­ing on ad­ded re­spons­ib­il­it­ies on and off the field.

That chal­lenge of be­com­ing un­ex­pec­ted lead­ers did won­ders for their ma­tur­ity, both play­ers as­ser­ted.

“It got us ready for our seni­or year, no ques­tion,” Hansen said. “I think it showed us that even though we wer­en’t the old­est, we could still be lead­ers. Now as a res­ult, I think every­body looks to us as those guys and re­spects us as the lead­ers of this team.”

“I think los­ing Steve and Justin showed us that you have to come to­geth­er and give it your best every single time,” Nork ad­ded. “Be­cause you nev­er know when it might be your last chance.”

The word Nork used most to de­scribe the 2012 Judge team’s im­prob­able run was “heart.” While many ex­perts softened their ex­pect­a­tions on the Cru­saders once Smeck and Hiltwine were lost, the Judge soc­cer pro­gram, led by head coach John Dun­lop, nev­er did. If any­thing, it only made the re­main­ing play­ers com­pete harder. 

Now, with a re­match of La Salle loom­ing on Judge’s home field (Wed­nes­day, 7 p.m.), Nork and Hansen are be­ing brought back to the dev­ast­a­tion of that night last fall, and the year be­fore that, and the one be­fore that. After watch­ing three classes of seni­ors trudge heart­broken off the field, these two cur­rent seni­ors are out to en­sure his­tory doesn’t re­peat it­self once more.

“We’ve walked off that field three years in a row, and the feel­ing is al­ways the same,” Hansen said. “See­ing the seni­ors cry last year, that was what brought tears to my eyes, more so than the res­ult it­self. Just see­ing them that way … I don’t want that for these seni­ors. That’s our mo­tiv­a­tion every game.”

Nork echoed his team­mate and best friend’s sen­ti­ment.

“We have a say­ing of ‘One team, one dream,’” he said. “Our hearts beat to­geth­er as one. We’re all such good friends, so we eas­ily work to­geth­er out on the field. Last year helped us be­cause the stronger our bond be­came, the harder we fought to­geth­er as a unit. We’ve car­ried that mo­tiv­a­tion from last year in­to this sea­son. We know we have to give it our all. There are no days off.”

As for next fall, make no mis­take about it: Nork and Hansen are de­lighted it all worked out the way it did. While Hansen said, “It’s not like we tried to make this hap­pen,” in­tu­it­ively they al­ways knew go­ing to col­lege to­geth­er was something they both wanted. 

All that re­mains to be seen is if they can at­tain their fi­nal goal of catch­ing Dus­ing and Gra­sela en route to a title. While the La Salle duo ended up at dif­fer­ent schools (Muh­len­berg and Temple, re­spect­ively), they scored a lot of goals be­fore end­ing their sea­son as Cath­ol­ic League champs. 

Now, Nork and Hansen hope, it’s their turn to do the same.

“Our best qual­ity as a team is that we’re such close friends,” Hansen said. “I think (after last year), we’re closer than any oth­er team there is.”

“Since even be­fore sixth grade star­ted, we said we were go­ing to go to Judge to­geth­er and be the best team around,” Nork con­cluded. “I think that’s still in all of our hearts. Now that our seni­or year is here, we want to go out there and do it.” ••

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