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.
“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.” ••