Youth movement

Despite losing 14 seniors to graduation, Father Judge soccer coach John Dunlop is ready to defend the Crusaders’ PCL crown.

Play ball: Fath­er Judge head soc­cer coach John Dun­lop has stayed busy run­ning youth soc­cer clin­ics this off­season. Soon, Dun­lop will lead a young, new-look Cru­saders bunch in­to the 2014 sea­son fol­low­ing last year’s Cath­ol­ic League title. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

With sum­mer train­ing camp less than a week away, John Dun­lop is so fired up for the start of the 2014 soc­cer sea­son that you’d half ex­pect him to take the field with his play­ers.

And though there will be many spots to be filled on the field, the 11th-year Fath­er Judge head soc­cer coach will likely not be called in­to ac­tion. That said, he’s stay­ing loose any­way.

“I’m ec­stat­ic … just so ex­cited,” Dun­lop said dur­ing a Monday af­ter­noon in­ter­view after con­duct­ing a soc­cer clin­ic at Phil-Mont Chris­ti­an Academy. “I’ve been work­ing my rear end off in the gym five days a week know­ing that I’ll have to do more this year, coach­ing-wise. I’m go­ing in­to camp like I’ll be play­ing. I’m hit­ting the weights, rid­ing the bike, run­ning … I want to let the play­ers know that I’ll be their lead­er and we’re go­ing to de­vel­op things all over again. It’s a cool situ­ation to be in go­ing for­ward.”

Dun­lop is young at heart, and his feisty at­ti­tude is likely to re­flect his roster when the Cru­saders open up the 2014 sea­son on Aug. 29 against non-league op­pon­ent Spring­field. Judge pos­ted a 20-2 re­cord in 2013, win­ning the Cath­ol­ic League and Dis­trict XII Class AAA title games be­fore bow­ing out in the first round of the state tour­na­ment. 

That fi­nal de­feat signaled the end of an era for Dun­lop’s pro­gram, as the vet­er­an coach gradu­ated 14 seni­ors, many of whom were key standouts the last two or three sea­sons. The gradu­ation crunch in­cluded cap­tains Danny Sulp­iz­io (goalie), Joey Malves­tuto (de­fense) and mid­field­ers Ry­an Nork and Joey Hansen, both of whom scored schol­ar­ships to con­tin­ue their soc­cer ca­reers at La Salle Uni­versity. Hansen, one of Judge’s most dec­or­ated soc­cer stars, was tabbed as an All-Amer­ic­an after the story­book sea­son, so re­pla­cing him, Nork, Sulp­iz­io, Malves­tuto and the 10 oth­er seni­ors will be no easy task in the rough-and-tumble Cath­ol­ic League. Des­pite an in­flux of youth and in­ex­per­i­ence in 2014, the Cru­saders will have a tar­get squarely on their backs; as a res­ult, the new group’s first ma­jor obstacle will be re­spond­ing to the op­pos­i­tion’s early punches, which are likely to be fierce giv­en that Judge dom­in­ated league play with bru­tish force in 2013.

Still, with all that be­ing said, Dun­lop isn’t pan­ick­ing. If his en­thu­si­asm is a smokescreen, then he’s do­ing a fant­ast­ic job mask­ing it.

“Listen, there’s al­ways peaks and val­leys and the chal­lenges of kids leav­ing and what­not,” Dun­lop said. “We’re go­ing to break the young guys down and build them back up. From what I’ve seen so far dur­ing the sum­mer, this group really likes each oth­er. There’s a lot of spots open, and a lot of en­ergy; these guys are gym rats, and it’s a dif­fer­ent kind of feisty bunch.

“I’m pretty ex­cited, be­cause it feels new to me. I’ve been spoiled the last three years with a great bunch of boys. Now, it’s back to the sweat and hard work, and we’ll see if that pays off in camp.”

Des­pite the youth­ful group he has re­turn­ing, Dun­lop has reas­ons to be ex­cited. For starters, the fresh­man and JV teams have also had in­or­din­ate amounts of suc­cess, so the soc­cer pipeline at the school is usu­ally teem­ing with tal­ent that’s just wait­ing for its varsity op­por­tun­ity. Not only that, but many of these young­sters wit­nessed firsthand Judge’s ma­gic­al run in 2013, either as varsity subs or spec­tat­ors from the bench, al­ways closeby to soak up the wis­dom on what it takes to win that those 14 seni­ors dished out.

As a res­ult, young­er play­ers star­ted show­ing Dun­lop something earli­er on in their varsity ten­ures. For ex­ample, ju­ni­or for­ward Cole Speiser saw a lot of play­ing time last sea­son, as did sopho­more Kev­in Ceno, who be­came a post­season star for the Cru­saders in 2013 when his game-win­ning goal over Arch­bish­op Ry­an sent Judge to the cham­pi­on­ship round. Billy Mc­Carthy, Leo Vil­le­g­as and Eric Trush are oth­er re­turn­ing names likely to see a more pro­nounced role in 2014.

“I’ve been very for­tu­nate hav­ing play­ers in this pro­gram who have been able to pass the torch down to the young­er guys,” Dun­lop said. “These guys love the pro­gram, and they want the young­er guys to step up and con­tin­ue where they left off. The seni­ors that go through this pro­gram really get something out of it and make sure there’s that snow­ball ef­fect down­ward to the young­er guys, which for me is a coach’s dream. The young­er guys, it’s amaz­ing what they learn from those who came be­fore them … now it’s their op­por­tun­ity, and I see their ex­cite­ment.”

Dun­lop says much more will be known about his per­son­nel and the ways in which he’ll util­ize his play­ers once train­ing camp starts. But the vet­er­an coach made it clear that he was not deem­ing this year a re­build; and why would he, es­pe­cially after the Cru­saders have won more Cath­ol­ic League games than any oth­er team over the last sev­en years? In that time, Judge has ap­peared in five cham­pi­on­ship games, bring­ing home three league titles. As Dun­lop said, “Once they buy in­to the sys­tem, the be­lief in the sys­tem takes over.”

Dun­lop offered no pre­dic­tions, wins- and losses-wise, for 2014, but he did cau­tion the rest of the league not to take his boys lightly, even if they are still a little rough around the edges at this point in time.

“We are go­ing to be good com­ing out of camp, and we’re only go­ing to get bet­ter,” Dun­lop said. “We have a very good up­side. I think oth­er teams will be pleas­antly sur­prised when these guys take the field. I haven’t been this ex­cited go­ing in­to a camp in sev­er­al years, just be­cause it feels new and fresh again. I’m jacked up, and so are the play­ers.”

The main reas­on for Dun­lop’s con­fid­ence in avoid­ing a severe drop-off is that he feels his re­turn­ing and new play­ers alike have no in­terest in tar­nish­ing the leg­acy set by those who came be­fore them. Not only were play­ers like Nork and Hansen stars on the field, but they were stal­warts off it, too. Last year’s seni­or group were standouts in the classroom and were very in­volved ex­tra­cur­ricularly, from stu­dent gov­ern­ment to blood drives to com­munity ser­vice pro­jects.

If any­thing, these play­ers set the bar in­cred­ibly high; and while that may be a tough task to live up to, Dun­lop be­lieves the val­ues in­stilled in his play­ers — by both par­ents at home and teach­ers, ad­min­is­trat­ors and coaches at the school — will carry this youth­ful group fur­ther than some might ex­pect.

“These guys have to un­der­stand, and I think that they do, that Judge is go­ing to play teams who give us more re­spect be­cause of pre­vi­ous teams’ suc­cesses,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of new faces, but we’ll be all right. These guys already have a sense of win­ning and an idea that we’re not well-liked on the field. My guys, they work hard at what they do on and off the field to put them­selves in a po­s­i­tion to win, and that’s not something that hap­pens overnight.

“Our pro­gram across the board, from varsity to JV to the fresh­men team, we win and we win the right way. What they learn at a young age is con­ta­gious. Now it’s time for them to write their new leg­acy, to make their own name. They ap­pre­ci­ate the guys that came in front of them, but now it’s time for them to go down their own path. I think they’re look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenge. Teams might take them lightly, but the more they are to­geth­er, the bet­ter they’ll be. I really be­lieve that, and I love their en­thu­si­asm.” ••

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