Lions face tough competitors

SPARTA. The Pope John boys soccer team is aiming to be a spoiler, coach says.

Sparta /
| 01 Sep 2023 | 09:19

Given the difficulty of the Pope John XXIII Regional High School boys soccer team’s schedule, the Lions will have no breaks on the pitch this season.

Nevertheless, the Lions are focused and ready to stand up to the tough competition.

Pope John is scheduled to open the regular season with a road match Thursday, Sept. 7 at Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) National Division opponent Morris Knolls.

Their first home game is slated for Monday, Sept. 11 against National Division opponent Mount Olive.

The Lions are striving to improve on their 2022 record of 5-12-1.

“We would like to be competitive at all matches, be .500 or better, and advance in Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament past three rounds,’’ head coach Christian Ardila said. “In the (NJSIAA) state tournament, we like to be competitive and earn a higher seed than the previous season and advance past the third round.’’

Among the key returning student athletes are seniors Stevan Patino (forward, 10 goals, seven assists, First Team All NJAC National Division, Second Team All State Parochial B in 2022), Sam Wenger (goal keeper, 90 saves, First Team All NJAC National Division in 2022), Jayden Angner (defender), Greg Marino (midfielder, 2022 Team Most Valuable Player), Shaloom Bakinahe (defender), Tyson Morro (defender), Brandon Pincus (midfielder), Alexander Grubs (midfielder) and Ethan Lu (defender); juniors Sri Moorthy (midfielder) and Nicolas Cetani (midfielder); and sophomores Nicolas Acito (midfielder, three goals and two assists in 2022) and Emanuel Vargas (defender).

A promising newcomer to the varsity roster is freshman defender Christopher Opat.

Stevan Patino, Sam Wenger and Greg Marino will be looked on as leaders, Ardila said. “They are team captains and role models.’’

Last year, Pope John advanced to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) North Jersey Non Public A Sectional Tournament, where the team lost a one-goal game to Hudson Catholic.

This season, the Lions play in the NJAC National Division along with Morris Knolls, Mount Olive, Morristown, Sparta and West Morris.

Ardila views Sparta, Morris Knolls and Mount Olive as among the top teams to beat in the division.

“We are in a very competitive division and we would like to be the spoilers,’’ he said.

We are in a very competitive division and we would like to be the spoilers.” - Christian Ardila, head boys soccer coach, Pope John XXIII Regional High School