Jugglers Rattle Knights

Sept. 23-29, 2004
Jugglers Rattle Knights
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
Notre Dame Soccer Upsets Bishop Ludden

Saturday night, Notre Dame served notice to Central New York that the Mohawk Valley can play soccer too. The Jugglers, not exactly renowned for sparkling soccer, outplayed the host Gaelic Knights in the championship game of the Bishop Ludden Tournament, winning 2-1. Ludden coach Oscar Vergara noted that his team had suffered a lapse in philosophical approach by not acknowledging the threat presented by the rugged Jugglers’ squad. “I think we have a philosophy here of fear none, respect all and I think that it didn’t work here tonight. I’m not sure that we had much respect for those guys, not knowing much about them,” the veteran coach said. Notre Dame coach Greg Sacco stressed that this team’s performance represents a culmination of three years of effort on the part of his players.

“We have a whole group of kids who came out in ninth grade for the first time and they’ve been working their tails off for two or three years,” Sacco said. “I have eight tremendous seniors who aren’t just tremendous soccer players, they’re tremendous people. I think that it’s evident how hard they work.” While noting that Notre Dame played very well Saturday night, Vergara stressed that his team will build from the experience of the loss. “This is a learning experience for us,” he said. “We certainly hope that for a team with 10 seniors we can take this and we can build from it. But my hat is off to Notre Dame. They’ve got some great athletes and they’ve got great skill players and that No. 8 (Adam Rozanski) is just awesome. And their goalie was hot.” Boasting an athlete in almost every position, the Jugglers matched their athleticism and fitness against rebuilding Ludden’s skill and it worked. Early on, Notre Dame made its intentions clear as long balls were launched off of the back line for forwards and midfielders to run onto. “I don’t want to play these guys down, but I don’t think we have the overall skill that Bishop Ludden has,” Sacco said.

By contrast, Bishop Ludden, which lost six starters from last year’s Section III Class B runner-up squad, sustained their tactical approach of threading together short passes in an effort to create scoring chances. With 31 minutes, 14 seconds to play in the first half, things started off auspiciously for the host Gaelic Knights. Midfielder Phil Andrianos targeted his shot on goal, only to have it blocked by goalkeeper Pat McQueen. When McQueen was unable to control the rebound, however, Ludden striker Chris McCarthy was happy to sweep it into the net and the Gaelic Knights took a 1-0 lead. Almost as notable as the goal, was the potential for menace created by Ludden playmaker Alex Mihal, who seemed to effortlessly shake his marker, getting free to open up chances for players in more advanced positions or on the wings. Not long after the first Gaelic Knight goal, however, Notre Dame equalized when John Grace launched a long cross in from the right wing and onto the foot of sophomore striker Angelo Reina, whose volley inside the left post made the score 1-1 with 28:44 to go in the half.

The Jugglers went ahead just over eight minutes into the second half. Notre Dame’s Matthew Vanderwood sprung Reina on a long through ball, but Ludden goalie Adam McMahon ran out and slide tackled him, sending the ball out of harm’s way. Less than a minute later, Notre Dame midfielder Pete Durr charged into the penalty box and McMahon pulled him down, drawing a whistle. Bryce Vallierres of Notre Dame was charged with taking the penalty and he delivered, slotting it straight ahead, while McMahon moved to his right. In the second half, the Gaelic Knights’ hopes waned. Mihal, who had been so productive in the first half, began bearing the weight of the game on his own shoulders. Vergara noted that his attacking midfielder must learn that one player alone cannot tilt a match. “At the beginning he was very dangerous…at the end he was tired and the frustration sets in,” Vergara said. “He’s a young man. Someday he will be a very good player. He’ll be a great college player once he learns that he doesn’t need to do it by himself. I don’t care who you are, you cannot go against 10 athletes on the field.” With roughly one and a half minutes left in running time, however, Mihal helped develop what was perhaps Ludden’s best chance of the half. After his corner kick bounced back out to the perimeter, Mihal chipped a shot in, but McQueen was in position to wrap the ball up, effectively terminating the home side’s hopes for a win. Sacco hopes that results such as his team’s win over a program the likes of Bishop Ludden will help make soccer a credible sport in a school predominantly known more recently for sports such as basketball and baseball.

“These kids know Notre Dame soccer has never been a high priority at Notre Dame, which is known for basketball, and I really think they want to show them what they’re made of,” he said. “I think they want to show that soccer is a sport at Notre Dame.” Vergara made no bones about the progress his team will need to make this season if it is to become more competitive. He stressed that his team is still inexperienced and the players still need to settle into positions once staffed by veterans who carried the team to the Section III Class B tournament final last season. In fact most of the deficiencies in his team’s performance came down to decision making, which can be corrected.

“Simple mistakes. Simple mistakes that are made,” he said. “We lost six starters from last year so the people that are stepping in to learn those roles are still learning them and although I’m not making any excuses, we really haven’t played many games. This is only our fourth game. These guys (Notre Dame) are now 7-0. There is nothing better than gaining experience. We have not had that. Because of scheduling conflicts, we have only played four games in three weeks.” Notre Dame advanced to the tournament championship by defeating perennial Class C power Faith Heritage 1-0, while Ludden advanced by beating Phoenix 5-0.

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