Every time Lenape Valley High School boy’s soccer program stepped onto the field in 2020, whether a practice or match, they did so with great respect for the sport, for themselves, and, come game time, for their opponents.
“Every day was a contest on the training grounds,’’ Lenape Valley head coach Eric Schuman said. “With 21 players fighting for a spot, it kept practices competitive. As far as matches go, there were three defining games: an away loss against an undefeated Hackettstown marked a turning point in the season where the players learned the extraordinary effort that is required by all players to compete; the boys hit their stride and really started to click when they defeated Morris Tech 3-0 on the road for the first time away in three seasons.
“The final regular season game in the rain on the road against Vernon really marked the team’s progress — after being scored on early, the boys fought back in memorable weather to win, 3-1. The boys demonstrated how much they had developed as a team- playing for each other and representing their school and program with pride.’’
Senior leadership on the pitch was ever-present for the Patriots this year.
“Four-year starter and captain Gabe Hernandez along with fellow senior and second year co-captain and three year starter Connor Duffy carried the team on their shoulders in terms of competitiveness and work rate during games,’’ Schuman said. “They are physical players who are also very technical and brought their very best effort to matches. Gabe was a good communicator and Connor delivered every practice. Gabe as an attacker would make sure to prioritize defending and Connor as a defender led the team in goals with eight.
“Gabe and his long time teammate and fellow senior Dakota Krug were this package deal who made each other and the team better- after playing and competing together for so long watching, they could create poetry out there on the soccer field. Sounds corny, but their special friendship showed up on the field big time and it was really special to watch them link and feed off of each other. Sometimes it was a delicate pass or roulette, other times it was a powerful force that would barrel over opponents.
“A fourth leader that emerged over the course of the season is senior Alex Mclean. Alex is known for his sense of humor, but when it came to this season, Alex was all about preparation, communication and working hard to become better as a team. He was very coachable and disciplined in practice and games and key in implementing the strategies and styles of play necessary for success. I coached seniors Vansh Amin and David Castillo when they were fourth graders on my daughter’s team and also coached seniors Liam Schikkinger-Hand, Jarod Morin Alex McLean and Darrius Coye when they were in middle school. It was rewarding to complete the circle with these guys- great group.’’
A member of the class of 2022 was also among those who contributed mightily toward the Lenape Valley’s success this past season.
“Junior Jude Ashley stood out for his technical abilities, but even more so for those character things that you just can’t teach as a coach,’’ Schuman said. “They are products of a family ethos- being first to practice every single day, taking care of the non-sport stuff so you are available 100% when you are with the team, setting the standard for hustle and grit and always fighting to win back the ball, proving yourself every day and maintaining a high standard for oneself.’’
’Our sophomore engines’
Student-athletes who still have two years left to compete for the Patriots made their presence felt on the field this fall.
“Our sophomore engines of Nate Sarnella, Ryan Mondragon, James Shertz and Evan Sarnella showed a selfless dedication to the team in all areas- from taking care of equipment needs to working for their teammates and the seniors in particular,’’ Schuman said. “Ryan arrived demonstrating tremendous growth from last year and then progressed steadily until near the end of the season when it was like ‘wow, who is this kid’.
“Evan and Nate rarely came off the field. They were 80-minute players — tireless, physical and joyful. Nate’s home was the middle of the field and you could match him against anybody. Evan, a free kick specialist with the biggest foot I’ve seen in a while, you could put anywhere. Both of them are real impact players. Shertz steadily improved as a defender over the season through his commitment in practice.’’
The Patriots finished with an overall record of 6-6-1 with four wins and a fourth place finish in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference White South Division.
They advanced to the NJSIAA North West B Group 2 Sectional Tournament where they were defeated by Pequannock.
“The graduating seniors have set an example in many areas and the rising seniors will carry on the traditions of Patriot pride associated with our program and our school,’’ Schuman said. “There are several returners and new leaders will emerge.
“The team, coaching staff and parents are certainly grateful to have gotten this season in and behind us,’’ Schuman said. “We knew full well that each day was tenuous, given the threat of Covid. We enjoyed the support of the Lenape administration and our community. It was vital to the boys to have this outlet and I am so thankful to God for it.’’