No. 6 St. Paul’s (Md.) Turns Back A Tough Paul VI (Va.) Squad To Open The Year, Winning 14-11

photoWith the game originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, St. Paul’s and Paul VI clashed in an offensive shootout for the second year in a row. Spectators were treated to a game that featured fast-paced play, a battle at the X and eye-popping save totals from both goalies. In the end, PVI’s slow first half was too costly, as the Crusaders pulled out the 14-11 victory.

“We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, but I thought we had some really good moments and then got exposed at times but that’s why we play great teams,” Brocato said. “It seemed like we got tired at times so we’ll have to work on some conditioning and then prepare hard to play an outstanding Haverford team on Friday.”

Here are a few thoughts on Wednesday’s game:

Connolly and Barretto difference makers on D
Replacing all three starters at close, the St. Paul’s backline is very much a work in progress, as Brocato remarked that it’s still a group that’s still finding out a lot about themselves. Seniors Connor Sorg, Niko Hajimihalis and Ryan Zoll (Fairfield) made up the starting lineup though fellow seniors Stratton Grandy and James Togo also received significant minutes. Overall, it’s a team that will gain confidence and chemistry as the season wears on. At LSM, however, Brendon Connolly appears even better than a year ago and will be a game-changer for the Crusaders.

Bound for Marquette, the senior was monumental between the lines and in transition, scoring two goals in the first half alone. With a frame of about 6-foot-3 or so (he’s also a volleyball standout), Connolly’s athleticism, precise checks and never-ending motor made a tremendous impact, as he was all over the field and constantly made plays from the wings.

There’s no doubt that senior A.J. Barretto (Army), the nation’s top-ranked keeper, makes this team what they are. An unflappable, invaluable leader and stopper in front of a green defense, Barretto turned back 17 saves on the day and often stymied the Panthers’ comeback efforts. As much as the D faltered at times, they could rely on the captain coming up with save after save. His play against the No. 2 Haverford (Pa.) Fords on Friday will be pivotal if the Crusies want to come out of Philly with a win heading into their spring break trip to Texas.

Crusader offense has worlds of potential
Many people were unsure just how the St. Paul’s offense would fare without No. 4 freshman recruit Mikey Wynne, now Notre Dame’s leading goal-scorer. He accounted for 141 goals over his two years in Brooklandville but also made his presence felt on GB’s and in the riding game as much as any attackman under Rick Brocato.

Despite that loss (and other important seniors), the Crusaders showed their prowess on Wednesday, pushing transition and burying the rock in a 14-11 win against a stingy defense. It’s a group that has been materializing over the years and will continue to do so as long as everybody’s healthy.

“I thought we played fast and that’s what we’ll always try to do here at St. Paul’s,” said Brocato, who has led the Crusaders to five playoff appearances in the past six years. “We’re still evolving on the offensive side of the ball but it’s a group that has a lot of kids in prominent roles over the last three years so they’re playing with confidence.”

After missing much of last spring, coming back to thrive in the end of the summer then re-injuring himself to miss soccer, North Carolina signee Alex McGovern returned and didn’t skip the beat, putting up three goals and four assists. The lanky lefty showed off his blazing and accurate shot on the run, demanding coverage from longpoles and exploiting shorties at times. Brocato says that he’s a lacrosse rat whose game is “on another level at the moment” and has been doing everything they expected of him as a captain. Along with Carter Flaig (3g, 4a), a Princeton-bound X attackman, the Crusaders’ offense will flourish. Players like Mitch Gordon (1g, 2a – UNC) and Dawes Milchling (2g – Vermont) played well on Wednesday, while senior mainstay Jack Pollard (Navy) was limited by leg injury but will play on Friday.

Paul VI will turn some heads in ’15
After watching Bob Waters’ Panthers twice this week, I’ve walked away pretty impressed with what they’re capable of. Full of Division I bound talent and a plethora of lesser-known but equally talented uncommitted players, Paul VI has a lot of potential and gave the Crusaders a scare in the second half.

Though without Ryan O’Connor (UNC) for the entire year after he re-tore his ACL, the Panthers’ offense has a plethora of dangerous scoring options. Virginia signee Ryan Lamb will receive the most attention, but Danny Kielbasa, Nic Ancona, Roman Puglise, Michael McCormick and several others are tough match-ups that can put the ball in the back of the net. Defensively, I loved Patrick Gyenis (Maryland) and Troy Jahelka (Navy), while junior keeper Adam Baker (Mt. St. Mary’s) was lights out in defeat with 16 saves.

Going 10-10 a year ago, it’s clear that this is a team that experienced some growing pains in 2014 but appear significantly improved. They’ll have a fairly difficult schedule ahead against many of Virginia and DC’s best, but I like them to finish the season with a strong record, chasing Gonzaga for a WCAC title.

It wasn’t always pretty
Sloppiness has been a constant in the three games I’ve attended this week, as weather has taken its toll on Mid-Atlantic programs more than it has in at least a decade. Snow has caused school cancellations left and right, often eliminating practice and scrimmage time or moving things indoors.

In Wednesday’s game, I saw a good amount of rustiness (or kids just forgetting some fundamentals), whether it was a frequent one-handed ground ball approach, dropped pass, failed clear or missed slide on defense. Results in the first few weeks of the season are often taken with a grain of salt and that sentiment should even be ratcheted up considering the winter that we’ve had.

I don’t have official stats on this one, but both teams will need to clean up the turnovers if they hope to make noise down the road. St. Paul’s will visit Haverford on Friday with Paul VI having a few more games in between their matchup with Landon on Tuesday, stiff tests for all parties involved.

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