By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Senior forward John Fay lofted a perfectly placed corner kick into traffic in the opening minutes of St. John’s High School varsity soccer team’s Oct. 17 matchup with powerful Doherty High at Worcester’s Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium. Passes of that nature are often hit and miss, but this time it was a hit – a bang-bang, one-timer that fellow senior Sam Burns would not miss. His header off the pass into the back of the Highlander net was money and a 1-0 advantage that would stand as the Pioneers outlasted their opponent in a contest that was as good as it gets in high school soccer.
The victory propels the team to 12-2-2 in a season that has been packed with stellar play in all facets of the game. Head coach Ken Salsman, one of the area’s most respected and recognized teachers of the game, spoke to the well-executed win but also to the cohesiveness of his squad.
“I’m always proud of these guys,” he said. “They really stepped it up today. The boys came to play, knew what they had to do and got it done. It was a high-energy game.
“Hard work and maintaining that level of respect we have for one another from the coaching staff to the players, the players to the coaching staff is what this team is about. We need to keep ourselves humble and well-grounded and continue to play in the spirit of St. John’s high school.”
“After the goal, it seemed like they were all over us and had us on our heels,” said senior co-captain Kyle Archambault of the Doherty press and the significance of scoring first. “It was hugely important to jump out to an early lead. That added confidence and boosted momentum.”
Each side battled tirelessly but a Highlander penalty kick in the second half was almost the equalizer but for a sprawling and diving save by senior keeper Dawson Ritchie who earned the shutout.
“I think it lifted the team’s spirit a lot. Before that we were really down,” said senior co-captain Tim Smith. “We were getting attacked nonstop. When Dawson came up with that stop, it was huge for us. It really lifted our morale.”
One often intangible and sometimes overlooked facet of the game that applies to this St. John’s bunch is solid chemistry. Players and coaches have one another’s back, communicate well and the results both on the scoreboard and on the team bench are ample proof.
“A lot of us have been playing together for a long time so that definitely helps,” explained senior co-captain Kevin Schwalm. “We know our habits and where each player is going to make a move and how they’re going to do it. We’re all good friends off the field which helps build camaraderie.”
“In the back line, [communication is] really important,” said Smith, a defender. “Knowing who’s making a run on the other team if it’s coming behind you. If my right back has a guy that’s running behind me, he tells me he’s there and it’s a lot easier for me to spot it. When the ball’s up in the air it’s really easier to communicate and get the ball out.”
With playoff competition looming in the coming weeks, players and coaches are anxious to avenge a bruising 1-0 defeat to South High in the 2015 District semifinals. Players admit that the sting of that loss is hard to put fully in the rearview mirror, but know it’s time to move on.
“It’s in the back of our mind because last year we felt like we were the best team out there,” acknowledged Smith. “We felt like we could win it and this year we feel like we can win it for sure.”
“We have to keep playing as a team and playing the way we’ve been playing,” added Schwalm. “Even if we’re playing teams with different styles as long as we keep playing to the style we’ve been playing we know we have the potential to win.”
“These boys are students first and athletes second,” said Salsman, who is assisted by Bob Roche. “They come for an education. Then we look at the kids who want to play soccer. They’re smart. They know what they have to do and they have a great work ethic. They care about one another. We care about the community. But it’s really all about hard work and that’s important but first consideration is that they come for an education.”
Members of the 2016 St. John’s High varsity soccer team are seniors Kyle Archambault (M/ F), Sam Burns (F), Dlyan Clune (F), John Fay (F), Christian Jordan (M/F), Joe Rezuke (M/F), Dawson Ritchie (K), Kevin Schwalm (M/F), Tim Smith (D), Brendan Wall (D), Kyle Walsh (D); juniors Matt Belsito (K), Robbie Caron (M/F), Connor Driscoll (M/F), Jake Hamel (M/F), Hamza Khalid (M/F), Vinny Lagomarsino (M/F), Ben Shaw (F); sophomores Alex Hartman (M/F), Alex Kovacs (D), Phillip McCarthy (D), Brian Schwalm (D) and Tyler Toothman (D).