Every year they say it, and it seems every year they're wrong. "They" are those media pundits (cough! cough!) or crotchety old-timers supposedly in the know when it comes to soccer in southern New Jersey. We ... ahem, I mean they (!!) ... think they know what they're talking about, but invariably they don't.
Specifically, we're focusing on the annual predictions that the St. Augustine Prep soccer program will come back to the pack. However, with coach Les Heggan at the helm and due to the caliber of athlete (not to mention the high level of student) the Prep can draw, this team won't ever struggle.
I had a first-hand look at this year's version of the Prep during a home game on a rainy, windy day on their already autumnal campus on Oct. 14. The host Hermits faced Ocean City High School, which, in years past, would have been a huge test. But this isn't your older brother's Ocean City.
And, don't get me wrong, that's not meant as any sort of disrespect toward the boys who don the Red Raiders' red and white, or to coach Aaron Bogushefsky. O.C. still has a very good team; they're just not of the caliber of the state-title-winning sides of the past. "Boguy," as he's known, realizes that and just gets on with it.
But, against a Prep side brimming with talent, he just doesn't have the horses this year. Now, that shortage of quality players is a problem this ... or any other ... Hermits team just never seems to have. Good players gravitate toward Heggan, and he's got a team built for success again. They slice through their opponents with surgical precision, but there's a physical side too.
During their 2-0 win over Ocean City, I was impressed with how aggressive the Prep forwards and midfielders were in marking and pressuring high up the pitch. Those who truly love the game ... and also have a knack for coaching it, like Heggan ... know it's not about where the ball is, but it's about where it's going to be.
The St. Augustine boys don't just pass and move; they also seem to have a steely resolve to battle for every ball. Soccer games aren't really won on statistics likes shots on goal or corner kicks. The game is more organic than that. If your kids are willing to win the 50-50 balls on almost any occasion, chances are you'll come out ahead in the scoreline.
I've only spoken to the man once, but Heggan seems to get this. His boys contest every ball all over the field, and there's no sign of the "hoofing" that seems to define the lower echelons of Cape-Atlantic League soccer. But, let's not generalize ... there are good coaches out there who instruct their charges to knock the ball around on the ground.
Guys like John Napoli of Mainland Regional, Kevin Semet of Atlantic City, Mario Monfardini of Sacred Heart, John Maher of Middle Township and O.C.'s "Boguy," too, could work wonders with the caliber of soccer athletes Heggan attracts every year. They have soccer minds and motivational abilities to spare. But, there's definitely something about the "veteran man" of the CAL.
His career accomplishments are no accident, and he's gathered together another Hermits team that seems poised to add to the school's soccer-trophy cabinet this fall. A recent loss to fellow power Shawnee aside, this Hermits team is poised for greatness. It's to our benefit to watch it all unfold.