St. Augustine Prep's Mick Smyth, center, looks to control the ball against Mainland Regional's Mike McGlynn, left, and Ryan Walsh.

Staff photo by Ben Fogletto

The St. Augustine Prep soccer team was stuck playing some pedestrian soccer nearing the halfway point of its season.

The Hermits were 3-4-1 following a 1-0 loss to rival Ocean City on Sept. 28.

Cue Mick Smyth.

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The team's senior captain was cleared to play that week following offseason knee surgery.

The Hermits have gone 5-1 since then, including a 4-0 win against a tough Delran team Saturday.

"It's no coincidence," Prep coach Steve Rolando said. "He certainly is a core player. He's one of our go-to players. His presence on the field has picked up the rest of the team.

"He's a coach on the field. He really is. He's been a real shot in the arm."

Smyth had surgery on Valentine's Day this year to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and partially torn meniscus.

Even though Smyth couldn't play, he traveled with the team and didn't miss a game.

"With me being a senior, I thought it was necessary," Smyth said. "That was really sad. I was watching my team like, 'Oh, man, I want to be out there,' but patience is a virtue. I had to wait my time."

That time came on Oct. 1 in a 1-0 Prep win against Oakcrest.

Smyth, who is slowly building up to being able to play a full game, received a small round of applause from fans and teammates as he entered the game.

"That meant a lot to me," Smyth said. "That was a good feeling. I know the team supports me."

Smyth spends most of his time on the front line and scored his first goal of the season in a 2-1 win against Mainland Regional on Thursday.

He followed that up by scoring the first goal of the game against Delran and adding an assist. Delran had been the No. 3 team in The Press Elite 11.

"That was the game," Smyth said. "We had the pedal down to the floor 100 percent of the time. We were just relentless. It was an all-around team effort."

Rolando appreciates Smyth's passion for the game.

"You love a kid like that," Rolando said. "He just wants to be on the field, in the game and touching the ball. …You pretty much had to drag him off when he wasn't allowed on the field. He is the type of player you're proud to be affiliated with."

Prep goalkeeper Jay Higbee has been stellar. Higbee is among the area leaders with five shutouts this season.

Senior sweeper Velty Koons and left fullback Tom Thornton anchor the team defensively.

Juniors Eric Hurff and Sean Lynch have been steady in the midfield and up top. Freshman Christian Bik has emerged into a solid scoring threat and leads the team with four goals.

The Prep has turned into a team nobody wants to face come tournament time.

"We have peaked at the right time," Rolando said.

The Hermits play at Ocean City on Thursday.

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