SCOREBOARD 11-20-2011 A return to glory for Prep soccerMarauders capture Hudson County Tournament title; first county crown since 2005

When Josh Jantas took over the St. Peter’s Prep soccer program four years ago, he wanted to be able to return the Marauders to an elite status, like the way they were when Jantas was a player at Grand and Warren.
“That was always a goal,” said Jantas, who was part of three straight HCIAA championships when he was a Prep soccer player from 1992 through 1994. “The main goal was to become a premier program and get some recognition. You always want to be the best.”
Jantas had a group of dedicated players who entered the school at the same time that he did, returning to his alma mater after a successful stint as the head coach at Secaucus.
Kids like Ryan Baird, Rory Duffy and Roberto Chernez all arrived at Grand and Warren when Jantas took over the program. Baird and Duffy knew each other since they were infants – in fact, even before.
“I’ve known Rory all my life,” said Baird, a standout goalkeeper headed to Rutgers on a scholarship in the fall. “In fact, our mothers used to travel to work together on the train when they were pregnant with us. We’ve played on the same team together since we were like 4 or 5.”
So the foundation of the Prep soccer program was put into place four years ago, when the talented freshmen arrive to play for the new coach who was part of a successful past.
However, the rousing success didn’t take place instantaneously.
“We lost in the semifinals of the county playoffs to Memorial when we were freshmen, then we lost to Harrison in the semifinals as sophomores and to Kearny in the semifinals when we were juniors,” said Chernez, one of the top defenders in the county. “I always thought we had a chance to take it a step further, but we never did.”
“They lost three years in row in the semifinals,” Jantas said. “They definitely paid their dues.”
When the 2011 season was about to begin, the Marauder senior leaders made leaving their high school days with a county championship a major priority.
“During the summer, we were at camp together and we made it our main goal this year,” Baird said. “I think it was a goal every year, but we had to win this year, because it was our last year. We just knew it was our year.”
“It’s just something that had to happen,” Chernez said. “We were long overdue for a county title.”
The Marauders last claimed the top spot in the county in 2005.
“It was a long time ago,” Baird said. “We wanted to leave a legacy and win at least once.”
Last Thursday, the long-time goal became a reality, as the Marauders defeated Union City, 2-0, to claim the Hudson County Tournament championship. The Marauders had one more game remaining on the schedule and they won that one as well against Ferris to cap their season to remember with a 21-2 record, the best in the school’s history.
“I’m really happy for the guys,” Jantas said. “They all came in together and worked four years to get this one championship. But they got it. It was the last shot for the seniors and they did it. No Prep team ever won 20 games before this year.”
The Marauders also achieved the feat by going through the two Hudson County soccer powers. They defeated Harrison, which has captured a state-record 23 NJSIAA state titles over the years, in the semifinals, then knocked off Union City, which upset Kearny, winners of 17 NJSIAA titles, in the other semifinal. So in essence, the Marauders went through Harrison and Kearny to get the long-awaited title.
“It’s funny, but we always wanted to have the chance to play Kearny and Harrison, but we never did,” Jantas said. “Now, with this tournament, we’re happy to have the opportunity. When you win a county championship now you can truly say you’re the best team in the county.”
Jantas was proud of the way his team handled a brutal stretch of the schedule, facing Don Bosco Prep in the state sectional quarterfinals and Harrison in the county semis in the matter of 48 hours. They then had to play Seton Hall Prep and Union City in another 48-hour stretch in the state and county playoffs.
“I was really impressed with our guys, the way they were able to bounce back so quickly and keep playing. It was emotional and difficult, but they managed to get through it all.”
Baird believes that team camaraderie and togetherness played a huge role.
“I think we all grew up a little as the year went on,” Baird said. “We had more chemistry. We wanted to prove that we could compete with teams like Kearny and Harrison. It definitely was our year.”
Chernez believes that the familiarity he has enjoyed, playing with Baird and Duffy on a club team, Ironbound SC in Newark, has helped a great team. Ironbound SC is a team that has captured two national titles, two regional crowns, and one state championship while all three Marauders have been playing for the club.
“I think that really helps a lot as well,” Chernez said.
Chernez, who will play soccer at either Bloomfield, Caldwell, Montclair State, or Kean next fall, likes the idea that the 2011 team will always have a place of prominence.
“Our school is well known for its football and basketball championships,” Chernez said. “It’s good to know that there will be another number added to the soccer banner in the gym. We’re ending our Prep careers the right way.”
“It’s great that we’re leaving a legacy,” Baird said. “That’s what we wanted to do.”
Baird is off to Rutgers, Duffy will play at Rider, and Chernez will play college soccer somewhere. That’s another legacy. It’s hard to find another Prep soccer team with two Division I players and three heading off to play in college.
“We knew that we had the three top college prospects, but we also had three other senior starters with experience and some good attack players,” Jantas said. “All the pieces were in place to have a strong team. We came into the season with the expectations of winning the county.”
It’s always good when a team lives up to expectations. The Marauders will be back again next year, with top returning scorers like
Ajani Phillips, Andrew Romero and Juan Gomez returning. All three scored 10 or more goals this season. That’s some explosive firepower returning for the Marauders.
“We want to have this kind of success year in and year out,” Jantas said. “But you never know if you get the chance to get back. That’s why you have to take advantage when the time comes. We did that.”
And brought a little soccer glory back to Grand and Warren in the process.

Jim Hague can be reached at
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