Josh Jantas was asked if he knew his St. Peter’s Prep soccer team had the makings of a champion this season.
“Sure,” said Jantas, in his ninth year as the head coach at his alma mater. “But I thought we had the making of a county champion the last four years.”
But in each of the last three years, the making ended in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals.
And in 2012, the Marauders lost in the finals. So there have been a lot of close, but no cigar moments for the Marauders in recent years.
“We lost in the semifinals each time by one goal the last three years,” Jantas said. “So coming into this year, we wanted to make sure we got the job done. You can never take anything for granted in the county playoffs. We kept that goal throughout the whole season.”
Jantas said that he had a good feeling about his current team because of the incredible amount of seniors he had on the roster.
“Right from the beginning, I liked the senior leadership,” Jantas said. “We have 13 seniors on the roster and six of those are starters. Many of them were on the team the last three years and were determined to not let it happen again.”
Jantas liked the makeup of the 2016 team.
“We had multiple starters back from last year,” Jantas said. “We had others who were starting caliber on our bench. We had a deep team, guys who could come in and change the course of a game. I knew the ability of the players and knew what they were capable of. I knew that if they were clicking on all cylinders, they would be very tough to beat, that even the rest of the state couldn’t stay with us.”
The depth that Jantas spoke of was proven during the regular season.
“Through our first 16 games, we used 12 or 13 different starting lineups,” Jantas said. “That shows the depth of this team.”
After perennial favorites Kearny and Harrison were eliminated, the Marauders defeated Union City in the semifinals to set up a showdown with top-seeded North Bergen in the finale.
The game was played close to the vest, but the Marauders got a goal from junior Paul Kondratowicz in the 23rd minute of the game and that was enough to carry the Marauders to the 1-0 victory and the elusive Hudson County Tournament championship.
It’s the first for the Marauders (14-3-1) since 2011 and the second in Jantas’ coaching career.
“I’ve been to three finals and six semifinals in my time as Prep coach,” Jantas said. “I thought we were playing pretty well in the first half and had a few scoring chances, but got none. It was almost like we were unlucky not to get a goal, but then we scored.”
The Bruins (12-4-1) were not going to give up without a fight.
“North Bergen was very gutsy and played a little harder than we did for a while,” Jantas said. “We had to defend them.”
The Bruins also received a major break when a Marauder player collided with North Bergen net minder Michael Mejia, drawing a red card ejection, meaning that the Marauders had to play a man down for about 10 minutes.
The Bruins then threw away the advantage, when a player received a red card ejection for arguing with the official. It meant that the two teams both had to play a man down for the rest of the game — eliminating any chance of a comeback.
Kondratowicz’s 22nd goal of the season stood up as the game-winner.
He’s one of three forwards that Jantas has used this season, joining a pair of sophomores in Kristopher Piwowarczyk and Kyle Hess.
It certainly bodes well for the Marauders in the future. Piwowarczyk had two goals in the semifinal win over Union City.
All three top scorers coming back is a good way for the Marauders to build on for the future.
Senior James Pike is one of the team’s center midfielders. He scored the other goal in the win over Union City. Senior Aidan Thornell is another center midfielder. Thornell provided the assist to Kondratowicz in the county title game.
“James and Aidan set the tone from the midfield,” Jantas said.
The other midfielders are sophomore Christian Arcos, junior Luke Smith and freshman Mattias Carrion.
The goalkeeper is senior Mike Salameh.
“Mike has played a lot of games on the club level,” Jantas said. “He’s very experienced now. He might have been the starter for us if we didn’t have other people there. But he came into this season ready to go.”
Jantas realizes that the strength of his team lies within the back line.
“Our attack gets a lot of attention and it has been pretty potent this year,” Jantas said. “Sometimes, the defense gets overshadowed. Hopefully, the playoffs shined a little light on our back line.”
Senior Alejandro Sanchez and junior Chima Ohadike have been the mainstays of the defense at center back.
“They’re both very talented back there,” Jantas said.
Senior Andrew Ferrer and Eric Kirchner are also solid defenders.
So the Marauders get the elusive county title that was there for the taking in each of the last four seasons.
“I always felt we were good enough to win it,” Jantas said. “We finally got it. I get joy seeing the players enjoy it. They set a goal and got it. That’s what I get joy from.”