Seniors Vincenzo Pugliese and Bennett O’Brien might be playing the final regular season games of their careers on the High School North boys’ soccer team, the co-captains are confident they can extend their seasons in the postseason.
“I feel like once we get into the Mercer County and state tournaments, once people know that it’s one and done, we’re really going to show our real character,” Pugliese said. “We’ll show everyone how much we want our season to continue.”
The Knights started the season 7-2-1 before suffering back-to-back heartbreaking losses. The team won its final regular-season home game 2-1 against Notre Dame on Oct. 13.
WW-P North was to finish out the regular season with games at Allentown on Oct. 14 and at Hopewell Valley on Oct. 17 before the start of the Mercer County and state tournaments.
“I don’t think there are many teams that are going to be able to stop us when we’re on our game and at full force with all our players,” O’Brien said.
The Knights have built their confidence through the season. It began with some doubts because they graduated their entire defensive back line from last year.
“We’ve had players step up and just be tremendous,” O’Brien said, pointing to sweeper Evan Robinson, stopper Tommy Bartell and Keval Kothary and Oliver Chiriac in the midfield.
The defense also had a crucial piece behind it, said Knights head coach Trevor Warner. “Oliver Sapon is a senior goalkeeper, and as far as I’m concerned he’s the best goalkeeper in the county. He has been rock solid for us all year.”
WW-P North also likes its team chemistry. They pulled together quickly just when things could have gone sour. When the Knights started 1-2-1, they called a team meeting to enforce their team goals and outlook. That’s when their six-game win streak started.
Pugliese said that coming into the season, there were some players in new roles and some that don’t play outside of high school. “After our streak of wins, we started to trust one another and where we were playing.”
There’s never been much doubt where to put Pugliese, who leads the Knights in goals. He’s one of the best goal scorers in the CVC, and he’s been a four-year starter up top. The talented forward is headed to St. John’s University next year to continue his career.
“Vincenzo’s always been a very good player, a very passionate player,” Warner said. “He has one of the best motors in the county. The kid never stops. He’s very emotional and sometimes that works against him, but he is so passionate and wants to do well so badly. That’s always been a No. 1 trait of his.”
Figuring out where to find O’Brien is a little harder. He started the season at center defensive mid, his favorite position, then moved up to striker, then out to a wing and then finally to the back line as sweeper and center back in recent action.
“Sophomore year, that’s how I got on the team,” he said. “I would play anywhere Coach would tell me to play. Last year, it definitely settled down more and I got to play in the middle. This year, we’re a small team so if someone goes down, someone has to step in and we have a lot of good center midfielders that can easily step in and fill the role if we need someone somewhere else.”
His versatility is his biggest asset, though — O’Brien also leads the team with seven assists.
The Knights look to Pugliese and O’Brien for their leadership.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, I was one of the younger guys and I was there for the experience and learning,” Pugliese said. “I was still getting playing time and having an impact, but I was learning. I saw what the seniors were doing, the juniors were doing, the captains, the best players, the goal scorers, I saw what they did and I’ve taken that into my own part and I’ve grown into those roles as seniors started to graduate and I got older.”
Now the Knight seniors are at the end of their high school careers, but setting not limits on how long they can extend them. Their regular season has been promising and it shows the potential for tournament success.