Lions are getting ready to compete this year

Sparta. The Pope John Lions compete in the North Jersey Athletic Conference and are scheduled to begin the regular season with a road game at Morris Knolls on Oct. 2.

28 Sep 2020 | 06:12

As the first-year head coach of the Pope John High School boys soccer program in 2019, Christian Ardila faced a myriad of challenges familiar to many new coaches.

The 2020 Lions will be faced with several obstacles, in considerable part because the COVID-19 pandemic. They are prepared to face them all in a positive manner.

“The Pope John administration and athletic director Mia Gavan have to be given a huge shout out for allowing us to come in during the summer period and carry safe and healthy workouts during the time,’’ Ardila said. “Their guidance and protocols makes all parents, student athletes and coaches feel very safe to step on the fields for training and games.

“We will be rebuilding our entire defensive unit after losing four of five starters from last year’s team to graduation. After solidifying a team defensively and only giving up a total of 29 goals last season, our goal will be to continue to be a disciplined team defensively and organized throughout the field.’’

Pope John earned six victories and advanced to the second round of the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament last year.

Key returning players from that team include Brett Parker (defender, senior), Michael Lavin (goal keeper, senior), Brandon Felice (defender, senior), Anthony Crisafulli (midfielder, junior), Joseph Mazic (midfielder, junior), Collin Amabile (midfielder, junior), Luis Ardila (midfielder, junior), and Thomas Alnor (defender, junior).

Promising newcomers to the varsity level for the Lions include David Izzolo (forward, junior), George Crizies (defender, sophomore), Stevan Patino (midfielder, freshman), Jayden Angner (defender, freshman), Greg Marino (defender, freshman), and Sam Wenger (goal keeper, freshman).

“Michael Lavin and Brandon Felice, two returning seniors varsity players with three years of varsity experience, lead the group in experience,’’ Ardila said. “Anthony Crisafulli, returning junior captain has started at the varsity level for last past three seasons.’’

The Lions compete in the North Jersey Athletic Conference. They are scheduled to begin the regular season with a road game at Morris Knolls on Oct. 2.

“We are in a very tough Conference, playing big-time soccer programs like Randolph, Morris Hills, Morris Knolls, Roxbury and Mount Olive,’’ Ardila said. “We hope to continue to be contenders while rebuilding with lots of incoming players into the program.

“Morris Hills will be the team to beat, loaded with talent and great coaching. Roxbury is a young, explosive team with a veteran coach on their sidelines that will guide them to a good season. Randolph in my opinion will be another tough team to match up against.’’

“We will be rebuilding our entire defensive unit after losing four of five starters from last year’s team to graduation. After solidifying a team defensively and only giving up a total of 29 goals last season, our goal will be to continue to be a disciplined team defensively and organized throughout the field.’’ --Head Coach Christian Ardila