Boys Soccer: Dublin Jerome locking down opponents with revamped defense
Losing nearly all its defense to graduation caused a dilemma for the Dublin Jerome boys soccer team heading into the season.
The Celtics returned senior Nitin Sanga at goalie and senior Nick Campagni at an outside back spot, but senior Simon Cole was moved from forward to center back and senior Andrew Butcher and junior Jacob Honner were asked to take on bigger roles in the back.
As it has turned out, any potential growing pains the unit might have endured never showed up.
The Celtics tied Hilliard Darby at 1 on Oct. 13, but that was just the third goal the team had yielded all season.
“We knew we were losing a couple of really good seniors in our back line and that there’d be some big shoes to fill, but we’ve found a way,” Campagni said. “At times we all step back and say, ‘Wow, we’re really (having success),’ but with the work we’ve put in, we haven’t gotten anything we didn’t deserve.”
Jerome was first in last week’s Division I area coaches poll and received the No. 1 seed for the district tournament.
Before facing defending state champion and the Cleveland St. Ignatius, state’s top-ranked team, on Oct. 17, the Celtics were 12-1-2 overall.
Despite the tie with Darby, Jerome won the six-team OCC-Cardinal Division championship at 4-0-1 after tying for fourth in the eight-team league last season.
Jerome opens the district tournament Thursday, Oct. 22, at home against 32nd-seeded Groveport or 37th-seeded Central Crossing. The winner plays 17th-seeded Big Walnut or 27th-seeded Licking Heights on Tuesday, Oct. 27, in a district semifinal at the site of the higher seeded team.
The second-highest seed in Jerome’s bracket is No. 8 St. Charles.
A year ago, the Celtics reached a district final for the 11th time under coach Nate Maust – including for the fifth consecutive season – where they lost 4-1 to Worthington Kilbourne to finish 12-6-1 overall.
Manny Morales, Jacsen Luthy and Connor Moser all were among the key players on defense who were lost to graduation.
“Last year’s group was, I thought, one of our better defensive groups, and we lost (almost) everybody on defense,” Maust said. “This group has really stepped up. We’ve got some veteran players. They just were playing in other places (on the field). It’s been really nice. We’ve had (12) shutouts (in our first 15 games) and Nitin has had to come up with about one to two decent saves each game, but he hasn’t been tested a ton.
“Defense wins championships, right? That’s what we’re going for. It’s definitely been some good growing in our attacking department. We look at it as our schedule has hopefully prepared us for a good postseason.”
Jerome played six of the 10 teams ranked in the final area coaches poll including Olentangy Liberty, which beat the Celtics 1-0 on Sept. 1. The only other team to score on the Celtics before Oct. 17 was Gahanna, which Jerome defeated 4-1 on Sept. 10.
In addition to his team’s defense, Maust has been impressed with the play of senior defensive midfielder Ethan Smythe, who he calls “the best 6 in the area,” as well as senior midfielders Devin Howard and Crossen Schoch.
“At the beginning of the year, our main focus was probably the defensive end,” Howard said. “I knew we were going to have to work harder than most of our opponents for the results we wanted. We’re working harder than other teams and it’s showing.
“I’m usually in the midfield, but I’m all over the field pretty much. We knew we were going to have big shoes to fill. As it gets later in the season, we’re all getting more comfortable with each other. We trust each other.”