BUCKEYSTOWN — When a strained back muscle prevented Andrew Russell from playing the second half of Tuesday’s match, a tough day became all-the-more challenging for St. John’s Catholic Prep’s boys soccer team.
Here the Vikings were, tangling with a powerful St. Vincent Pallotti team that was well on its way to a 9-0 win, and they no longer had the services of Russell, a senior and four-year varsity player, a valued veteran on a team loaded with newcomers.
St. John’s not only started several freshmen on Tuesday, but it utilized older players who decided to play high school soccer for the first time this year, hoping to help a team that lost a slew of players to graduation and a few more because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a rebuilding time and just happy to be playing because we did lose a few guys due to the pandemic,” Vikings coach Wil Ricketts said. “It’s good to be back on the field.”
Like other sports at St. John’s, the soccer team recently began its competitive season, a long-awaited resumption welcomed by athletes who feared they might not get to play at all like athletes last spring, when the health crisis shut down sports.
St. John’s was buzzing with athletic activity on Tuesday. When Vikings boys soccer player Dorian Tema got up and walked off the field after getting hurt, he got applause from a few St. John’s football players, who were practicing on an adjacent field. And nearby, St. John’s girls soccer team held a practice.
Aside from being sidelined by his injury, Russell wasn’t complaining.
“Getting back to play is really nice after having to stay home, stay quarantined,” he said. “Getting back out here, it’s not the best conditions, but I’m glad we’re back out here.”
Granted, much has changed since his junior season. There are plenty of new faces.
“We lost nine or 10 seniors last year, and we have five freshmen starting on varsity, I think,” Russell said. “So it’s hard, but we’re trying to do the best we can.”
St. John’s (1-1) also had its roster bolstered by players from other sports like Nick Galanis, who wore a St. John’s lacrosse jersey during Tuesday’s match but has made a name for himself playing baseball for the Vikings.
“He hasn’t played in years, but he decided to give it a try, and I’m really appreciative of that,” Ricketts said. “We have a couple guys like that, that have played different sports and are jumping in along with the freshmen.”
While the Vikings won their opener against Chapelgate, a tough opponent like St. Vincent Pallotti can be an eye-opener for inexperienced varsity players. The Panthers had plenty of big, skilled players who used good passing and decision-making to move the ball seamlessly and create scoring chances.
“They were huge, they were very physical,” Russell said.
“That’s what they need,” Ricketts said. “They need to be going against these very good teams to see what the level of competition is, keep them on their toes.”
Pallotti (2-0) dominated possession, keeping Vikings freshman keeper Chris Nelson under constant pressure.
John Ikebudu, Ayotomiwa Olagoke-Bello and James Ikebudu each had two goals for the Panthers, while Warren Mouganda, Jalani Campbell and Ben Miller each scored one.