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Published: Thursday, 10/28/2010

High scoring St. John's ranked No. 3 in Ohio

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

For the St. John's Jesuit soccer team, there is but one tempo -full speed ahead.

The result has been relentless offensive attack that has produced more goals than any team in school history.

The Titans (17-1-0) - who play Springfield tonight in the Division I district semifinal at Southview - have outscored their opposition 86-11. The previous season high was 83 goals.

For a team with a primary goal of earning respect, third-year coach Dan Weisenburger's senior-dominated club seems to have done that.

St. John's was ranked

No. 3 in the final Division I state coaches poll, and is ranked No. 37 nationally in the ESPN Rise Powerade Fab 50 soccer poll.

Ryan Peterson, right, a senior, battles Bowsher's Max Klinksiek. Peterson has 21 goals and 14 assists. The Titans are 17-1-0. Ryan Peterson, right, a senior, battles Bowsher's Max Klinksiek. Peterson has 21 goals and 14 assists. The Titans are 17-1-0.
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"Our T-shirts say 'Respect is what we strive for,'•" senior defender Justin Niese said. "We felt a lot of teams in the area and Ohio in general didn't respect us. So, every single game, when we come out, we always do [the chant] '1-2-3 respect.' We feel that's what we always want to work towards."

"We are more of an offensive team than we have been in the past," said Weisenburger, who spent 10 years as a Titan assistant coach under Mark DelVerne. "Comparing it to basketball, we kind of like the fast-break style of soccer.

"We have a lot of speed on our team so our personality is, when we win the ball, we want to try to get down the field and attack the opposing goal as fast as we possibly can."

Matt Essig, left, who has committed to play at Duqsene, and Justin Niese are key players on defense. Matt Essig, left, who has committed to play at Duqsene, and Justin Niese are key players on defense.
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The Titans' only loss came in their second match, a 2-0 setback to Cleveland St. Ignatius, which is unbeaten, ranked No. 1 in Ohio, and No. 2 in the nation.

At the heart of the offensive attack has been a trio which has accounted for 66 percent of the goal scoring - senior forward/midfielders Adam Montague and Ryan Peterson, and junior forward Evan Lee.

Montague, who has committed to play at Michigan State, is the top point producer with 21 goals and 21 assists. Peterson has 21 goals and 14 assists, and Lee has added 15 goals and eight assists.

"At the beginning of the season we thought, with the people we had returning and the new guys we added, that we could play just about any system from week to week," Montague said. "If we needed to up the tempo or slow the pace, we could always do that.

"But, as the season's progressed, we kind of found our niche and we're trying to speed the game up. Offensively, that's our biggest threat right now. A lot of teams have trouble staying with our pace up top, through the middle, and outside. It definitely gets the other team on their heels."

The other half of St. John's winning equation is a steady defensive presence which has yielded less than a goal (0.61) per game, but is also a part of the attack game.

At the core of that defense has been a senior foursome that includes Matt Essig, who has committed to play at Duquesne University, Niese, Brad Vahalik, and Jake Rerucha, although Rerucha was recently lost for the season with a fractured arm suffered in an 8-0 sectional victory over Start.

"It's more of a free-flowing style," Niese said of St. John's full-field attack. "We stay in the formations, but we have the freedom to move where we want. That makes it more fun for the players. It's exciting that our coach lets us experiment a little bit."

St. John's offensive-defensive balance has kept the heat off of senior first-year goalkeeper Connor Walsh, who has posted a 16-1-0 mark and 0.65 goals-against average.

"Our captains - Adam Montague and Justin Niese - are the ones who control the team on the field," Weisenburger said. "Adam has no problem talking to any player on the field, but he definitely leads vocally and by example to keep the team in line."

Rounding out the regular lineup have been junior midfielders Jake Martin, Rushil Naik, and Nate Cook, and sophomore midfielders Jimmy Papadimos and Matt Almester.

"The thing that is the most special about this team is their humility," Weisenburg said. "They know they've racked up school scoring records and earned the national ranking, and they've achieved a lot of success this season.

"But, if you come to our practices, we're still going to beat each other up, and you're not seeing any egos. They're taking it all in stride. We don't talk about rankings. We just play soccer."

Some top victories have come against ninth-ranked Perrysburg (3-1), 11th-ranked Findlay (6-3), third-ranked (in Michigan) University of Detroit Jesuit (4-0), Northview (5-3), Cincinnati St. Xavier (4-0), and Lakewood St. Edward (2-0).

"This is the most offensively powerful team we've had," Weisenburger said. "If it's not the best team St. John's has had, it's one of the best two or three.

"You're used to having low-scoring games. You score a goal and you try and hold onto the lead. We don't play that philosophy. When we score, we want to score again, and we don't care who it's against."

The success of this consistent attacking style has Weisenburger's team striving toward a goal of becoming just the second St. John's team to advance to reach the state semifinals. The 2002 team fell 3-1 to Hudson at that point.

Since then, St. John's was eliminated in the district semifinals once (2008), at the district-final level four times (2003-05 and 2007), the regional semifinals once (2006), and last year in the regional final, when the Titans bowed out 2-1 in overtime against Strongsville at Bay Village Bay.

It was that last tournament loss, and the late-season momentum that preceded it, which this year's large group of returnees aimed to carry over to this season.

Without question, they have.

"That was one of our main goals, getting to Columbus," Montague said. "But we all know that getting out of our own district is going to be the hardest part.

"Every game gets a little bit harder. We have a lot of experience and we know what we have to do to get there. We fell a little short last year and we know we have to work that much harder to get there and even beyond that."

Weisenburger said the roots of this year's fast-paced attack were established late last season, when the Titans entered tournament play with an under-the-radar 9-7-0 record before reeling off five postseason wins, including four by shutout. In the regional semifinal they took a 3-2 win over Anthony Wayne before the OT loss to Strongsville ended their season at 14-8-0.

"Last year we surprised some people, and that built some momentum for this season," Niese said. "We knew we were going to have a senior-laden team, and that we could carry that momentum off of last year.

"We peaked at the right time last year, so hopefully we can just continue that through this season."

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461.



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