For the past couple months, Mount Saint Joseph captain Van Danielson and his teammates had great doubt whether they would get a chance to step on the soccer field this fall.
Excitement came when word came two weeks ago that there indeed would be an abbreviated season with the Gaels competing in the specially formed six-team Catholic League, a compromise due to the pandemic.
After their final roster was completed on Tuesday and uniforms handed out Thursday, the Gaels hosted rival Archbishop Curley on Saturday morning and showed their appreciation with a fine performance.
Danielson and Miles Lam — two of 19 seniors on the roster — each finished with one goal and one assist, and junior Brian St. Martin provided late insurance as Mount Saint Joe claimed a sturdy 3-1 win over the Friars in Irvington.
“It’s awesome,” Danielson said. “I know our whole team was super excited just to get the chance to play — we’ve been waiting this whole time. We have a lot of seniors and for all of us, this is our last ride, so we’re really excited to be back out on the field.”
It showed quickly as the Gaels came out in far better form than what might be expected for a first game under trying circumstances.
Danielson made sure there was a payoff to his team’s crisp start when he collected a ball on the right side, made a decisive cut across and unleashed a left-footed shot from 16 yards that deflected off a defender and in for a 1-0 lead in the game’s eighth minute.
The Gaels seemed to had taken complete hold of the game with 5:39 left in the half when Danielson, working from the same side, played a ball across that Sean Thompson alertly left for a streaking Lam, who placed a firm low shot from 18 yards for a 2-0 advantage.
The Friars, younger and less experienced than the home team, found hope with good work from a set piece in the final minute of the half — Landon Berger heading home Zach Sutherland’s free kick to cut the deficit to 2-1 at the break.
While second-half goalie Michael Caulkins (five saves) kept the Friars close with three sparkling saves, they had their best chance to tie midway through the half when senior standout Anthony Schlee had time to turn deep inside the box. However, Schlee’s point-blank shot from 8 yards was turned away by goalie Joel Fenstermacher.
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On Thursday, St. Martin committed to play at Maryland where his older brother Brett, a 2018 Mount St Joe graduate, is now a junior defender for the Terps. He capped his week with a nifty header off a corner kick from Miles to make it 3-1 in the final minutes.
St. Martin echoed Danielson’s sentiment.
“Very excited to commit and just get back out here and start playing high school again. After a long wait, having it pushed back, we’re all excited to be back out here,” he said.
Once they got acclimated to the speed of the game, the Friars showed coach Barry Stitz some positives to build on. He’s hoping that playing an experienced and highly skilled team immediately out of the gate can pay dividends.
“I told the group to keep their heads up,” he said. “One school of thought is let’s play a team like this after we have a couple games under our belt. But for the type of team we have right now — we’re young and a little bit green — I think playing a team like that at the beginning of the year is beneficial because. … I could tell the kids this: ‘You’re not going to play a team that plays harder and makes you play faster than them because of the makeup of their team — experienced guys that have the pedigree and play super hard.’ We’re exposed to it and now you know how you have to go [moving] forward.”