There’s not much that’s known in the Del Val League this year.
One definite is that Penn Wood is the champion until another team says otherwise. Another is that everyone else in the league will be gunning for the Patriots.
Short of that, the league should retain its usual wide-open character.
The Patriots face a big task in having to replace eight starters from last season’s league championship team. Ed Kramer’s bunch retains a solid spine, with veteran goalkeeper Chimanuka Kuderna, senior sweeper Teddy Akoi and leading scorer Elijah Ema all back. The latter’s emergence as more than just a prolific scorer is reason for the Patriots’ hopes to be high.
“Ever since he was a freshman, the soccer skills have been there,” Kramer said. “He’s been taking a leadership role. He has all the gifts, now he’s becoming a leader on the field.”
Filling the void of starters is a large group of veterans who Kramer says understand the game well, but are short on varsity experience, specifically at the positions they’ll be called on to fill this year. Among those are senior midfielder James Kamara and a rebuilt backline around Akoi that features fellow seniors Michel Bella, Sodiq Alabgo and Melvin Steele. This is also the first time in over a decade Kramer has had a full JV squad at his disposal, giving him young options like freshman forward John Mansary if the need arises.
Academy Park, the team Penn Wood edged out for last year’s title, will again be in the thick of things. They too are coping with major losses, mainly at the back thanks to some injuries, transfers and the graduation of defender Stanley Amah and goalkeeper Elvis Kannah.
Offense won’t be a worry for Knights coach Dan Schultz this season, as some wild and high-scoring preseason scrimmages have shown. All-league forward Nabieu Sesay and central midfielder Mohammed Koneh are among the key returnees. The midfield is fortified by seniors Ola Gbodi and Kevin Galloway, while Adam Toy will step into defense in Amah’s stead and senior Sam Ball will assume goalkeeping duties.
Where Academy Park may be vulnerable is in the depth department, where Schultz sees a notable drop-off from the primary guys to the second unit.
Also in the hunt will be Interboro, a team that remained competitive through some growing pains a season ago. The payoff will be a shorter learning curve this season for Nick Dostellio’s team.
Chase Rodriguez provides a veteran presence in goal, Mike Christaldi is an imposing bruiser in the midfield and junior Fisher Sikorsky will be called upon to lead the forward line. Dominic Franchetti, Roberto Sanchez and Mike Hess will be among those providing depth to the midfield, while freshmen like Tyler Bolinger and Kyle Dutch should contribute from the start.
It all combines to give the Bucs the look of a dark horse.
“We’re optimistic and we’re starting to grow on the field,” Dostellio said, emphasizing his team’s expectation to win. “… It’s about taking the next step on the field, and we’re seeing that a lot.”
While Penn Wood, Academy Park, Interboro comprise the frontrunners for a league title, Chichester and Glen Mills could have a say in where the league title ends up.
Chichester has a few promising pieces returning, including senior keeper Ricky Blair, defender Danny Coleman and midfielders Brett Wilson and Anthony D’Amico, the first three of whom are four-year varsity contributors. Head coach Jim Curry is also encouraged by a spate of talented freshman, including forwards Jarred Sullivan and Adam Youseff, midfielder Austin Dillon and defender Johnny Coleman.
Curry acknowledges some of this team’s shortcoming, including a lack of height and experience, and admits that he’ll have to get the most out of young forwards to get on the board consistently. But he’s also got a team that has “worked their butts off” in preseason for whom he sees no reason why they can’t contend for a league title.
As if often the case at Glen Mills, Bryan Confer is faced with the prospect of a whole new crew of players. Among those that should contribute are midfielders Daiquan Stewart, Leonard Zuniga and Bladimir Bolanos, forwards Nico Weiss and Michael Holiday and defender Garth Byers.