There was a telling moment late in Episcopal Academy’s Inter-Ac Invitational ouster last week.
In a game long-since decided – a 16-8 triumph for No. 2 seed Haverford School over No. 3 EA – there was a coming-together of players after a whistle. Flags down, several penalties ensued on either side, and it took a moment for both teams to collect themselves and ready to play out the final two minutes and change of the game.
Part of that process involved an EA huddle, in which junior attacker Curtis Zappala read the riot act to his teammates.
“We were breaking apart a little bit, getting a little tough, getting a little not classy,” Zappala said. “EA plays with class. I told the guys, we’re not going to step down and call people names. If we’re going to go out, 16-8, we’re going to go out classy and bring these seniors out classy.”
There’s no denying that, on balance, those seniors haven’t gone out in the way that they would’ve wanted this season, the third loss of the campaign to their archrival Haverford School concluding an 8-13 season.
But there are brighter days ahead, and the catalyst for that growth is sure to be Zappala.
For all the disappointment, the Churchmen lose 11 seniors. The hardest hit area will be in defense, with long poles Drew DeBacco, Michael Watkins and Raphael Furey among those departing. Also gone is goaltender Brian Zappala, a co-captain this season with Furey.
The attack loses little. Gone is Dutch Buckley (20 goals, 10 assists) and Tyler Haab, who was injured the last eight games of the season. In midfield, Richie Palazzese is gone, as is faceoff man Matt Ernst, though sophomore rising star Christian Feliziani had taken over his job by and large toward the end of the season after Ernst returned from a recurrence of a shoulder injury.
With another year to grow, the green attack that faltered at times this year could grow into something very special. Leading the parade, no doubt, will be Curtis Zappala, who earned All-America honors with 36 goals and 31 assists this season. The attack grew around him as the season progressed. Classmate Chris Friedman (second on the team with 26 goals and 10 assists) is also back, as are promising young players like freshman Jake Martellucci and sophomores Benjamin Valdes and Eric Haab.
What doesn’t seem to be lacking is the drive and confidence fueling the next generation.
“We’re not rebuilding, we’re starting from where we are right now,” Zappala said. “We’ll miss some kids, but we have a lot of young talent, even on our JV team. I broke down the young guys (huddle) after the game and it was a little emotional, but we said, Monday, it starts. We’re hitting the weight room. We’re hitting the goal. We’re hitting the wall. It’s not stopping. We’re going to be back here. We’re going to beat Malvern, we’re going to beat Haverford, we’re going to hoist the trophy next year.”