Judge’s Ibarra providing leadership to young squad

Senior Marcelo Ibarra is helping train newcomers on Father Judge’s soccer team.

Marcelo Ibarra is the only returning starter from a Judge team that made the PCL semifinals last year. PHOTO: MARCELO IBARRA

Last year, Marcelo Ibarra was the young guy.

This year, he’s the guy.

Ibarra is a senior striker on the Father Judge High School soccer team, and he came into the season as the only returning starter on the Crusaders squad. Last year, the starting lineup consisted of 10 seniors and Ibarra. He knew there would be growing pains, and after talking with coach John Dunlop, he was ready to be the coach on the field who would help mentor the newcomers.

It’s been a process, but according to Ibarra, it’s been smoother than he expected.

“I knew it was going to be hard and a little frustrating,” Ibarra said. “I wasn’t upset or anything because when I was a sophomore, I was in their shoes. I know it’s hard to come up and play varsity, especially your first season.

“It’s actually going better than I thought it would. The guys listen. JD is a great coach, so they’re learning a lot from him, but I think it definitely helps that I’m here because I can show them things on the field. It’s great to have a great coach, but sometimes when you see it done on the field, during games, you can learn. I learned from players and now I’m trying to pass that on.”

With Ibarra leading the way, the Crusaders are taking baby steps, but all of those steps are forward.

The Crusaders are 4–2–1 in Catholic League play, and while they struggled in a 4–0 loss to Roman Catholic, the other loss was a 1–0 setback to Archbishop Wood.

Growing pains will likely continue in some form, but according to Ibarra, the worst is behind them.

“This year is a lot different because last year, we all knew what we were doing right from the start and practice, we could focus on different things,” Ibarra said. “This year, it’s a lot different, but it’s all about chemistry. I think if we all started last year, we’d be very good this year. If you have chemistry, you play better, so the more we play together, the better we’ll do.

“We’re a lot better than we were at the start of the season. We’re coming together, learning how things have to be done. I’m surprised how well it’s going.”

The younger guys are doing their thing, but Ibarra is definitely the catalyst to the success.

In a 3–2 victory over Archbishop Carroll, Ibarra scored all three goals to pick up the win. But he’s quick to point out he’s getting a lot of help from his mates.

“They’re learning where I want the ball and they’re getting it to me so I can finish,” said Ibarra, a Parkwood native who has eight goals and five assists after scoring 10 goals and handing out eight helpers a season ago. “It’s a lot of repetition. That’s what JD tells us. The more we do it, the better we’ll do.”

This summer, Ibarra competed on an amateur team in Portugal. It was an opportunity he got when the Portuguese club came to scout one of Ibarra’s teammates on his club team, FC Ropa.

“It was a great time, I spent 17 days there,” Ibarra said. “The game is so fast over there. It was faster than anything I ever experienced before. But I enjoyed it. It was beautiful over there. We didn’t do much other than play soccer, but it was a great trip. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Or perhaps not.

Ibarra has a chance to go back to play this summer, and this time it would be a six-month tour. If he does it, he won’t get paid so he’ll retain his amateur status and be able to play college soccer.

“It’s such a great opportunity to play the game and see how other people play it,” said Ibarra, who is looking at Ohio State and Penn State, among others. “My goal is to play professionally someday. My parents told me it’s my decision, they support whatever I want to do, so I’ll have to decide.”

But before he plays overseas, he’ll have one more chance at a Catholic League crown.

It won’t be easy. Defending champ La Salle is once again an elite team, and Roman has proven to be a tough test for the Crusaders.

But Ibarra is hoping his squad’s inexperience will help them in the postseason.

“We lost to Roman in the championship two years ago, and when we played them last year, I think we were a little scared because we know what it’s like to play tough games in the playoffs,” Ibarra said.

“The younger guys never had that kind of experience, so they won’t be as nervous. They’ve never been in those kinds of games, so they’ll just go in ready to play.

“I think we’re going to be OK. I think we’re going to be tougher to beat now that we’re starting to build chemistry and learning to play with each other. It’s taken some time, but I think we’re in a great spot. I’m happy with where we are.”