Catholic League ready to roll in fall sports

It should be time to start preparing for the playoffs. But it’s 2020, and nothing is normal, so instead of doing postseason previews, we’re doing season previews.

The Catholic League originally said it was going to nix fall sports until 2021, but a change of heart means a mid-October start to the season, at least for some of the teams.

Father Judge and Little Flower high schools decided to remain idle until 2021 due to coronavirus issues, but St. Hubert and Archbishop Ryan are going forward with fall sports.

Here is a glance at the prospects of local teams.

Archbishop Ryan

FOOTBALL

The Raiders didn’t accomplish everything they wanted to last year under first-year coach Chris Lampart, but they did show some signs of improvement, as the young team seemed to get better every week. This year, more growth is expected.

Ryan should be tough up front with offensive linemen Marty Qualtierri, Ryan Smyth, Imani Bell and Angel Cardona returning to the mix.

They’ll protect quarterback Rob McConnell, who also could see time at tight end. Another skill guy the team will depend on is wideout Joe Mastrangelo.

The defense includes linemen Eric Stevenson, Mike Gozzi and McConnell, linebacker Kevin Szychulski and defensive backs Dave Farrell, Blaise DeSilva and Mastrangelo.

This year should be another year of growth for the Raiders, as Lampart continues to build the program.

“Our offense needs to improve on the offensive line,” Lampart said. “Last year, we were young and a bit undersized. Last year, we were able to get many players exposure to varsity football and the results will pay off this year.

“There is no learning curve from installing a new defense. We know what we need to do, now we have to execute.”

Sidiki Fofana will be one of the most skilled players in the Catholic League this year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

BOYS SOCCER

The Raiders come into the season with high expectations and a lot of momentum. The team had a great run at the end of the 2019 season, winning two playoff games and taking eventual champ La Salle to the brink before falling in the Catholic League semifinals.

The bad news for the rest of the PCL is that many of those players are back, with Ryan returning eight starters from last season.

Leading the way for Ryan Haney’s team will be Sidiki Fofana, a talented forward, and Jimmy McDonnell, an All-Catholic selection last year. Two other returning senior starters are Ted Westervelt and Sean Horvay.

Expectations are high, but Haney knows it’s always tough in the Catholic League.

“We have a great nucleus of talent returning, we should be able to attack and defend strong,” Haney said. “The team is very excited for the opportunity to compete. Hopefully we can compete with the top teams in the league.”

GIRLS SOCCER

This could be a special one for the Ragdolls. Last year, they won the Catholic League championship and they return 16 players on this year’s team. And coach Jon Geist is also very happy with the younger players who have joined the program.

Back in the mix will be Emma Joyce, a senior goalie, and her sister Grace Joyce, who starts at centerback. Another defender returning to the mix is Kaitlyn Brace.

The midfield will include Emily Deluisi, Luca Verello and Keri Gontz. And leading the forwards will be Kristen Montag.

The Ragdolls won’t have a chance to defend their PCL crown, but they could be in the mix for a state championship.

“With the season getting a late start and then reduced scheduled, we are a little behind this year but we are hoping that all the work the girls put in on their own during quarantine has them ready to go for our first official game,” Geist said.

BOYS CROSS COUNTRY

The Raiders took seventh in the Catholic League last year and ended up sixth in the District 12 3A meet. This year’s squad will be led by Logan Kentner, who will be a top runner and captain.

Improvement will be key for the Raiders.

“The team is undergoing a rebuilding process, but returning athletes are seeing big fitness gains and look to improve significantly over the times posted last year,” coach Paul Matuszak said.

GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY

The Ragdolls enjoyed a strong 2019 campaign, taking second in the PCL, and coming in third in District 12. They should be strong again this year, led by three All-Catholics in Rebecca Dalton, Erica Lazar and Carly Marquess. Dalton qualified for the state race, and both she and Lazar were first-team selections.

The talented returnees have the Ragdolls poised for a strong year this season.

“After narrowly missing out on the PCL title in 2019, we are in position to improve on both of last year’s placings at the conference and district championships,” Matuszak said.

St. Hubert

GIRLS SOCCER

The Bambies improved last year, finishing the season in Catholic League play at 5-5 after a losing season in 2018. It was the first year of new coach Jeanette Graziosi-Hibbs, and while she’s not satisfied with where they’re at, she’s happy with the progress.

This year, the Bambies will be led by a midfield that will include Mia Tobin and Gianna Grassifulli, who transfered from Ryan. The defense should be stingy, led by centerback Taylor McNamee and goalkeeper Katie Lepkowski.

Like every team, Hubert’s will have to figure things out as it goes, but there is reason for optimism.

“We’ve lost at least six players to other commitments while the season was on hold,” Graziosi-Hibbs said. “This has created space and opportunity for new, younger players to step up and contribute to the team.”

VOLLEYBALL

The Bambies finished 6-6 last year, but return a lot of talent to this year’s squad.

Returning to the mix will be middle hitters Payton Pugh and Hannah Nice, outside hitters Samantha Erwin and Sarah McLaughlin, setters Allison Carley and Charlotte Pugh, and libero Julianna Redanauer.

Soraida Perez is happy with the team he has this year, and expects big things.

“We look to our left and we look to our right, that’s who we are playing for each other not just ourselves,” Perez said. “We are one team.

“We have five returning starters who have grown over the last year and have improved greatly. Promising sophomores and incoming recruits. We are hungry, motivated and anxious to get this season started.”