For the past two years, the Pacelli soccer team has been nearly void of senior leadership.
A combined three seniors took the field in 2011-12. In 2013, that number has risen to seven, and that, above all else, has given the Vikings a needed boost late in the season.
“These guys have gone through tough situations,” coach Mike Dempsey said of his seniors. “They realize what it takes to succeed. The leadership now, we don’t just have one guy. It’s all of them.”
The group consists of Chad Hoffman, Jay Dawahare, Andy DeRojas, Tristan Gibbo, Will Marchetti, Jose Samayoa and Nathan Schlies. It has played together since middle school, learning over time each other’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. The resulting nucleus for the Vikings is one with players who compliment each other and provide plenty of guidance for the younger players.
“What one player lacks, someone else makes up for it,” left back Samayoa said. “We grew up together, so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses on and off the field. Everyone can be there to help someone else.”
That pays off in a major way for Dempsey, who said coaches can only do so much in-game coaching. The majority of direction comes from the players on the field, he said.
“It’s great knowing that we have guys that can do that on the field,” Dempsey said. “If coaching isn’t coming from on the field, then we’ll fall apart.”
That hasn’t been a problem for the Vikings, who are 15-2 and ranked No. 5 in Class A. They have a tough matchup in the second round of the state playoffs against Aquinas, but it’s a match the players have been preparing for over the past three seasons.
“They got thrown into the fire as freshmen,” Dempsey said. “These guys have gone through some tough situations.”
Schlies, the team’s keeper, said those moments made the group grow into effective leaders on the field.
“We had guys playing against bigger competition, bigger schools, so we learned a lot early on,” he said. “We’ve tried to help pass that down to the younger guys this year.”
The leadership is one of support, midfielder Chad Hoffman said. He said players like Dawahare and Schlies were more vocal, while others lead simply by example.
All of it is meant to help the younger players grow and keep the team running as a cohesive unit.
“It’s supportive,” Hoffman said. “We try to keep each other’s confidence and composure. I think that’s one of the keys to our success.”
More impressive than the leadership on the field, Dempsey said, is that each has the ability to lead outside the lines, as well.
“They’re good kids,” he said. “Kids who are strong in the classroom, have high GPAs, tutors, Eagle Scouts. If we’ve got a player struggling in the classroom, we have guys who can help them out. It’s just a really good group.”
Not every good group wins state championships, of course. This one, though, believes it has what it takes.
Last season, Pacelli fell to Hebron Christian, which is a top seed on the other side of the Class A bracket. The Vikings wouldn’t meet Hebron until the state championship game, but that’s a matchup that has the players’ attention.
“They’re hungry,” Dempsey said. “They’d like to face them again. They feel like they can beat them.”
For now, they’re focused on Aquinas, which is a tall task as it is. But Hoffman said that as long as that group continues to play as a cohesive unit, the sky is the limit.
“We know if we play together, we’re capable of beating anybody,” he said. “We just have to keep our composure and play our game.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.