Although it ended in defeat, John Paul II boys soccer concluded its most successful season in program history Saturday. Forgive the Golden Warriors if it takes time for that to settle in and salve the sting of a 3-2 loss to perennial power Oakbook Prep in the SCISA 2A state championship game on Saturday afternoon at Cardinal Newman School in Columbia.
While the Golden Warriors had reached the championship game for the first time, the Knights had their sights set on a third consecutive SCISA 2A state title.
In the opening half, Oakbrook controlled much of the possession and struck first for a 1-0 lead. Shortly before halftime, senior central defender Mark Knight scored off a header that came from a Brennan McDermott corner kick and briefly gave JPII momentum, but Oakbrook countered just moments later to take a 2-1 lead into the half.
Ultimately, the deciding goal came in the second frame when senior keeper Evan Slusne attempted a clearance outside the box and the ball deflected off one of his defenders and found the feet of an Oakbrook forward and the back of the net.
This third — and ultimately decisive — Oakbrook goal was not without controversy, as the goal scorer was called offside by the line judge, only to be waved off by the center referee. The Golden Warriors were not done, though, as senior Nic Richardson bent a cross into the box and junior Austin Floyd put his head to it to bring JPII within a goal with 3 minutes left in regulation.
Despite more desperate chances, the closest being another near header from Knight, JPII was not able to find the late equalizer, and Oakbrook remained the only school to win a SCISA 2A boys soccer title in the last four years — there was no championship in 2020.
John Paul II and Coach Josh Fox’s historic 15-3 season included a dominant 6-0 region record with a region goal differential of 27-1 in his third year since taking over the program. Much of the Golden Warriors’ success was predicated on elite defending, as the starting back line of Knight, Sam Rembold, Peter Torinese, and Renzo Cedeno and holding midfielders Ben Quinty and Richardson contributed to 11 shutouts in 18 matches.
The Golden Warriors also owe much of this defensive mindset to senior keeper Slusne, who had not played soccer before his freshman year and quickly became a four-year starter in net. Slusne will be continuing his still young soccer career this fall at Spring Arbor University in Michigan.
The campaign also included a 4-2 overtime win against Class 5A Irmo in March, and a season goal differential of 74-13. Junior Anthony Hill led JPII with 16 goals, while Knight scored nine, and junior Jackson Ogden added eight. Richardson led the team with 11 assists.
Fox and assistants Nate Stevely and Louise Sanders will take some time to reflect on the success before they turn the page on the impressive campaign and set their sights on next year’s team, which includes seven rising seniors.
By Matt Dakolios