Notre Dame soccer captains, from left, Pablo Argueta, JP Colter, James Ferraro and Tobias Urban proudly display the sign that proclaims the Irish went undefeated in Colonial Valley Conference play for the first time since 1984. The Irish went 13-0 against conference competition, and capped the perfect record with a 9-1 over West Windsor-Plainsboro North on Oct. 11. Facebook photo
Notre Dame soccer captains, from left, Pablo Argueta, JP Colter, James Ferraro and Tobias Urban proudly display the sign that proclaims the Irish went undefeated in Colonial Valley Conference play for the first time since 1984. The Irish went 13-0 against conference competition, and capped the perfect record with a 9-1 over West Windsor-Plainsboro North on Oct. 11. Facebook photo
As much as Bryan Fisher and the Notre Dame High boys soccer team are tired of losing to Pennington in the Mercer County Tournament finals, in a way the Irish were happy to have the opportunity to do so this year.

While that may sound like a weird statement after the Red Hawks took a 4-0 victory over the Irish of Lawrenceville in the Oct. 20 MCT title game at Hopewell Valley, there is reasoning behind it. Because after Notre Dame graduated 16 seniors and eight starters from last year’s team that finished ranked No. 4 in the state, no one thought they would win many games, let alone reach the championship game.

The young Irish proved everyone wrong and will enter the state tournament with a 15-3 record.

For the first time since 1984, ND enjoyed an undefeated regular season against the Colonial Valley Conference competition by going 13-0. They tacked on two more wins in the MCT quarterfinals and semifinals to finish 15-0 against CVC foes.

“This year’s team is hungry to prove that they are in the same conversation as last year’s team,” Fisher said. “They have really come together as a group and I am very proud of the job our staff of James (The Mayor) Angiolino, Scott Loesser, Kenny Ellsworth and Joe Hoenisch has done.”

When asked what made this team mesh, Fisher said,  “I just think a lot of these guys watched the group last year play. We had a strong JV team last year too. Those guys spent the year seeing what it’s like to play at the highest level. We got to two finals (counties and state sectionals), I just think success breeds success.”

Fisher felt a 5-4, overtime win over Allentown to start the season lit the match.

“We had an exhilarating opening night win,” he said. “Belief is something big in high school sports. There was a belief and I think we used it as a little bit of a chip. To be 15-0 against our conference is an incredible feat. I told these guys, this loss to Pennington doesn’t diminish anything we’ve done this year.”

Along with the players’ belief in their abilities, is also a belief in God.

“Oh yeah,” said Fisher, now in his second year with ND. “They say (The Lord’s Prayer) before every game, something that they’ve been doing since last year. A lot of our kids are heavily involved in Catholic Athletes for Christ. It means a lot to them.”

One of the passionate soccer team players and CAC member is junior goalie Chase Burrows, who made 10 of his 113 saves this season against Pennington. Burrows kept ND in it for one half, making a slew of great stops as the Irish only trailed 1-0 at halftime.

“He’s been outstanding all year,” Fisher said. “He gave us a chance.”

It could have been tied at the half, but James Ferraro’s shot from short distance was stopped by an eye-popping, one-armed save by diving goalie Kempe.

“We needed to make one of those quality chances count, especially against a level team like Pennington,” Fisher said. “We had two really great chances. It’s hard to play a great team like that, and you have to make the most of those chances in those big games.”

Pennington tacked on three in the second half to win their seventh consecutive MCT title. Five have come at the expense of Fisher — three when he was coaching West Windsor-Plainsboro South, and two at Notre Dame.

And while it is frustrating for the coach and team, which has lost three straight finals, it’s time to look ahead to the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A sectional tournament. The Irish will likely be second-seeded behind Lincroft’s Christian Brothers Academy, which beat ND last year’s final.  

The Irish bring a high powered offense into state play, having scored 70 goals this season. Ferraro has led the way with 21 goals and eight assists.  

“He’s tremendous,” Fisher said of the senior. “He’s a complete player. He’s just smooth on the ball, he’s a great finisher, he’s fast, he’s physical. He’s been a great captain and he’s three points away from 100 points.”

Other scoring threats include sophomore Will Lynch (10 goals, 7 assists), seniors JP Colter (9 goals, 13 assists) and Pablo Argueta (7 goals, 13 assists), junior Ryan Watson (6 goals) and freshman Luca Ercolano (5 goals). Notre Dame had 21 players with a goal or an assist.

A big key for the Irish was the development of their young defenders. Senior Tobias Urban anchored a back four of sophomores Luigi Baricelli and Isaac Bustamante and freshman Nick Angiolino.    

“We’ve gotta get off the floor a little bit after this loss,” Fisher said.

“We did it last year,” he said. “They watched those guys last year get off the mat and go to another final. That’s gotta be our goal and our expectations.”