Aquinas Academy boys double win total but playoff spot remains elusive

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Saturday, October 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Aquinas Academy missed the WPIAL Class A boys soccer playoffs this season, but the Crusaders kept opposing goalies busy.

Aquinas scored 47 goals, the most in coach Mat Anselmino’s five-year tenure, capped with a 5-0 victory over California on Oct. 16 in the season finale.

“There was definitely more emphasis on the team to find the back of the net more frequently,” Anselmino said. “We really emphasized our attack. We had enough talent to where it warranted being able to focus on the attack.”

Led by a pair of All-Section 3-A performers, senior forward Ryan Policicchio (10 goals) and sophomore striker Marco Anselmino (13 goals), the Crusaders went 8-9 overall, doubling their win total from last season (4-10-1).

“I thought it was a fun season,” Policicchio said. “We didn’t get the result in terms of wins and losses, but we finished a lot and I got to play with my team every game, and that’s all I could ask for.”

Aquinas went 4-8 in the section, finishing fifth and failing to reach the WPIAL postseason. But there were plenty of highlights. The Crusaders opened the season with a 7-1 victory over eventual WPIAL playoff qualifier Bishop Canevin and enjoyed a late-season three-game shutout win streak, beating Carrick, St. Joseph and Riverview by a combined score of 14-0.

Even in defeat, the Crusaders were exciting to watch. They dropped a pair of 2-1 games to section co-champion Burrell and fought another WPIAL playoff team, Eden Christian, into double overtime before losing 3-2.

All nine of the Crusaders’ losses were to teams that reached the WPIAL Class A playoffs.

“Overall, I’m super proud of the team,” right center back Duran Lurie said. “We had a big improvement over last season. … Even though we weren’t on the winning side (against Burrell), the style of our play meshed to make a very competitive game every time and it was very exciting.”

Joining Policicchio and Lurie in the five-man senior class were midfielder Ethan Atta and defenders Michael Jernigan and Jordan Mikec. They have helped the program further distance itself from the downtrodden years of 2017-19, when the Crusaders went a combined 1-50-1 and were outscored 354-22.

“Since I’ve been a freshman, the quality of our skill has really gone up exponentially,” Lurie said. “Soccer is being taken seriously. It wasn’t just for fun. We wanted to win. We competed.”

Competing isn’t always easy considering the rugged section in which they play and the size of the tiny Hampton private school. There are 22 boys on the roster, roughly one-third of the school’s male enrollment in grades 9-12.

“We had high expectations coming in,” coach Anselmino said. “The section proved to be probably the toughest Single-A section from top to bottom. We knew the battle we had ahead of us. … The boys didn’t disappoint. They gave everything they could.”

The Crusaders will return a solid core next season with junior midfielders Noble Lurie and Will Scioscia and junior goalkeeper Jake Guillen, along with four sophomores — defender Jonah Burchill, forward Giovanni Spotts, outside midfielder Patrick Richthammer and Anselmino, the team’s goal-scoring leader and the coach’s son.

“I think there are only good things to come for this program,” Policicchio said.

Aquinas could also get some relief when the WPIAL enrollment-based realignment for the next two seasons is announced, perhaps landing the Crusaders in a less demanding section.

“We are really looking at how we finished this year as to how we can springboard into next season,” coach Anselmino said. “In the end, we just fell short. But the seniors did a fantastic job of highlighting what it takes for the underclassmen to compete against those better teams in the section.”

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