St. Mary’s soccer poised for best year in program history

By: Mike Moore | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 4, 2013

 Jonathan Stonebeck tires to work the ball around a Divine Child defender during an Aug. 27 game. St. Mary’s was 1-1 at press time.

Jonathan Stonebeck tires to work the ball around a Divine Child defender during an Aug. 27 game. St. Mary’s was 1-1 at press time.

Photo by Kathryn Moore

DEARBORN — They are small, but show signs of vast improvement.

And if you compare one year to the next, they provide reason for hope when it comes to 2013 and the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s soccer team.

Coach Joe Ruffolo explained it all with a quick reminder at how each of the past three seasons ended.

“In 2010, we played Lahser in the opening round of playoffs, and they mercied us,” he said. “Two years ago, we saw them again, and they won 5-1. Last year, we played them a third time, and it was 2-2 after regulation and we lost in a shootout.”

Factor that in, while keeping in mind 2012 was the first non-losing season in the program’s seven-year history and throw in a 2013 roster with 10 varsity veterans on it, and you have reason to believe this could be a special season.

“We expect to have a very good season,” Ruffolo said simply. “This is probably the strongest team I’ve had in the five years as the head coach here.”

Ruffolo spoke before an Aug. 27 game at Dearborn Divine Child.

His team came into the game 1-0, having beaten Flint Kearsley days before in a 7-0 route.

Against DC, in the first Catholic League AA Division contest of the year, the chances for the Eaglets piled up, but the goals didn’t.

Despite a flurry of shots in the final 15 minutes of the game, the Eaglets fell 1-0.

“We just didn’t play well enough to win,” coach Ruffolo said afterward. “There’s a lot of small things here and there, but when you break it down, we didn’t play well enough to win.”

Ruffolo spoke with patience in voice and a smile on his face.

He will need plenty of and patience and he’ll have to wear that smile this season, and he knows it.

Despite their talent and experience, there are some hurdles the Eaglets will have to overcome.

While sophomore Mike Beckett returns to the squad after leading the team in scoring (10 goals) as a freshman, Ruffolo said 60 percent of last year’s goal output graduated.

While 10 of the 16 players on the varsity roster are back from a year ago, only one is a senior.

“We’re seasoned, but very young,” Ruffolo said.

“We’re getting better, a lot better, and it’s going to help this year and in the next few years,” said junior Jordan Stasch, noting there is only one senior on the roster, defender Christian DiClemente. “We’re building something here right now.”

Ruffolo said the progress has been consistent, with signs everywhere that the sport is growing in popularity within the school.

“We had a real good turnout at tryouts, and I think soccer is really becoming recognized as a competitive sport at St. Mary’s,” he said. “We’re getting kids coming here to play soccer. … We’ve been invited to some tournaments we haven’t in the past, and we’ve been able to schedule some games we hadn’t before.”

The quality of soccer player also is improving with time.

“A couple years ago, the junior varsity went the whole season without scoring,” junior Jonathan Stoneback said. “Now they are a team that competes every time out.”

The explanation for the improvement is quite simple, according to Stasch.

“A few years ago, we didn’t have anyone playing club soccer,” he said. “Now, it’s almost the whole team playing. That makes a huge difference.”

With an 8-8-2 season in 2012 to build on, enough experience to fall back on, and some confidence that seems to be growing, 2013 may just be the start to something special.

“Realistically, we have a decent shot to be the top team in our division,” Ruffolo said. “I think the experience is there to do some cool things with this program.”