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Jan 05, 2022

RFH Seniors Reflect on Ups and Downs of High School Soccer

By Tim Morris

It was time for reflection. The soccer season and careers of the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School seniors were over, and they huddled together following the team’s 6-2 loss to Delran in the NJSIAA Group II semifinals.

“It was really emotional stepping off the field,” said Luke Pentikis, one of three Bulldog seniors who were with the varsity squad for four years. “As seniors, it was the last time ever we’d be together with our best friends.”

The fact that Rumson was playing for the first time in program history in the state semifinal wasn’t lost on them.

Pentikis, Harrison Gibson and Aden Colburn joined the varsity as freshmen and suffered through a one-win season. Under the guidance of Jeff Soares, who became RFH’s head coach following that one-win campaign, things began to look up for the Bulldogs. Over the next two years, Rumson posted winning seasons and made the Shore Conference and NJSIAA tournaments. But, entering these students’ final season, they knew something was missing.

“We had improved, but we never won anything,” said Pentikis. “It was important to finally win something.”

The Bulldogs did just that, capturing the Shore Conference A Central Division crown, finally get past their nemesis, Holmdel, to do it. However, Rumson wanted more. There was the state sectional tournament to look forward to. The Bulldogs had never advanced past the second round, so when they edged Governor Livingston in a shootout after playing to a 1-1 tie through regulation and overtime, Pentikis and his teammates sensed something special was going on. A 3-0 win over South River put Rumson one win away from school history: the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship. As fate would have it, Holmdel was there waiting for the Bulldogs. Another championship would have to go through Holmdel. This time, though, the game would be played on Rumson’s pitch in front a frantic Rumson crowd.

The Bulldogs did not disappoint. They overcame surrendering an own goal that allowed the Hornets to tie the match at 1-1 in regulation to win 2-1 on Alec Pentikis’ overtime golden goal.

Having a poor track record against Holmdel (Rumson had not beaten them until this fall) did not faze Rumson’s players after a lone goal enabled Holmdel to tie the match.

“We knew we had to push that extra bit,” said Luke Pentikis of Rumson’s approach to the overtime. “Overtime comes down to who wants it more. Winning the division title was big, but the sectional title was what we were working for. To do it (beating Holmdel) for a second time, the sectional title meant even more.”

Although the 2021 season ended in the Group semifinals, it didn’t damper what the team had accomplished and, for the seniors, how far they had come.

“The biggest thing for us is that we all left our mark on the program,” said Luke Pentikis.

Soares credited the Bulldogs’ seniors with establishing a winning culture around the program.

“This [senior] class totally embraced our culture,” said Soares. “They were a big part of our success.”

In addition to Luke Pentikis, Gibson and Colburn, the other seniors on the 2021 Bulldogs were Michael Calabrese, Nico Calabretta, Thomas French, Jack Marshall, Matteo Pane, James Danielczyk, Dylan Palmeri and Shane Tuttle.