Some of the more popular blogs through the years have been Q&A sit-downs with our coaches. That noted, this week’s The Week That Was is a Q&A session with varsity ice hockey coach, Flip Collins.
QUESTION: It is Year Three of the Flip Collins’ regime, and I am just trying to catch up as to the goings-on in the program. If I am correct, I believe that we are now 7-4-2 overall – losing twice to The Hun School, a nationally-acclaimed powerhouse program out of New Jersey, in the Purple Puck Invitational over the Christmas holidays. Talk to me a little bit about our season to date.
COACH COLLINS: We are now 9-4-2 after two wins this weekend in league play. Once again, we have put together one of the toughest high school hockey schedules in the Mid-Atlantic region. We are playing 14 teams who made their respective leagues’ playoffs last year. We had a successful run in this year’s Purple Puck – making it to the semi-finals for the first time since 2007, before losing to The Hun School.
QUESTION: Also, share with myself and our readers some of the team’s highlights on the season. It is my understanding that we defeated DeMatha, 2-1, early on and tied top-ranked Gonzaga in the Purple Puck. That, in itself, is awfully impressive.
COACH COLLINS: Yes, we beat DeMatha in the first game of the season in a back-and-forth classic hard-hitting game. We also tied Gonzaga for the second year in a row, 1-1.
QUESTION: Talk to me about this year’s strengths, and any weaknesses or concerns that you may have with the regular season winding down and the playoffs on the horizon.
COACH COLLINS: Our strength, without a doubt, is our defense and goaltending. We play a defensive style and are comfortable playing with a one-goal lead. Our blue line has one senior, two juniors and two freshmen. We are definitely challenged offensively and run a low/high offensive with lots of shots from the points. Defense wins championships, so we will stick to our defense first scheme.
QUESTION: And, speaking of the post-season, where do we stand in the playoff picture? Who are the top teams this season? What are our goals come playoff time?
COACH COLLINS: It looks like we will be the 5th seed this year in the NVSHL. Stone Bridge, once again, is the top-rated team in the league, and they will be tough to beat. Our goal every year is to play for championship, and we are hoping to make it to the state championship game on Feb 26th at Kettler.
QUESTION: Who are our top players, both below the Blue Line and on the offensive side – and why are they so? What skills do each feature in their games?
COACH COLLINS: Senior captain Robert Burnham (pictured right) is one of the best defensemen in the league and quarterbacks our power play. Junior defensemen Jimmy Zinter, who stands 6’3”, is a monster and uses a combinations of skill and muscle to patrol the blue line. Junior defensemen Zack Cosgrove (pictured below) has an absolute cannon from the point. Offensively, we are led by junior Jason Vogel (pictured top) and freshmen Jake Smith, who both bring their lunch box to the rink everyday constantly out-working their opponents and finishing at the net. In goal, we are led by senior and last year's 2nd Team All-Met Zach Hale (pictured in goal, above), who can carry the team when he is on a roll or steal a win when we are short-handed.
QUESTION: Are there any personnel surprises this winter on the ice who have really stepped up their games?
COACH COLLINS: Without a doubt, our biggest surprise has been freshmen goalie Jack MacKinnon, who has three wins in his young high school career.
QUESTION: Also, talk to me a little bit about the Varsity 2 Team and what it entails. List some of its accomplishments/highlights over the course of the 2015-16 campaign. Also, who are our top players on the V2 team?
COACH COLLINS: The Varsity 2 team is our development team and plays in the NVSHL JV league. We have several travel players and new players sharpening their skills with this team. We design their practices to teach them the fundamentals and challenge them to work hard. This year we had a big freshmen class, and most of the players are freshmen and sophomores. Freshmen Kyle Leverone and sophomore Kennan Murphy have been leading the way.
QUESTION: Anything else that you would like to add about your season, the program, or the direction that you see the DJO ice hockey program going under your guidance and leadership?
COACH COLLINS: I am never satisfied and always pushing our players to be better human beings and student/athletes. This spring we plan on having a rising 8th grader/freshman team in the Kettler Spring League. This will be an under-aged team and will give them great experience playing against older high school players. Next year we have applied to have both our teams play in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League with DeMatha, Gonzaga, Georgetown Prep and Calvert Hall to name a few. I have been wanting to have both teams in the MAPHL since I started coaching at DJO. The time is right and it falls in line with my long-terms goals for the hockey program.
This is Tommy Orndorff and that was The Week That Was.
First things first: I really, really like this team! Immensely!
For the first time in over 20 years, the varsity girls basketball team is ranked among the area’s elite in two recent Washington Post Top 20 polls. And, deservingly so!
It’s year four in the Aggie McCormick-Dix era, and things are looking up. Coming off a 16-16 campaign a year ago and an appearance in the Virginia Independent Schools State Championship Tournament finale, it appears the program is oh-so-close to becoming a factor in the nationally-acclaimed Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
Not since the days of the Finney twins and Michaal Tuttle has the program gained the accolades and recognition that are now evolving under the veteran mentor. And, being optimistic, I truly believe that this is just the beginning. This is not just a one-year aberration. Besides a trio of outstanding seniors, there are some nice young players in the system now.
But, it’s those three seniors that give this team a chance to be special. The 2015-16 edition is at the threshold, with the opportunity to finish top two or three in the WCAC and, once again, become a legit contender come state tournament time. Lofty expectations, but also very, very realistic.
At the forefront is Jasmine Taylor (pictured above), a versatile 5’11” athlete who can do it all – and, in essence, does. The ultimate competitor, Jasmine is first and foremost “a winner.” She can take you off the dribble or stick the trey from long range. She is a matchup nightmare for the opposition. Besides her awesome skill set, “Jas” has tremendous instincts for the game. She is as nice a talent as we have had on the girls’ hardwood in a long, long time. Just love her game and demeanor on the court. She’s all business out there – playing with a sense of purpose intent on prevailing when all is said and done. The Boston College signee plays with a drive and determination that is beyond compare. Never was that more evident than earlier in the campaign against a highly-touted McNamara contingent. She was not going to allow her team to lose that game. She has a great feel for the game. She redefined the word “winner” on that night. She’s the real deal!
Her side-kick, Janiya Clemmons (pictured right), is also an extremely gifted talent. A four-year varsity standout, her game has improved each and every year. She is an adept ball-handler who is at her best scoring off the bounce with her pull-up jumper, especially 17 feet in. Unlike many of her counterparts, the Columbia University-bound senior is extremely effective creating her own shot, elevating and displaying a nice touch as her shot finds the netting. Like “Jas,” Janiya plays hard and with a purpose. She has a tremendous work ethic, both on and off the playing court. The Ivy League is getting a good one.
The third member of that trio, Alicia Gonzales, was off to the best start of her four-year career at O’Connell – sparking her teammates with her play at both ends of the floor with her defensive tenacity and aggressive offensive game. An ACL injury has since sidelined her for the season, a tremendous loss for the team. As the team’s defensive stopper in the backcourt, she was invaluable – as Coach McCormick-Dix is quick to point out. Nevertheless, the little lefty is making her presence felt on the bench – providing insight to her teammates as to the x’s and o’s and just the game itself. She is taking her talents to Case Western at the collegiate level.
But the reason for long-term optimism is the supporting cast, most especially Brie Perpignan (pictured left)and Maddie Cherry.
Going back to the McNamara game in December, as good as Taylor was (and she was great), another coach said to me afterwards: “Brie was the best player on the court tonight.” And, somewhat amazingly, that was my exact thought at the time. Brie Perpignan was, without question, the best player on the floor that night. She was that good! Her game has come so far over the last 12 months. The little sophomore point guard has supreme quickness and speed, a good handle and can knock down the three from long range. She’s at her best taking the ball to the basket. This has been a break-out season for her. If her game keeps evolving, she could be big-time. She’s that good!
Another good one is junior Maddie Cherry (pictured right). She is the Knights’ best outside threat, dialing long distance night-in, night-out from three-point land. She a streak shooter “who can shoot the lights out when she is hot.” Her court awareness and savvy make her the player that she is, more often than not finding open teammates with her on-target passes. She is also active going to the boards and has really stepped up her game on the defensive end. To her credit, she has become a more well-rounded player this winter.
Rounding out the first five is Kirsten Knauf – a 5’8” sophomore who is finding her niche in the Knights’ scheme, whether it be knocking down a baseline three-pointer or matching up with an over-sized post player. She just does what she is asked to do, and, to her credit, does it well. She has nice instincts for the game, which is not a given in the girls’ game. Without question, the soph standout has been a pleasant surprise for the DJO girls.
Mainstays coming off the bench for Coach McCormick-Dix’s team have been freshmen Anna Hovis (pictured left) and Maura Leverone. Hovis’ contributions in the post have really been outstanding recently, manning up in the paint, going strong to the boards and displaying a nice touch down low in around the basket. The six-foot frosh was especially impressive in a recent loss to perennial power Good Counsel. Her upside is big-time. Leverone, on the other hand, has been pretty impressive since Day One – providing a spark off the bench with her defensive tenacity and offensive skill set, draining it from long range and taking the opposition off the dribble and driving the lane for scores. The little lefty is a nice talent.
Sophomores Julianne Ludwick, Sydney Kennard and Linden Beasley and freshman Alexandria Lee have limited roles, seeing time off the bench on occasion. Junior Sydney Morrow is another ACL-casualty, who is sidelined for the season.
The DJO girls are at their best when they are sharing the ball, making the defense move with good ball movement and finding an open teammate with a pass. Like most of your championship caliber teams out there, this contingent thrives when it is playing outstanding team ball with the sum being greater than the individual parts. What this team lacks in size (in truth, no true big girl in the paint), it more than makes up for with their drive and determination to win, while also possessing good savvy and instincts for the game. Those attributes were demonstrated in victories over Holy Child, McNamara and Georgetown Visitation – all ranked in The Post Top 20 at one time or another this winter
I really, really like this team. Get a shot, take in a game – and I think you will too. They do a lot right on the high school hardwood.
This is Tommy Orndorff, and that was The Week That Was.
A couple of the more popular blogs through the years have been Q&A sit-downs with our coaches. That noted, this week’s The Week That Was is a Q&A session with Varsity Boys Soccer Coach Chris Jennings following another highly-successful fall campaign.
Question: Talk to me about your season – your thoughts on the just completed season? In particular, the run to the State Championship final. Our inability to score surfaced once again in the Championship game. Despite the loss in PKs, you have to be pleased overall.
Coach Jennings: The players and coaches gathered quietly amidst the chilling wind and dark shadows on the pitch at the Soccerplex last November. Seven more scoreless minutes and the Knights would have delivered a WCAC championship to Bishop O’Connell for the first time in 16 years. So close to victory, but the pain of defeat pierced through their hearts. “Soak this in and remember what this feels like…how close we were. Feel it in the gym, when you’re out for a run, practicing on your own on the training ground, and see yourself raising that trophy next time…and when it happens, it will feel that much better,” I remember telling them afterwards.
Fast-forward to the end of summer 2015, as the players were gathering for preseason. With wounds healed and expectations high, they were buzzing around McMurtrie Field in anticipation for the upcoming campaign. With one of the most difficult schedules in the DMV and a talented returning group, the Knights could not wait to begin their pursuit of a title.
The highly-anticipated start to a successful season proved to be just that, with an early season 3-1 victory over St. Christopher’s - the 2014 Virginia state champion. Along with the early victories came some unprecedented injuries to key players for the Knights. Senior captain and pre-season All-American Dave Salas would be injured for the majority of the campaign after the St. Christopher’s victory. Towering centerback Nick Barahona would also join him on the sideline, as he underwent knee surgery. Another senior captain, Daniel Catalfamo, would battle recurring shin and calf injuries, which prevented him from participating in some games and even practicing at all. The depth of the Knights squad was instantly challenged.
In light of these injury struggles, we pushed on and continued to dominate games in the run of play. It became routine for opposing teams to park a bus and sit nine, ten players behind the ball in their own half. Junior midfielder Andres Garcia (pictured right), a newcomer to the program, led the balanced Knights’ attack in goals with eight while earning 1st Team All-WCAC honors. Junior forward Juan Benavides (pictured below) followed up on his breakout sophomore campaign with another seven goals and also earned 1st Team All-WCAC honors. Senior captain and midfielder Andre Toledo earned 2nd Team All-WCAC honors while playing the deepest midfield role. His tenacious energy and ability to break up the opponent’s counter-attack was key. Senior defender Jared Saunders stepped up in a big way, filling in at centerback and becoming the leader of the defense. Seniors Albert Ujevic and Daniel Catalfamo performed admirably in the midfield and defense respectively. Saunders, Ujevic and Catalfamo were all recognized with All-WCAC Honorable Mention recogniton.
Salas and Barahona returned bravely for the state tournament run. Although they were both not 100 percent, they wanted to give all they could to contribute to the team. Despite dominating the championship game with two chances off the crossbar and a Barahona goal called back for an offside call, the Knights (9-5-5) came up on the losing end in a penalty shootout. On any other night, O’Connell wins the game and their first VISAA championship, but the bounces would just not go the way of the White and Blue.
Yes, it’s frustrating when you dominate games to not convert all the chances that are created, but that’s how this crazy game works. I’m really pleased with the boys in general, how they have come together as a family, how they play an attractive style that allows them to be creative and make their own decisions – just a really good group of young men to be around.
Question: The program enjoyed a lot of firsts, including appearances in both the national rankings and The Washington Post Top 10 coaches’ poll, not to mention advancing to the VISAA State Tournament Championship Game – a first for our school in boys’ soccer. In many ways, a truly outstanding campaign. Again, your thoughts?
Coach Jennings: This group deserved every bit of recognition they received…from the national rankings, the Washington Post poll and the #1 ranking they held in the state all year long. The attractive, attacking brand of soccer is who we are as a program, and these players played some of the best soccer I’ve seen – definitely at the high school level. We had college coaches attend some of our games and then send me lists of players they were interested in. The way we do things and our training methods are quite different from everyone else. The players are taught HOW to think, rather than WHAT to think, and they’re given the creative freedom to make their own decisions. We are not rigid in our approach or playing style and require constant decision-making from the players. The free-flowing player movement, attacking flair and precise ball movement is all a byproduct of the players being able to think quickly and create for themselves. Our playing style is in stark contrast to what you normally see, which is kick and run or playing long balls hoping that a mistake will lead to an opportunity. We take ownership of the game in our possession and artistic approach.
To see our players go about things in the more difficult, but more rewarding way, has been very satisfying. They are better players for it and have been recognized in ways that no other O’Connell team in history has. For that, I’m pleased and proud of them.
Question: It is Year Four in the Chris Jennings’ era. And, without question, we are coming off our best season in recent memory on the soccer pitch. Talk to me about the O’Connell boys’ soccer program and your vision for the future. We lose a talented class this year, with 12 seniors graduating. Have we reached a point where when the subject is the boys’ soccer elite in the DMV that O’Connell’s name promises to be in the discussion? Curious, your thoughts on the program.
Coach Jennings: The program has definitely proven itself to be one of the strongest programs in the area and the premier player development program in Virginia. We have enjoyed many firsts over the course of the last few seasons. There is a buzz about O’Connell soccer amongst players and those who want to develop to a very high level will continue to come into the program. We have a talented group of players returning next season as well. Juniors Benavides and Garcia will return as 1st Team All-WCAC award winners and the leading scorers from this season. Also returning from the junior class are attacker Bryan Vega (pictured above) and midfielder Luis Ochoa. Our sophomore class brings back some very talented players and massive contributors this past season – Diego Solano, Alex Abril, Nick Barahona and Aidan O’Connell, who all spent time in the Starting XI while Jason Nunez missed most of the year with injury. This group will come back as seasoned varsity members as juniors next season. Returning will also be starting goalkeeper Marcelo Flores, who is only a freshman. Forward/midfielder Victor Montero returns from the freshman class as well. With the quality of these players coming back and the addition of more talent coming, the future remains bright for the Knights!
This group of seniors will be the first graduating class since I arrived at O’Connell. They hold a special place in my heart, as I have coached some of these players since they were nine or ten years old. These boys helped usher in a new era in O’Connell Soccer and leave as the standard everyone will be held to moving forward. There are some incredibly talented individuals in this group, both on and off the field. From National Honors Society to All-Region and All-American, they are a highly-decorated group. Perhaps most rewarding and gratifying is to see how close this group is on and off the field. They have come to O’Connell from all different areas and backgrounds, but have formed a brotherhood as Knights.
Graduating seniors within that brotherhood include: #2 Daniel Catalfamo (captain), #8 Dave Salas (captain), #6 Andre Toledo (captain, pictured left), #3 Nico Torres, #4 Christian Liljenquist, #5 Andy Janis, #9 Will Partridge, #12 Will Keyes, #15 Jack Grasmeder, #16 Albert Ujevic, #20 Jared Saunders and Team Manager Brandon Cortez.
I believe we are among the elite programs in the DMV. The playing style and individual player development that is taking place on our training ground on a daily basis is second to none. We compete against the best in the area and have begun to gain national recognition. I think the proof lies in how our opponents set up against us week in and week out. Outside of a couple games, we went into every match having to break down an entire team sitting behind the ball looking to defend. This proved to be a difficult task, but our players were up for the challenge and have made it to a WCAC Final and State Final in consecutive years. The standard of excellence has been set, and they know what it feels like now – to compete annually for championships and be amongst the elite. And we plan on that continuing.
This is Tommy Orndorff, and that was The Week That Was.