By Jimmy Allinder
It’s a safe bet Chris Taraska’s spring will be better than how last fall ended.
The senior center midfielder for the Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen soccer team was cruising along with a team-leading eight goals when he and a Bishop George Ahr High School player collided during a Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament match. Taraska was knocked silly by the impact and suffered what was diagnosed as a concussion, ending his season and career with the Falcons.
Taraska is also an accomplished golfer and will be counted on to help the St. Joe’s linksters when the season begins the first week in April. Last season, Taraska finished 10th overall in the GMC Tournament and, along with gold medalist Gabe Rivera, helped the Falcons capture the team title.
“It’s often said the best players shine when the lights are brightest,” golf coach Ryan Lechner said. “That’s Chris. When the chips are down and you need a golfer to outplay his average, I’m betting on him.”
It was the same way on the soccer pitch, where Taraska proved to be the team’s unquestioned leader and most skilled player.
“Chris was central to everything our team did,” soccer coach Brian Jenkins said. “He was the engine that made our offense work because of his intelligence and technical ability. Opponents always had to account for Chris, so when he went down with his injury, it was devastating (the Falcons finished 10-10-1).”
To most observers, soccer and golf are as different as night and day.
“Soccer requires a lot of communication with my teammates,” said Taraska, who was named NJSIAA second team All-State and first team All-GMC. “I was always thinking about ways to keep our team on the same page [so] I could get open for a shot.
“With golf, it’s more about being focused on you and thinking only about one shot at a time.”
The commonality with both sports is that whether they are played fast or slow, the competition is still the same.
“During golf matches, I compete as if I’m on the soccer field,” he said. “I hate to lose, so I play every match with the same competitiveness.”
In addition to Taraska’s father, Ken, who introduced him to golf, Jenkins and Lechner have had the most influence in helping him throughout his high school career.
“The sport I want to play in college is soccer,” said Taraska, who has yet to decide on which college he will attend. “After the soccer season, I’ll still do whatever it takes to improve my skills. I love golf, but I really don’t practice outside of the season. I’ll play with family members sometimes, but my total focus year-round is soccer.”
It’s the same way in the classroom, where Taraska has achieved a 4.3 grade-point average and has been inducted into the National Honor Society. His favorite subject is mathematics, and he is eyeing a major in business when he heads to college.
“Finishing homework and studying for tests can certainly be difficult after playing intense soccer games or long golf matches,” Taraska said. “But I’ve forced myself to manage my time, and that [discipline] has turned out to be one of my strengths.”
That has also been the case on the soccer field, where Taraska could control the game’s tempo with his shifty moves, which helped his team maintain possession of the ball. Natural scorers believe they should put the ball in the net more, and Taraska believes he could have converted more opportunities to deposit the ball in the net.
That conviction is another example of the senior’s competitiveness coming to the surface again — an attribute his golf coach has observed on the course.
“Chris is by far one of the most competitive golfers I have ever coached,” Lechner said. “His performance in the GMC Tournament was the difference in helping us win the team title, and that was also the case when he was a sophomore.”
The picture conjured up by Lechner is that Taraska is a fiery, “rah-rah” player, but that doesn’t describe who he is.
“He’s not flashy, but Chris simply possesses a will to win and I love that about him,” Lechner said. “Soccer may be his best sport, but he’s a fine golfer and I’m looking forward to how he responds to being the leader of our team.”