By Matthew Rocco
The Raritan High School boys soccer team is stocked with veterans for the 2016 season, and they’re eager to lead the Rockets to a comeback year.
Nine starters are back for the new season, while several other players have returned to the Rockets after taking a year off from the school’s team. With that core group of experienced players, the Rockets are ready to get back to their winning ways and improve on a 3-10-4 record from 2015.
First-year head coach James Gelpke, a former player for the Rockets, is looking forward to keeping a winning tradition alive.
“I think we’re going to surprise some people,” said Gelpke, who previously led the Mater Dei Prep girls soccer program. “We think we’re going to be in just about any game.”
The Rockets have a deep roster, starting in the net. Senior Chad Santopadre, a three-year starter, is the best keeper in the division, according to Gelpke. Junior Michael Romeo is another talented goalie on the team, and he is expected to get time on the field as well.
Senior midfielder Peter Amato, one of the players that wasn’t on the team a year ago, is going to be a key part of Raritan’s offensive attack.
“He represents a lot of what I like in a player — his toughness. He’s very strong on the ball. He’s always motivated. I think he’s going to have a very successful year,” Gelpke said.
Angelo Fontanazza, a senior defender, is also penciled in to play for the Rockets again this season.
Another veteran leader is Michael Pruscino, a defender who will see a lot of minutes.
Nicholas Amodeo, Nicolas Benoit, Brian Busse, Ryan Goggins, Matthew Lazicki, Zackery May, Alexander Pirovano, Thomas Savin, Anthony Sparacino and Marco Vasta complete Raritan’s long lineup of returning players.
Daniel Del Russo, Jake Fortune, Alec Fortune, Scott Larson and Mark Lazzaro Jr. are new to the team.
Raritan plays in a competitive Shore Conference A Central Division with Holmdel High School, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, Shore Regional High School, St. John Vianney High School and Red Bank Regional High School. Still, the Rockets are setting the bar high for themselves. Like most teams this time of year, Raritan has its eyes on division, Shore Conference Tournament and state titles, and Gelpke thinks his players have the talent and drive to see it through.
The coach identified two things the Rockets are focused on this season: executing set pieces and playing quality defense. If the Rockets accomplish those two objectives each game, they should find themselves in a position to win.
“The last couple years, we’ve had some trouble scoring goals. We have a few kids who didn’t play for us last year, and they’re very creative up top,” Gelpke said.
Unlike last season, Raritan will have a full roster with upperclassmen complementing the younger players on the team.
“The senior class is finally playing with a sophomore and junior class that were big contributors the year before. The team will have to gel. But at some point in time, you’ll see us reach our flow, and they will learn to trust each other,” Gelpke said.
The Rockets looked strong in a scrimmage against Ocean Township High School — the 2015 Shore Conference Tournament runner-up. Raritan posted a 1-0 win, giving the team a confidence boost with the season opener approaching.
The Rockets’ season got off on the right foot Sept. 8 when they went to Holmdel and defeated St. John Vianney, 4-1. Raritan had four different goal-scorers in the win, as Goggins, Savin, Larson and Sparacino all found the back of the net.