Hornets honor their seniors in Darien
By Bill Stone
Dean Serritella has simplified acknowledging the numerous other seniors on the Hinsdale South soccer team.
Serritella, nicknamed Gato since his grade-school days of soccer, has gladly shared it with other Hornets.
Since then, the word has gained a momentum of its own, becoming a buzzword for just about anything in any situation.
”I just kind of made it up. For everyone, it’s just part of the group now,” Serritella said. “We see each other, we say Gato. It just means family. Everyone’s a Gato, I guess.”
On Tuesday, the Hornets honored their family of 13 seniors. Although the team suffered a 4-0 loss to Proviso East in West Suburban Conference Gold Division action, the seniors still could take the defeat with plenty of smiles.
”There was a ton of energy coming out. We left it all on the field,” Serritella said. “We gave it our all. Win or lose, we were just happy how we all played together.”
Before the game, Senior Night commenced with an introduction of the seniors that required a few minutes – Tree Brandeis, Giancarlo Cianelli, Jacko Kaminski, Griffin Karpeck, Peter Kokinis, Nick Kuhlman, Brad Lucak, Jeremy Manasek, Michael Meyers, Jose Moreno, Dylan Sarocco, Serritella and Panayiotis Stamatoukos.
It’s the largest group of seniors that Hinsdale South’s James VanDenburgh can recall in his five seasons as head coach or nine years with the program. Eight seniors are varsity regulars.
”When I looked out after they were introduced, it’s just kind of a cool sight to see them all with their parents or guardians. I enjoyed tonight, even though we didn’t have the result,” VanDenburgh said.
”I can’t say it’s not about winning, but there’s something bigger than just winning and losing. It’s for the seniors. It’s dedicated to them. It just speaks to kids that stick with the program.”
Cianelli and Stamatoukos are co-captains for the Hornets (1-15-1, 1-4 in Gold). They, Brandeis, Kaminski, Karpeck, Kuhlman, Lucak, Moreno and Serritella have been part of the program all four years. Manasek, Meyers and Sarocco have been three-year program members and Kokinis two.
It’s a camaraderie that’s one of the reasons Sarocco returned to play as a senior after spending the 2012 fall season busy with a job.
”Just the family that I made (brought me back). All of my friends are here, just playing in front of everybody, my parents,” Sarocco said. “It was just because I liked the sport so I wanted to come back.”
With enough seniors to field a team, VanDenburgh took advantage. He opened the game with an all-senior starting lineup that combined varsity regulars with his five junior varsity regulars -- Brandeis, Kaminski, Kuhlman, Lucak and Manasek.
While this was the Hornets’ final regular-season home game, Hinsdale South is a host site for a Class 3A regional and sectional.
”To be quite honest, the first 20 minutes with all of the seniors, never having played together before on the same squad, they looked good. They looked great,” VanDenburgh said. “They played with intensity and that’s kind of what we always want them to do. When all of the seniors were out there, they were playing their hearts out.”
Meyers, the 12th active senior, was the first substitute off the bench 12 minutes into the game for Brandeis at stopper.
Kokinis was the only senior not to play since he tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament during the first half of the season opener against Wheaton Warrenville South. Serritella still wears a cast after breaking a growth plate in his left wrist Sept. 21 against Mt. Carmel but hasn’t missed a game.
”Just seeing all of (the seniors) out there on this field just made me think I’m going to miss everything about it, the practices, the pasta dinners, just everything,” Meyers said. “Hopefully going into the playoffs this will motivate us that it’s our last year.”
Meyers has started at least half of the game this season. VanDenburgh revealed later that Meyers agreed to relinquish his starting spot in favor of Brandeis, the JV co-captain with Kaminski who also plays stopper.
”That is why tonight is special. You get to see some of those things. That’s the stuff that sticks with you,” VanDenburgh said. “It’s a small, little thing, but it means a lot to Tree and Mike and me. It was a nice gesture.
”(Meyers) is someone who did not play last year. I also know him as a person. I have him in class. He’s a great kid. I love that kid. I knew he would be willing to give up his starting role to let Tree start. He was just like, ‘Oh yeah, I don’t care. That’s a good idea.’ He was totally game. Even in the second half, I said, ‘I’ll switch you and Tree so you can start the second half,’ and he’s like, ‘No. Give it to him.’ ”
Junior outside defender Lucas Carlson, also normally a starter, became the Hornets’ first non-senior to enter the game with 18:47 left in the first half.
Cruz Magana had just scored the first goal for the Pirates (6-6-1, 1-2). Magana intercepted the ball at the 35-yard line and worked down right wing before crossing. When the Hornets were unable to clear the ball, Magana was there in the crease to clean up.
Nickolas Arredondo scored 9:10 before halftime after the Hornets were unable to clear out a corner kick. In the second half, Roberto Meza scored with 29:30 left and Julio Aldape tallied with 13:14 left. The Pirates led 24-16 in shots and 5-4 in corner kicks.
This was the Hornets’ ninth consecutive loss. It came following a 2-1 loss Monday to Oswego at the Waubonsie Valley Invite, the Hornets’ fourth one-goal loss this season and third during the current losing streak, all by 2-1 verdicts.
”We’ve only had probably two or three blowouts,” Serritella said. “We kept in it. We just couldn’t finish. We kept it close, but just finishing is the bottom line.”
The Hornets also came out inspired at the opening of the second half. In the opening minute, Cianelli took a 30-yard blast that went wide right. In the 45th minute, Manasek took a long shot on goal that required Proviso East goalie Jair Muniz to leap, his most difficult save to that point. Nearly two minutes later, Serritella made a dangerous cross from left wing that also was cleared out.
Despite the final result all but determined, the Hornets were determined to avoid being shut out for the eighth time.
With 12 minutes left, Sarocco’s right-wing corner kick sailed toward the far post, where it was headed and found Cianelli’s foot. Muniz raised his arms to stop the blast, and the rebound went toward the other post, where the Hornets shot wide.
After a mishandled pass back by the Pirates, the Hornets had an indirect kick with 2:30 to play. Sarocco tapped the ball to Cianelli, whose shot deflected off the Pirates’ defensive wall out of bounds. Proviso East then thwarted Sarocco’s corner kick.
”(Cianelli is) a great asset for the team, playing wise, skill wise. He’s a leader. He’s a great kid,” Meyers said. “Everyone just has a role, each senior, and it’s just awesome to see that. Everyone’s there for each other and the seniors back up the younger kids, too.”
The seniors, unfortunately, have had to lean on each other even more because of the Hornets’ overall record. Their lone victory came Sept. 17 at home against Willowbrook, 3-2 by winning 5-4 in penalty kicks. They started 0-6-1 with a 1-1 tie against Brother Rice Sept. 7.
”It’s just rough playing. It’s hard to just get that intensity every game,” Sarocco said. “It’s a lot of losing, but it’s for the love of the game. That’s why we play. At least that’s why I play.”
”With our strength of schedule, you run the risk of (a losing record) if you don’t get lucky sometimes, you don’t score. We have literally not had whatever kind of break you want to call it in a game,” VanDenburgh said.
”(Assistant coach Jen Belmonte) and I, I believe, do a good job of making sure they know they’re a good team. I try to put myself in their minds as a teenager, and I would have given up. They don’t care. They come to practice every day. They want to get better. They still have fun. To the last minute of the last kick, they’re going, going, going.”
As the seniors’ memories were announced during the pre-game introductions, many did mention the OT victory over Willowbrook.
Sarocco and Cianelli were the lone seniors to convert penalty kicks in the game for the Hornets. As usual, Moreno played stellar in goal and stopped three of the Warriors’ attempts, including their last two. In the seventh round, Moreno’s save after Carlson converted sealed the victory.
”I love taking those (penalty kicks), just high intensity,” Sarocco said. “You just don’t know if you’re going to make it or not. I like those kind of things.”
Another common theme of announced seniors’ memories? Gato.
For Serritella, his nickname really has nothing to do with the Spanish-language word for cat.
”My dad’s best friend is named Gato. They started calling me Gato and everyone started calling each other Gato,” Serritella said.
”Definitely Dean is the ring leader there,” VanDenburgh said. “Everyone started doing it. It’s kind of a team thing. Any time (Serritella) can get that in, he does.”
VanDenburgh said the return of Sarocco and Meyers, both good friends, certainly have helped to fuel the Gato craze.
“(Sarocco and Meyers) didn’t play last year, and that’s when Dean (Serritella) was really starting to come into his own and be the threat that he is with his speed,” VanDenburgh said. “Dean’s personality really came out this year because he’s got more of his friends around.”
VanDenburgh has other senior memories as a coach. When discussing Brandeis starting, he mentioned that Brandeis nearly didn’t make it after the first day of practice as a freshman. Suffering from asthma and not in very good shape, his opening day was difficult.
”Literally, the first day of tryouts, he was red in the face, had to come sit out, went home early. He mom said he didn’t want to come back,” VanDenburgh said. “(I said), ‘Give me one more day with him.’ I kind of took it easy. When his cheeks started to get red, I said, ‘Hey, take a seat, drink water.’ He never, ever missed another day.
”(Our JV captains Brandeis and Kaminski) are just great, great kids. They’re not the best (players in our program) but they are what I love about this program. Kids can play for four years and develop into not even quite a varsity-level talent but just somebody that holds our program together.”