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John Paul II starting to find soccer success

  • Photo courtesy John Paul II Freshman captain midfielder Sebastian Laverde, freshman midfielder Marcello Vera, senior captain midfielder Karl Johnson and junior goalie Nyleem Wright are Jasper County residents who have helped John Paul II’s soccer team to eight wins in its first 12 games.
  • Photo courtesy John Paul II John Paul began the season 1-4, but recently won seven straight games.

After starting the season 1-4, John Paul II’s boys soccer team rolled off seven straight wins to improve to 8-4 and 4-1 in SCISA Region 4-AA. The Golden Warriors, coached by Matt Dakolios, are starting to reap the rewards of his three-year plan.

When the school on Okatie Highway opened in 2014, the soccer program fielded a JV team. Last season, as the school grew, the Golden Warriors competed on the varsity level, finishing 7-11, and Dakolios saw the blossoming of a special team.

“We’re starting to find success. We’re extremely young; we start three eighth-graders, four ninth-graders, but the kids are having fun and learning how to win games,” said Dakolios before JPII rolled to its fifth straight win, beating Cathedral Academy 7-2 on March 29. “Before now, they hadn’t had that killer instinct. That was the last thing to come. They are learning how to win games and win games we we’re supposed to win.”

After losing four of the first five games, Dakolios re-evaluated the team’s formation and defensive approach. He switched from a 4-3-3 to 5-2-3 formation.

Dakolios staggered his center-midfield – one offensive and one defensive – that stay true to their titles.

In order keep the width on the field, the outside backs and wingers attack and defend. The formation gives the illusion that at all times there are at minimum five attackers and five defenders, and keeps the center of the pitch concentrated with Golden Warriors.

At the start of the season, goalie and Ridgeland native Nyleem Wright was yielding about two goals per game.

“This is his first year as goalie and I think playing organized soccer. In the summer I worked five to six individual sessions. We went through some highs and lows in those first five games,” Dakolios said. “He went from missing two goals he should have saved to now saving shots he should, but also taking away one to two goals a game. He’s really surprised me. Where he is right now is where I thought he would be in May – his reflexes and reactions have just dramatically improved.”

Wright allowed one goal in the win over Cathedral Academy but left at the 52-minute mark with a leg cramp and did not return.

Dakolios has three captains, including Ridgeland’s Karl Johnson (nine goals) and Sebastian Laverde (nine goals). Johnson is nicknamed “Mr. John Paul” because he plays multiple sports and provides leadership on and off the field. Johnson is a senior and will attend The Citadel in the fall.

Freshman Laverde has been one of the great surprises for Dakolios. He played last year as an eighth-grader and has stepped into a leadership role this season.

“He is special. He was voted in by the team and I agreed that it was a great choice. He is the most competitive on the team,” said Dakolios. “When we get down, he doesn’t get down but plays with anger. I want the good angry Sebastian. He picks everybody up, puts his head down and goes to work.”

Laverde had a goal and two assists against Cathedral Academy.

The chemistry among the Golden Warriors, Dakolios believes, helped push the team to its winning streak.

“Winning helps, but when we lost we’d be bummed out. But then we’d stop at Chick-fil-A and they’d all be friends again,” Dakolios said. “We went to jamboree in Florence. It was a long Saturday, but it was great for bonding. Our bus broke down on way back at a truck stop for three hours in Manning. They had this movie room upstairs and the boys just waited for our principal and watched the movie together. They were disappointed they had to leave when the principal arrived. You can’t manufacture stuff like that.”

Dakolios expects the team to continue to improve and believes it can contend for a playoff spot.

JPII visits Pinewood Prep on April 10.

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