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John Paul earns share of soccer region crown, eyes playoff run

  • John Paul II/Special to Jasper County Sun Times Sebastian Laverde of Ridgeland leads John Paul II soccer team with 15 assists.
  • John Paul II/Special to Jasper County Sun Times Ridgeland’s Nyleem Wright helped John Paul II claim a share of the SCISA Region 4-AA soccer crown.
  • John Paul II/Special to JCST John Paul II’s three-sport varsity athletes.

It’s taken three years, but John Paul II Catholic School has won its first SCISA region championship. The boys soccer team, coached by athletic director Matt Dakolios, claimed a three-way tie atop Region II-A after beating Beaufort Academy 1-0 May 3.

The win propeled the Golden Warriors (12-7) into this week’s Class A state playoffs, which were set to begin Monday. John Paul earned a No. 1 seed and was set to host Covenant Classical. A win would advance John Paul II to Wednesdays state semifinal. The final is Friday, May 12 at Porter-Gaud.

“We absolutely can win it all, if we defend. We will have to go through teams like Beaufort Academy and Palmetto Christian, but we don’t take those teams for granted,” said Dakolios. “We have high hopes and high aspirations.”

The team consists primarily of underclassman — five eighth-graders, six freshman, two sophomores, two juniors and three seniors — but it is is experienced.

“From year one to year two, we really haven’t seen too many new bodies,” Dakolios said. “Nyleem (Wright) is new, and the eighth-graders are new. But the core group has remained intact. This year was their third year playing together. They broke through.”

The team has been led by Jasper County residents Sebastian Laverde, Marcello Vera, Karl Johnson and Wright.

Dakolios attributes some of the team’s breakthrough to overall growth (physically and mentally) and the kids’ experience in high school. But he also noted the deep-rooted bonds the team shares with one another. The boys refer to each other as brothers, which Dakolios said developed during their two varsity seasons playing together.

This co-region title is the first in school history in any sport, but John Paul II started to make its mark in athletics earlier this school year.

The boys basketball team went 18-9 overall, 6-8 in the region, and narrowly missed making the playoffs after going 4-17 overall and 2-12 (region) the previous season.

The volleyball team improved from 4-17-1 overall (0-10 region) in 2015 to 11-18 and 2-9 region in 2017.

The baseball team won 11 games this season. The girls soccer team (6-9) also earned a playoff bid and faces Cambridge Academy Tuesday. The final is Friday, May 12.

Dakolios said the coaches have laid the foundation that’s fostered success.

“Whenever we have an opening (for a head coaching job), we think about the adults we know that we would want to surround our kids with, and who would be well received by parents. We think about what kinds of lessons that person would teach our kids, their knowledge of the game,” said Dakolios.

John Paul has produced two state-champion SCISA teams, girls cross country (2015) and boys golf (2016), and swimmer Meaghan Lyons won the 100-yard breaststroke in 2014 and 2015.

Dakolios expects more teams to follow in the steps of the boys soccer team.

“All of our programs are going to experience that jump. I think the next teams to experience that will be girls soccer, girls basketball, and baseball,” said Dakolios. “Even our football program that went 0-10 this past season with 20 players brought out 30 players at an interest meeting for next season. They are definitely going to take a step forward, but we’re still unsure what that’s going to look like in terms of wins and losses.”

John Paul II has 200 students enrolled, and at capacity the school can hold 240 students. According to Dakolios, last year 50 percent of the student body played two or more school sports and 75 percent (roughly 150 students) played at least one school sport. This school year, 17 students played three sports.

“Playing multiple sports helps prevent burnout and injuries. Plus it gives the kids a fun experience,” Dakolios said. “Plus it allows for kids to learn multiple roles on a team. If you’re the go-to scorer on the basketball team and you go out for softball and aren’t as good, you might come off the bench, or be a starter but play more of a supporting role, that’s a very humbling experience.”

Athletics are strongly encouraged to all students, whether that be participation in the program or supporting the program as fans. Because the school is new, the students are still learning exactly how to be fans and embrace their identity as Golden Warriors, Dakolios said.

But that hasn’t stopped the development of friendly region rivalries.

“Those rivalries are definitely already there — in a good way. Our region is so competitive we already feel a strong rivalry with Hilton Head Prep, Hilton Head Christian Academy, Thomas Heyward Academy, and Beaufort Academy,” said Dakolios. “All those kids grew up playing rec together and they go to each other’s proms. It’s just going to get better.”

Dakolios said the soccer team has shown major growth mentally — which is helped by the recent success.

At the beginning of the season making the playoffs was the Golden Warriors’ goal, not only did they check that off, but they added a region championship and put themselves in contention for a state championship.

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