Terriers explode out of the gate

This was unique.
Different. Odd. Strange. Bewildering. Uncommon. Use any adjective that describes an abnormal occurrence.
In all his days as a player and coach at St. Francis Prep, Franco Purificato couldn’t ever recall a match with Holy Cross quite like this one.
His Terriers, the defending city soccer champions, made mincemeat out of the Knights, turning the latest chapter of the Battle of the Boulevard into a glorified scrimmage.
St. Francis didn’t just beat their archrivals, they “put it to them,” the phrase senior attacking midfielder Tommy Garafola used to describe the match, taking them apart, 8-0, in their league opener last Thursday afternoon at Alley Pond Park in Bellerose.
“It’s sweet,” said Garafola, who produced a second-half hat trick. Junior Nick Copelli added two first-half goals, senior Kevin Garcia scored twice, and senior Mike Santalesa added the final tally.
Of course, the meeting served as a perfect storm for St. Francis. They are extremely deep, having lost just two significant pieces in Eric Vasquez and Billy Gialis off last season’s championship squad. Holy Cross, by contrast, is working in yet another new coach, Berdj Stepanian, their fourth in six years. With freshman and sophomores dotting the entire roster, they are an extremely young and inexperienced group.
“We expected it,” Stepanian said. “This isn’t fun for anyone.”
For St. Francis, it is the start of what they hope will be their first back-to-back city championship in school history. Under Purificato, the have won it all twice - last season and in 2003, when they shocked the entire city after a disappointing regular season.
“That made my program,” Purificato said. “All the seniors now are the result of that team. Ever since then we’ve been up there.”
However, for the first time in Purificato’s seven seasons, they are the unquestioned favorite. Granted, Molloy, Xaverian, and Fordham Prep, who the Terriers beat to gain last year’s crown, will challenge them.
“I like it,” Purificato said. “I was always cocky when I was younger. You just have to set your goals higher.”
“We work well under pressure,” Copelli added. “It motivates us even more.”
In Garafola and Garcia - “world class players,” Purificato said - in addition to keeper Joe Iemma and fullback Mike Biordi, they have star power. Add in 13 seniors and several more talented juniors, and the Terriers are stacked.
“This is by far the best team Prep has ever had skill-wise,” Garcia said.
“Our weakest point is not knowing who to start,” Garafola said. “We’re strong everywhere - defense, midfield, forwards.”
In fact, the Terriers believe they can top last year’s dream season of an undefeated regular season and Catholic State semifinal finish (they lost to Long Island power Chaminade).
“It’s gonna be hard work,” Garafola said, “but we can do it.”

More from Around New York