Conor Kelly has spent a lot of time looking at all the photos in Delbarton soccer team’s locker room. Head coach David Donovan hung up a framed shot of every Green Wave state champion. During the NJSIAA Tournament, the 2004 team – the last one to win – fell off the wall and almost landed in Kelly’s locker.
Kelly, a senior defender, brought it into the coaches’ office, figuring they’d just hang it back up. Instead, the superstitious Donovan used that as an omen.
That wasn’t the only positive sign for the 2012 All Daily Record Boys Soccer Team of the Year, who ended the year as NJSIAA Non-Public A champions – and will have their own portrait in the locker room next fall.
Delbarton (23-1) launched an ambitious tournament this year, inviting top-ranked Catholic schools from all over the East Coast. Despite facing unfamiliar competition, the Green Wave blanked Gonzaga (Washington D.C.) and Chaminade (Mineola, N.Y.), physically imposing their will on opponents.
It was Gonzaga’s only loss of the year, and a huge launching pad for Delbarton. Or so the players believed at the time.
“We were definitely the clear underdogs going in, and we were pretty stunned when we came out,” said Kelly, a 6-foot-3 Chatham resident. “After that, we thought, ‘This is our year. We can make a run at this thing.’ “
Instead, the Green Wave became a bit lackadaisical, falling behind and then coming back to win nine of the next 11 matches, a trend which extended until the Morris County Tournament. Delbarton crushed West Morris and Randolph without allowing a goal, then gave one up early before toppling Pequannock, 4-1, in the semifinal.
Upstart Roxbury hosted the final, and emerged with a 3-2 double-overtime victory. The Green Wave lost two goals – the MCT title and an undefeated season – in a single match, according to senior co-captain Greg Seifert. “Humbled as a team,” Delbarton redoubled its focus on the state tournament.
“That left a really sour taste in our mouths,” senior striker Matt Clausen said. “We did not want the feeling of a loss again. Seeing their fans celebrate on the field, it was the worst feeling all year. We knew we did not want that to happen again. … It really turned our season around. It was a real wake-up call.”
Donovan’s oft-repeated entreaty “first five, last five” became a team refrain, referring to a particular focus on the first and last five minutes of each half. The Green Wave also stressed “set pieces, set pieces, set pieces,” always said the same way.
Those two adages came together in the Non-Public A final, when the 6-foot-4 Clausen headed home the lone goal off a corner kick with 19 seconds to play.
“The guys realized they can’t take anything for granted,” Donovan said. “We lost the county final because we didn’t finish our opportunities, and won the state final because we did.”
To Donovan, the 1-0 victory over Pingry was eerily reminiscent of the Delbarton’s 1984 final. His long-time friend, Tom McCabe, was on that squad – and McCabe’s son, Tommy, was a rare freshman on the Green Wave varsity this fall. Donovan had also received a pre-match text from his oldest son, 11-year-old Trey, reminding him that the moon was full, “which affects the tides, which are waves.”
“We were together on the same mission all year,” Seifert said.