LYNN — St. Mary’s goalie Nick Pappas has big shoes to fill this season. Pappas, entering his senior season, has been tasked with replacing former Spartans netminder Richie Mateo. A Catholic Central League all-star and league MVP last fall, Mateo emerged as one of the top goalies in the state and helped lead the Spartans to a 16-0-1 regular season.
Now it’s Pappas’ turn to step in and serve at the backbone of a St. Mary’s team that prides itself in building a stout defense.
“Nick found the right role in net about two years ago,” St. Mary’s coach Mike D’Agostino said. “He’s been playing off and on in the field and in net. He does whatever’s needed for the team. He gives all his dedication and desire to St. Mary’s soccer. He has a true passion in net. He worked all summer in camps and it shows.”
With the preseason quickly coming to a close, the Spartans are putting their final touches and tweaks in gear. Pappas, a Peabody resident, feels St. Mary’s has plenty to feel positive about given the way things have gone during the preseason.
“Our team’s looking, I personally think, the best since I’ve been here,” Pappas said. “Us seniors, we all have been playing together for a while. We have great chemistry there. The new guys coming in have filled in and I think they’re looking pretty well. Once we get the chemistry up from there I think we’ll be a very good team this year.”
The expectations are high at St. Mary’s, a team that returns 12 current seniors from last year’s roster in 2018. The Spartans have plenty of seasoned veterans to lean on for leadership and Pappas believes that’ll go a long way this year.
“We know what it’s like to be in the state tournament,” Pappas said. “A couple of our seniors played in the state final a few years ago. We know what it’s like to play in the playoffs, how tough that environment is like, what the crowd’s like. I feel that will play a big part.”
Aside from experience and leadership, communication will be another key element this season. As a goaltender, Pappas has the best view of the field and will use that to his advantage to help place his defenders in the best areas. Pappas will need to be vocal this year but he’s ready for that challenge.
“I’ve learned that communication is key,” Pappas said. “If it starts from the back it usually goes up the field. We’re the eyes of the whole field. We see everything in the back. Once we bring the communication up, it usually leads us to goals.
“One of my biggest strengths, I feel, is my communication,” Pappas said. “I’m not afraid. I’m always talking to the defense. I feel that communication is my biggest impact on the field.”
Pappas won’t jump into the starting role with cold feet. He watched Mateo keep opposing teams off the scoreboard for the past three seasons, giving him a solid model to follow as he aimed to improve his game. Last weekend, the Spartans traveled to Cape Cod for scrimmages against high-level teams and Pappas rose to the occasion.
“Barnstable’s a Division 1 school that had tremendous shots, rockets from 20-30 yards out and he made some beautiful saves,” D’Agostino said. “He made a great save on a penalty kick and the momentum turned. That was huge for him. He set the tone for our defensive line.
“I think Nick’s going to be a key role player for us, with the knowledge he has and his size” D’Agostino said. “He’s very aggressive with corner kicks. His punts are huge. He’s a very aggressive player. He challenges the offensive players, one-on-one if they come toward him. He’s very aggressive in the box. I know he’ll fill those shoes for Richie Mateo, no questions asked. I have 100 percent confidence in Nick.”
The Spartans have outlined three key goals for themselves this year. They’ll get a chance at cracking their first one Wednesday evening when they open the season against Tech in the Lynn City Soccer Tournament at Manning Field.
“Our first goal is to win the Lynn City Tournament,” Pappas said. “Then win the Catholic Central League and hopefully win a state championship.
“We approach that by taking it one step at a time,” Pappas said. “It’s one game at a time. We’re just looking at every game like it’s a big game and staying focused as a team.”