St. Georges and Middletown have high hopes of reaching level of Appoquinimink's success, after Jaguars advanced to Division I state title game last year

The summer is nearly over and another school year is on the horizon, bringing with it the first sports season of the calendar year in the fall.

Fall practices for sports opened in mid-August as teams throughout the state look to get their rosters ready for the season ahead.

In the boys soccer world, Appoquinimink has not only been one of the top programs in the Middletown area, but also statewide, coming off a season that saw the Jags go 13-2 and advance all the way to the DIAA Division I Boys Soccer State Championship Game.

While not quite living in the shadow of Appo’s program, two more Middletown area teams are looking to reach the heights the Jags have, though they ended last year heading in different directions.

For Middletown, the Cavaliers are coming off a down season after going 4-11 overall a year ago and missing out on the postseason.

This year, the Cavs will be led on the sidelines by a new head coach in Antonio DiRienzo.

Entering his first preseason as head coach, DiRienzo and his staff have worked hard assembling the 2017 Cavaliers’ team.

“We really focused on conditioning the first week, starting with a 3.5 mile run the first session of a double. We made sure to get our boys pushing themselves to limits they have never been pushed too before,” DiRienzo said. “I think each player felt tired, but felt a great mental boost that they were able to get through conditioning of that nature. We also had over 28 juniors and seniors come out for the team, so we had the unfortunate task of making some roster decisions.”

DiRienzo’s work started before the summer arrived, as he met with returning players back in May to give them an offseason conditioning program, featuring a list of expectations players were expected to reach.

“Being my first year coaching with the team, I wanted to see what type of players would put in work and effort in the offseason,” DiRienzo said. “The players who do the extra work are the type of players we want in our programs.”

Meanwhile, at St. Georges Tech, the Hawks return to the pitch fresh off an impressive 2016 campaign that saw them reach the Division II state semifinals.

While Coach DiRienzo at Middletown is preparing for his first season as the team’s head coach, Justin Null has spent a decade leading St. Georges Tech’s soccer program.

For Null, the preseason is extremely important when it comes to getting his team prepare for the regular season which is just around the corner.

“Preseason has a number of focuses for us,” Null said. “To name a few, forming team chemistry, physical and mental conditioning and teaching new players our system and expectations.”

When it comes to offseason conditioning, the Hawks have been extremely busy since their season ended last year.

“Most sports have joined suit, but soccer has always been fairly unique in that it is typically played year-round by our athletes,” Null said. “This almost means that there isn’t really an offseason. Since we concluded our 2016 season in November, we’ve focused on keeping our players together through the winter indoor league and summer league. Many of our players have also been utilizing strength and conditioning programs.”

Middletown and St. Georges Tech are two programs in two different positions heading into a new season, however, both have high expectations and growing excitement for the year ahead.

“At the start of the season, I think we’ll have a really fast, talented team that has some youth,” said Middletown’s DiRienzo. “With some very talented players at attacking positions like Nate Bampo, Justin Hemphill and Ricky Perez, we should be able to cause a lot of pressure on opposing defenses with premiere speed. We also have freshman like Eric Johnson and Ryan Dudlek who have had excellent camps and are pushing for starters minutes. We have a lot of work to do technically before the start of the campaign, but look for Middletown to have a bounce back year.”

Null said the Hawks have the talent to soar.

“For the first time in my 10 years with the program, we’re returning 11 starters from the previous season,” Null said. “This is certainly an exciting position for us to be in and we have a nice group of talented, competitive, hard-working guys.”