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Jason Kitahama noticed Valor Christian on the schedule as soon as he got his eyes on Academy of the New Church’s 2024 slate.

The Englewood, Colorado native started high school at Cherry Creek, Valor’s rival. Now a sophomore middie at ANC outside of Philadelphia, Kitahama was motivated to show out against kids he would’ve once counted as teammates.

“When I saw Valor on our schedule, I got really excited,” Kitahama said. “I knew as a team, I really wanted to win this.”


Kitahama did his part and then some, completing a hat trick 90 seconds into overtime with the game-winner, seeing ANC to a 10-9 victory in torrential conditions.

Kitahama stepped up for an ANC side dealing with injuries and deprived most of the day of the services of Hunter Aquino. The four-star Penn State signee from Team 91 Long Island spent time on the sidelines dealing with an illness and absorbed some big hits when he was on the field that probably didn’t help.

Most of ANC’s rally from down 9-6 at 9:16 of the fourth happened with Aquino on the bench, and he wasn’t out there for overtime.

No worries, with Nick Guzy winning the faceoff and the Lions calling timeout. The play was triggered by Shane Bradley behind the net, who fed Kitahama on the right side to step down and rifle one high into the net.

“It was just playing as a team,” Kitahama said. “I didn’t know if I was going to take that shot. We were just being selfless. That wasn’t me; that was my team scoring the goal. It was me putting it in the back of the net because of what my team did.”

A Valiant Midfield

That it was a Colorado midfielder beating a team stocked with blue-chip Colorado midfielders is a bit of bitter irony for Valor Christian. The Eagles boast a stable of horses in midfield at the heart of building their lead.

“Last year, we didn’t have too many,” four-star senior Alexander Rismani (Denver Elite / Air Force) said. “I think we ran with four or five guys the whole time. So having this freshman class and sophomore class grow, we’re substituting all the time and able to stay fresh. It’s a gamechanger because we’re playing at a much faster pace.”

Rush LaSelle led the way with two goals and two assists. Rismani buried two goals to go with an assist.

The Eagles can be lethal in transition. The best example was Rismani picking a ground ball at midfield midway through the third and threading a pass through traffic for JT Cross (goal, assist) to bury on the crease. Valor went up 8-6 early in the fourth when James Hamilton picked up a GB and bombed to the hole. Army commit LaSelle made it 9-6 90 seconds later by burying a feed from Baden Brown (Team 91 Colorado / Tufts).

A New Comeback

When ANC counterpunched, it came via an LSM. Four-star Penn State commit Aharon Bloshuk was massive in helping a defense missing two starters due to injury. His ability to take draws spelled Guzy, who finished 10-for-19 but won four of the last five. After LaSelle’s made it 9-6, Bloshuk scooped the ground ball on the wing and scored 14 seconds later to get within 9-7.

Aquino, who scored once in the first half, had his final action on the goal to get within one. He absorbed multiple hits and fought through a crowd of four defenders, with the flag down, to get a loose ball and fire it on goal. Goalie Ian Stefonowicz was equal to it, but Braden Crowell was left unattended to scoop the rebound and tuck it home.

Bradley, who scored twice and was ANC’s most effective creator, tied the game at nine with 6:43 left.

“We’ve just got to have the mentality to keep our foot on the gas,” Rismani said. “I think we let up a little bit, we started having more fun on the sideline, which is great. But we need to have the mentality of staying tough the whole time.”

The teams traded possessions late. Carver, who had nine saves, stoned Rismani late. Bloshuk was the one to corral the ground ball to start OT, which set up Kitahama’s moment of glory.

“That’s the culture of our team – toughness, grittiness,” he said. “We’re not the biggest, we’re not the fastest or the most athletic. But 100 percent when we’re out there, we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”

Valor Christian vs. Academy of the New Church Standouts

Rush LaSelle ’25, midfielder, Valor Christian (Colo.) – Army

LaSelle is a physical middie who can contribute on both ends of the field. He’s got sneaky speed for his 6-3 frame, and his physicality is already worthy of the next level. But he’s also got soft hands to work within an offense. He keeps the ball moving, can hit higher-level passes and he’s got the touch to work off-ball as a punishing catch-and-shoot option or to pound the rock and dodge shorties.

Alexander Rismani ’24, midfielder, Valor Christian (Colo.) / Denver Elite – Air Force

Rismani is more of an end-to-end threat, and his future may well lie as an elite transition guy. He’s got a plus shot and above-average distributor. He probably would look more physically imposing if he wasn’t standing next to LaSelle and punishing defensive middie James Hamilton. Rismani’s got a touch of elegance to his game, in the way he loads up a shot, puts off goalies and picks corners.

Blake Kirschke ’24, defense, Valor Christian (Colo.) / Team 91 Colorado (Denver)

Whatever difficulties Aquino was fighting through, few teams this year will keep him to a solitary goal. Valor threw a bunch of defenders at him – senior Erik Young got a run, as did Luke Alread (Team 91 Colorado / High Point), while junior Parker Barhydt was able to poach for turnovers off ball. But all of that works off the platform down low created by Kirschke. He’s a great anchor for a defense, constantly helping, directing traffic and making sure his assignment is covered flawlessly.

Hunter Aquino ’24, midfield, Academy of the New Church (Pa.) / Team 91 Long Island – Penn State

He only scored one goal, but the plays Aquino casually makes are unbelievable. He’s got long arms and legs yet is so hard to knock over. He absorbs so much punishment and attracts so much attention that his mere presence opens things for teammates. Aquino has one of the securest sticks you’ll see, and his athleticism creates a blank canvas that puts few limits on what he can conjure up.

Aharon Bloshuk ’25, LSM, Academy of the New Church (Pa.) – Penn State

Speaking of promising Penn State recruits, Bloshuk was ANC’s best player. He created turnovers, was flawless on the ground and helped turn the tide at the faceoff stripe by both spelling Guzy for a few draws and with his indefatigable wing play. His ground ball to give ANC possession to start overtime might as well earn an assist on the score sheet. He’s not the biggest or most athletic, but he knows how to make the most of his physical ability, with his stick checks, his ball skills and his movement.

Jason Kitahama ’26, Midfielder, Academy of the New Church (Pa.)

Just a sophomore, Kitahama has some intriguing tools in the skillset. He works hard on both ends of the field and on the wing, first and foremost. He’s got a heavy shot without a long release, and he shoots both hard and accurately. He plays a simple midfielder’s game in the sense that he doesn’t try to do too much, and he executes those handful of things (catch and shoot, a quick forceful dodge) that are in his wheelhouse.