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After counting student managers and the entire roster, there are some 31 seniors in Malvern Prep’s loaded senior class of 2021.
But in Saturday’s Inter-Ac championship victory over rival Haverford School, AJ Nikolic put to rest any fears that the pipeline would run dry.
Nikolic, a sophomore midfielder, was one of three Friars with hat tricks on the day as Malvern avenged one of its two losses this season with a comprehensive 14-5 win over the Fords. The Friars not not only claimed the rubber match between the two squads for the 2021 season, but their third consecutive Inter-Ac championship.
As the Friars (ranked No. 4 in the NLFRankings.com National Top 25 High School Team Rankings) roared to a 6-0 first quarter lead, it was Nikolic who provided a couple of the highlights, finishing a cross-crease pass from Nick Potemski (two assists) to make it 3-0 seven minutes into the contest.
Back to the Well
But it was Nikolic’s second goal just two minutes later that everyone in attendance would remember. After catching an errant pass from X, Nikolic’s quick dodge gave him a free lane to the goal, and he took advantage with a beautiful shot that beat Haverford’s Chuck Cacciutti (17 saves) low to the stick side.
“They [Haverford] weren’t sliding all day – they didn’t slide any of the three times we played them,” said Nikolic. “After that dodge, I had a clear path down the left alley – it gave me plenty of time to put it away. That was the easy part.”
Nikolic added an assist a minute later when Eric Spanos made it 6-0 Malvern. He rounded out his day with a third goal – unassisted – midway through the final stanza.
For the Friars, the May 6 loss to Haverford provided just the right amount of motivation for Saturday.
“That game turned our season around,” Nikolic confirmed. “We struggled in a few games before that, even when we were winning. It was about time we started playing like we’re supposed to.”
Nikolic says he’ll miss the class of 2021, which he credits with taking him under their collective wings after the lost season a year ago, but agrees Malvern will remain strong well into the future.
“Of course we will – we’ve got some young guys coming up next year, and I think we can be right back here again [in 2022.]”
Just Getting Started
Malvern Prep’s stacked class of 2021 attack unit had their typical stellar performance Saturday, compiling the squad’s 11 non-Nikolic goals along with six assists. Spanos, a Maryland signee, broke the ice at 7:24 of the first quarter, but Colin McGill (Dartmouth), Will Peden (Penn State), Tucker Milhous (Villanova), and Nick Potemski (Duke) soon got into the act as the lead ballooned to 6-0 by the period’s conclusion.
Peden (three goals, two assists) and McGill (four goals, assist) led the way with five points apiece, while Spanos and Milhous each tallied twice and Potemski handed out three helpers. It was a remarkable show of balance for a unit whose star power is surpassed only by its depth, cohesion, and selflessness.
“It was the same thing Thursday in the [semifinal] game against Germantown Academy (an 18-6 Malvern win),” Spanos said. “We came out swinging, got the early lead, and it gives us momentum. Those starts give us the chance to overcome mistakes and gets us into the rhythm of playing as a team, which is something we hammer on a lot.”
At 6-foot-4, Spanos stands out physically among the attack unit, but the creativity of Potemski and the deadly accuracy of McGill became Malvern’s bread-and-butter in the early going on Saturday. As the game wore on, Peden got involved, scoring Malvern’s final goal of the first half on a quick-hands recovery off a rebound, and led the way after halftime with four points.
“Every time we come out on this field, we cherish it,” Peden said. “Since last year, it’s been a situation where we never know when it could be our last game, our last practice.
“Right now, we feel like we’re just getting started. We wish we could have more games, but it’s a great feeling to finish with this win.”
“They came out hot – they were ready to go.”
Malvern Prep controlled play throughout the contest, but Haverford School’s glimmer hope came after holding Malvern scoreless for the final eight minutes of the first half and opening the third quarter with a tally from sophomore midfielder and NLF No. 37 ’23 Wills Burt.
It was the closest the Fords came to the Friars on the day. Senior midfielder Geordy Holmes (Maryland) capped his Haverford career with a hat trick.
“We’re really familiar with one another by now – both sides know what the other is going to do,” Holmes said. “At that point, it comes down to executing and making things happen. I give respect to Malvern. They came out hot, they were ready to go, and we didn’t keep our heads the way we needed to. Hopefully our younger players learned from that.”
“It’s their home field, their big student section – no excuses from our side. They gave it their all and got the win today.”
MALVERN PREP – HAVERFORD SCHOOL STANDOUTS
Cooper Frankenheimer ’21, SSDM, Malvern Prep / Mesa / North Carolina
For much of the game, Malvern Prep’s best clearing strategy was to simply let the ball find No. 5’s stick and let him outrun everyone on the field. Frankenheimer made that strategy look brilliant about a half-dozen times, including one effort that began behind the Friars’ net and ended with Frankenheimer’s bounce shot missing the far post by less than a foot. Aside from his sheer athleticism, Frankenheimer was instrumental in causing a pair of early shot clock violations that rendered Haverford unable to respond to Malvern’s first-quarter offensive onslaught. He also showed the ability to find accelerating teammates in transition on the occasions when carrying the ball to safety himself was not the best option.
Jake Brownley ’21, defense, Malvern Prep / Mesa / Harvard – NLF No. 9 ’21
Brownley and Frankenheimer worked in tandem to keep Haverford’s offense away from the net early. Brownley’s physicality served as the perfect complement to Frankenheimer’s sheer quickness and athleticism. The highlight for the Harvard-bound co-captain came on Malvern’s fourth goal, when Brownley launched a pinpoint-accurate pass some 50 yards yards into the stick of an accelerating Colin McGill. The Dartmouth then turned the pass into the first of his four goals on the day. Brownley led a defensive unit including Pup Buono (Penn State) and Matthew Caccese (Boston University) that never allowed Haverford to get into any sort of rhythm offensively.
Colin McGill ’21, Attack, Malvern Prep / Rising Sons / Dartmouth
You can’t go wrong choosing any Malvern attackman as a standout from this contest, but McGill gets the nod for his knack to put the ball in the net immediately following the Haverford School’s tallies. On two occasions, he responded within one minute of Fords’ goals. The first came on a dash from X to beat the shot clock at the start of the second period. In the second half, McGill and Will Peden assisted on each other’s tallies on extra-man opportunities that looked remarkably similar in their setup and execution. It was a five-point performance for McGill, tied with Peden for the team lead.
Geordy Holmes ’21, Midfield, Haverford School / Mesa / Maryland
It was difficult for Haverford to find much of an offensive rhythm, particularly in the first half, so most of the Fords’ offense came from Holmes’ creativity, speed, and accuracy. The future Terp finished with three unassisted goals on the day. Aside from being the only player who consistently beat Malvern defenders one-on-one, most impressive was the Holmes’ ability to put each shot in a spot where Malvern’s goalies (Joe Doherty, three saves; Chris O’Grady, six saves) had little chance to make the stop.
Chuck Cacciutti ’22, Goalie, Haverford School / Mesa / Penn
It’s rare to highlight a goalie in a losing effort. Despite that, with Malvern’s arsenal of offensive talent, the first-half explosion could’ve been far more productive if not for Cacciutti’s work. The Penn accumulated 17 stops on a day where he had few breaks. The Fords’ goalie impressed with his stick work, but also took away several advantageous angles for Friars’ shooters. Despite the result, Cacciutti’s back-to-back stops on Eric Spanos and Colin McGill at close range toward the end of the first quarter provided the single most impressive play of the day.
Malvern Prep 14, Haverford School 5
Malvern Prep 6 2 2 4 – 14
Haverford School 1 1 2 1 – 5
’21 Colin McGill (Dartmouth) 4 goals, 1 assist
’21 Will Peden (Penn State) 3 goals, 2 assists
’23 AJ Nikolic 3 goals, 1 assist
’21 Tucker Milhous (Villanova) 2 goals
’21 Eric Spanos (Maryland) 2 goals
’21 Nick Potemski (Duke) 2 assists
’24 Lucca DiBartolomeo 1 assist
’21 Jake Brownley (Harvard) 1 assist
’21 Chris O’Grady (High Point) 6 saves
’22 Joseph Doherty (Big 4 HHH) 3 saves
’21 Geordy Holmes (Maryland) 3g
’23 Ryan DiRocco (NLF No. 50 ’23) 1g, 1a
’23 Wills Burt (NLF No. 37 ’23) 1 goal
’22 Chuck Cacciutti (Penn) 17 saves