The prevailing thought around the Inter-Ac heading into the 2022 season was that Malvern Prep had to take a step back after being decimated by graduation.
And for a few games, that thought process didn’t look flawed at all. The Friars lost to Georgetown Prep (Md.) in overtime to start the season, then fell by five goals to Lawrenceville (N.J.), a team they handled with ease last year.
By the looks of it, that was the extent of Malvern’s “rebuilding” process. If there was any doubt as to which team is the Inter-Ac’s favorite, it was answered Tuesday when the Friars raced past rival Haverford School, 13-6, in both teams’ league openers.
AJ Nikolic, the NLF’s No. 28 junior and a Cornell commit, led the onslaught with five goals and an assist. Sophomore running mate Ennis Udo wasn’t far behind with three and one, while five-star ’24 Lucca DiBartolomeo, four-star junior Roman Buono (Yale), senior Chris Datz (Washington & Lee) and junior Pat Keenan (Penn State) guided a defense that only yielded one second-half goal. Senior goalie Joe Doherty (Big 4 HHH / Franklin & Marshall) was stout in goal, denying 12 shots sent his way to procure the win.
So much for that whole, “rebuilding,” thing, huh?
“it feels really good,” Doherty said. “I think a lot of people in the Inter-Ac counted us out. We lost a lot of seniors, but I think this proves that we’re still here and we keep getting better. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team who want to win and we’ve got leaders who will do anything to get us there.”
Adjusting On the Fly
Haverford strung together a three-goal run, punctuated by an overhand finish in traffic from NLF No. 43 ’23 Wills Burt (Virginia), to give itself a 5-3 lead and all of the momentum. Malvern sophomore John Majka scored on a lefty rollback with 21 seconds to play in the half, though, and it seemed to lift the Friars even though Army commit Ryan DiRocco scored the second half’s first goal.
From there? All Malvern as the Friars rolled to a 9-0 run to finish the game. Nikolic and Udo alternated goals for the final six markers of the game, and Malvern’s switch to a zone defense kept the Fords guessing all half long. Even when Haverford got its chances – five-star sophomore Ben McCarthy was 8-for-10 at the stripe in the second half, so they got their fair share – Doherty was there to make the stops.
“It feels great. We work all season to play Haverford, so to beat them and play a great second half feels great for us,” DiBartolomeo said. “It’s a great confidence booster for the rest of the season. At the start of the game, we were in man, and us and the coaches thought it would be better to be in zone for the second half. We really just played an aggressive zone and Haverford didn’t know what to do with it.”
Senior Teddy Malone (Harvard) bagged a goal and two assists for the Fords, who also got two goals from senior Army commit Avi Mehl and a goal and an assist from Burt. Despite that and McCarthy’s dominance, they couldn’t put anything together to counter what the Friars brought to the table.
“Defensively, we did some similar things but we started to slide a little bit more,” senior defenseman and Penn State signee Will Costin said. “I thought we played well, but they started scoring late in the shot clock. We just have to button it up 20 seconds and under in the shot clock and I think it’ll be a better result for us.”
The teams are set for a second matchup on April 29, and if prior history is any indicator, there will be a third one in the postseason. Tuesday, though, Malvern showed that it’s the team to beat.
Malvern Prep – Haverford School Standouts
DiBartolomeo is the most complete LSM in the 2024 class right now. He is special. Don’t take my word for it, though.
“He has the potential to be one of the best ones we’ve ever had here,” Malvern defensive coordinator Paul O’Grady said. “He’s a freak.”
That’s a coach who’s seen some good ones for the Friars, too. DiBartolomeo’s aggressiveness, relentless and effort stand out right away. He doesn’t have an off switch, and he’s determined to make EVERY single play. He’s a freaking pitbull let off a leash in the open field. Go for a ground ball and you’re going to pay for it. DiBartolomeo hounds ball carriers without playing out of control, and while he’s not as offensively-minded as other poles, he’s much better defensively than most of them.
“I think that playing defense is the most important part of the LSM’s game,” DiBartolomeo said. “My offensive game is to come, but I’m a defensively-minded guy. I love getting after guys, I love causing turnovers and doing all of that. It’s always been a thing for me. I’ve been through some adverse things, so I think it’s just being a tough kid and that comes from my roots.”
If DiBartolomeo’s on ball against you, move it elsewhere.
Peri DiBartolomeo ’24, SSDM, Malvern Prep
The Friars have the market cornered on DiBartolomeos, and that’s terrible news for everyone else. Lucca is originally a ’23 who reclassed after defeating cancer, but then there’s also a set of ’24 twins in Peri and Roman. Peri was formerly an LSM, but Malvern’s coaches saw an opportunity for him to make an impact as an SSDM while his brother and fellow standout sophomore Kyle Worsnup tied up the LSM spots.
They were right. DiBartolomeo has embraced the role of being a lockdown SSDM, and he’s excellent at it. He routinely denied Ford dodges and got them to move the ball away from him. He used his terrific athleticism – also a defensive back for Malvern’s Inter-Ac champion football team – to turn and run, and he’s got just as much sandpaper to his game as Lucca does.
Avi Mehl ’22, attack, Haverford School / Army
There’s a very small list of players in the 2022 class who can sling it as well as the future Black Knight does. The 6-3 lefty projects as a wing shooter at the next level, although he initiated off the dodge a couple of times against the Friars. Still, he’s in the business of scoring goals, and business is booming.
Mehl opened the scoring by snapping a high-to-high crank off of a Wills Burt (Virginia) feed. He then drew the Fords even at 2 when he buried a transition bomb. If you leave him open and allow him to get his feet set, you’re done. Mehl gets a ton of power on his shot.
McCarthy’s been Philly’s top faceoff midfielder this spring as a sophomore, winning draws at around a 75 percent clip. An exceptional athlete, he gets out of his stance quickly and explodes forward quickly, whether it’s on pinch and pops out the front door or chasing down a ground ball. He’s got some snarl to his game, too, and plays with a chip on his shoulder.
He took home 13 of 19 faceoffs that he took against Malvern, including an eight-in-a-row stretch. Haverford’s got a loaded faceoff depth chart with him, his older brother and ’22 Merrimack signee Jake McCarthy and ’25 Griff Meyer (Team 91 Maryland), one of the top ‘25s in the country who won all three faceoffs that he took. But it’s the younger McCarthy’s show, and he’s not ceding the job anytime soon.
“Being named the starter was just, like, ‘that’s my job now,’” McCarthy said. “I have to keep doing the stuff that I was doing if I was coming off the bench. It’s the same mindset, just, ‘do what I can do and play hard.’”
A year ago, Nikolic thrived as predominantly an off-ball midfield scorer playing alongside a stacked attack line with Eric Spanos (Maryland), Will Peden (Penn State) and Colin McGill (Dartmouth). All of those guys are now in college, with Peden and McGill already making impacts at the next level. That didn’t leave John McEvoy with a lot of experience at attack, so it’s the versatile Nikolic that headlines a group that includes Liam Timmins (Big 4 HHH / Franklin & Marshall) and lefty Ennis Udo. Michael Ortlieb (Big 4 HHH) is the rare freshman to also see time at Malvern.
The Cornell commit was in full control for the Friars, finishing with five goals and an assist. His early connection with Timmins, one where he dunked home a pass on the post, was eerily similar to what he did last year with Peden feeding him the rock. Other than that, Nikolic showed that he could get open off the dodge, including a gem of a goal where he cut through the defense, got top side and snapped it home. It was part of the Friars’ game-ending 9-0 run, but also a sign of what Nikolic can do when he has the ball in his stick.
“You saw me off-ball and we had all of those guys. I had Will Peden feeding me, so I’d do off-ball all day if Will was feeding me,” Nikolic said. “I’m playing attack and I’m taking wings. I’m doing whatever Coach Mac and Coach Mackrides want me to do. It’s just growing and developing. When you play with all of those superstars, you can’t really have a role, so I think that developed me as a player. Now, I’m older, more experienced and taking a bigger role in the offense. I’m just trying to play my game.”
Ennis Udo ’24, attack, Malvern Prep
Udo clearly hit a growth spurt and put in a lot of time in the weight room – a Malvern staple – this offseason. He looks enormous at 6-2 and close to 200 pounds, but he moves much better than a guy his size should. The lefty, who had three goals and an assist, created space well for himself, and he’s comfortable around the cage. Also a tight end and defensive end on the football field, he’s able to use his physicality and size to rock defenders off their spot.
His second goal of the game showed some of that. He got to GLE and then hit a nice inside roll and finished righty. If Udo can continually finish, it’s going to be a problem for defenses.
“I got it at X, I didn’t see a slide on the crease and I got into him and kind of knocked him off balance a little bit,” Udo said. “I went over the top and put it on net and the rest happened.”
Udo also credited that senior-laden 2021 attack line for part of his development. Taking a backseat to a group that skilled only pays dividends in the future.
“I learned so much from those guys,” Udo said. “Everything I did today, I learned from them and I’m just trying to continue the legacy at Malvern with the attackmen.”
Malvern Prep 13, Haverford School 6
Malvern Prep 3 1 5 4 – 13
Haverford School 2 3 1 0 – 6
Malvern Prep 7-2
AJ Nikolic (NLF No. 28 ’23 / Cornell) 5 goals, 1 assist
Ennis Udo ’24 3 goals, 1 assist
Liam Timmins ’22 (Big 4 HHH / Franklin & Marshall) 1 goal, 1 assist
Michael Ortlieb ’25 (Big 4 HHH) 1 goal, 1 assist
Joe Sheridan ’22 (Richmond) 1 goal, 1 assist
Dylan O’Connor ’23 1 goal
John Majka ’24 1 goal
Owen Mears ’25 (Big 4 HHH) 1 assist
Ryan Falkenstein ’23 (Maryland) 1 assist
Jack Irish ’22 (Lafayette) 1 assist
Joe Doherty ’22 (Big 4 HHH / Franklin & Marshall) 12 saves
Patrick Mears ’23 (Big 4 HHH) 6-for-19 faceoffs
Nick Wehmeyer ’24 0-for-3 faceoffs
Haverford School 4-4
Avi Mehl ’22 (Army) 2 goals
Teddy Malone ’22 (Harvard) 1 goal, 2 assists
Wills Burt ’23 (NLF No. 43 ’23 / Virginia) 1 goal, 1 assist
Ryan DiRocco ’23 (Army) 1 goal
Wells Flinn ’23 1 goal
Ben McCarthy ’24 (Five-star ’24) 13-for-19 faceoffs
Griff Meyer ’25 (Team 91 Maryland) 3-for-3 faceoffs
Chuck Cacciutti ’22 (Penn) 7 saves