Nick Cestaro and Justin Carfora were in agreement after their St. Anthony's boys soccer team won the CHSAA state championship. Both senior captains declared that the team was the best they had ever played for.
The man who started coaching the Friars a decade before the players were even born further validated the shared sentiment.
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"This is definitely the best team I've ever had," said coach Gene Buonaiuto, who added he has coached St. Anthony's since 1985. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime team. You don't come across teams like this."
Just how impressive were the Friars this season?
St. Anthony's, which owned a sparkling 22-1-1 record, outscored opponents, 71-3. Senior goalkeeper Josh Weiss and a dominant defensive unit racked up 21 shutouts and broke the school record of 16, which was set in 2004, according to assistant coach Don Corrao. The three goals allowed were the fewest St. Anthony's surrendered in a season, the coaches said, adding that the previous mark was five, set in 1994.
The season culminated with the boys soccer program's third CHSAA state championship and first since 2008.
"There have been a lot of great teams to come through St. Anthony's, and we're right up there with the best of them now," said Cestaro on Nov. 11, moments after the Friars defeated St. Francis Prep, 2-0, at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John's University for the state title.
Said Carfora, "The season was just unbelievable."
Possibly the most fanciful thing about it was that the Friars actually dropped their season opener.
During a tournament in New Jersey on Sept. 7, St. Anthony's lost a non-league match, 1-0, in double-overtime against Seton Hall Prep. Weiss, however, said he found positives amid the despair.
"It was a wakeup call for us," Weiss said. "The next day we beat Delbarton, which may have been our toughest opponent."
With an impressive combination of athleticism and intellect, Weiss ended the season with 14 straight shutouts.
"He was unbelievable," Buonaiuto said. "He was the best goalkeeper I ever had."
Weiss wasn't alone in thwarting scoring opportunities for the opposition. Juniors Beau Hornberger, Costas Efstathiou and Ryan Healy, and senior Dakota Lohan, along with Cestaro, bolstered the backline.
"We had a lot of chemistry between us," Lohan said. "And I was never so comfortable playing with such an impressive, talented defensive group."
The offense was just as imposing. Senior forward Michelangelo Sini scored a team-high 16 goals, and junior forward TJ Butzke led the Friars in assists with 12. Jake Giuffrida, a junior forward, was also a consistent threat, scoring nine goals.
For Cestaro and Carfora, who opposing coaches lauded for "always doing all the dirty work," the championship remedied the shortcomings of last season, when the Friars fell to Chaminade on penalty kicks in the NSCHSAA final. Both captains, who will play soccer next year at Holy Cross, entered this season with the expectation of making it back to the NSCHSAA final and then making a run toward a state title.
"Bringing this back to the school, that plaque hanging on the wall, there's nothing better than seeing that up there," Carfora said. "There's no better feeling."