This is the moment that Jack Dugan and many of his Haddonfield High School boys soccer teammates have looked forward to for three seasons.
Dugan leads a senior-laden team that holds out hopes of accomplishing a lot more than last season when the Bulldawgs went 16-5-2 and tied for the Colonial Conference Liberty Division title.
The squad then went deep into the South Jersey Group 2 tournament before losing to Delran.
Dugan, who scored 22 goals with 16 assists a year ago, now views last season as a steppingstone for what the Bulldawgs hope to accomplish this year.
A forward, Dugan likes the fact that he’s only a piece – albeit a pivotal one – to any prospects for the team’s success.
“Growing up, this is the group I've played with since we were 9 or 10 years old,” Dugan said. “We’ve kind of circled this year. We know this is our chance if we want to do something special.”
Bound for James Madison next season, Dugan has been a starter on the Haddonfield team since his freshman season.
He grew up the program as the son of a Haddonfield assistant coach and his game has developed over the years.
It’s reached the point now where coach Ryan Nixon is not shy about pouring on the accolades.
“I’ve been around the program and I’m very tapped in to what our history and traditions are,” he said. “I’ve been around some top-level players . . . and I can say, without hesitation, that Jack deserves to be up there with the best of them.”
As would be expected with the kind of numbers that Dugan has produced over the course of his career (he is within reach of the school record of 64 goals), he is a multi-talented player.
Along with what coach Nixon refers to as some “obvious leadership skills,” Dugan can play multiple postitions and he brings something of value wherever he lines up.
“Jack understands that his role may change from game to game, based on how we’re playing or who we’re playing,” Nixon said. “He’s fully bought into whatever role for what we’ve asked of him.”
Nixon also spoke about Dugan’s toughness, saying he has played injured multiple times.
His influence has rubbed off on his teammates.
“He brings a lot,” said senior teammate Sam DeCencio, another of the players Ryan hopes will form the centerpiece of the team. “He carries the load for us, especially in our playoff run last year. He buried some goals for us.”
Dugan learned his leadership skills starting from the ground floor.
He recalled making the team as a freshman and spending that year looking to the older players for guidance.
As he developed through the years, he had no qualms about taking on a leadership role of his own.
“As a freshman I didn’t have many expectations,” he said. “I just wanted to give it my all and see where it took me. But as time has gone along I’ve grown comfortable in the system, improving every single day.
“Now I’m looking to get everyone else better, not just me, so we can improve as a team.”
On paper, at least, the Bulldawgs seem equipped to put together a fine season.
DeCencio, who is already committed to La Salle, complements Dugan from the midfield and he’s coming off a seven goal, 19 assists season.
There are plenty of potential scorers on the roster as well. Steve Tomaso contributed 13 goals last season. Tommy Mollis added seven goals, while Max Green and Gabe DaSilva had six each.
The defense is anchored by senior goal Finn Miller, who had nine shutouts last year.
“We’re hoping to win a championship and hopefully multiple championships,” Nixon said. “We think we can do it with the caliber of team we have.”