By Chris Dailey
While the wait for winter sports to start has taken a little longer than expected, Wall High School can still bask in the warm glow of a fantastic fall season. In fact, it might be the winningest season Wall has ever had.
Winner: a person/thing that wins something. Examples of the word ‘winner’ include the Crimson Knights’ football and boys soccer teams. See also: Wall girls soccer and Wall field hockey.
Wall’s football team (7-0) finished as the top team in New Jersey, defeating Donovan Catholic 18-15 in the unofficial Shore Conference championship game. Led by junior Charlie Sasso, who was named the top defensive player in the state, the Knights trailed just once all season before edging the Griffins.
Wall’s boys soccer team (17-0) defeated Toms River East to capture the Central East D Group III championship.
Wall’s girls soccer (16-1) rode an undefeated streak into the Central East B championship game, coming up short to Rumson 3-2.
Similarly, Wall’s field hockey team (11-1) advanced all the way to the Central East B semifinals before Ocean Township ended its season by a final of 4-2.
FOOTBALL HAS A YEAR FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS
In a year hit hard by COVID-19, with daily temperature checks and social distancing during early morning workouts behind Wall High School, the football team was led by a talented squad with many players returning from last year's defeat in the state final. Key players like senior quarterback Logan Peters, West Point commit Casey Larkin and Sasso helped lead the Knights to glory.
With an undefeated record that speaks for itself, the 2020 Wall football team will forever be remembered in the gym’s rafters.
Many are wondering though, is there an asterisk on the title?
Wall wasn’t able to go to states this year due to COVID. Instead, the Knights went all the way to the Shore Conference final, a game which they won thanks to a last second goal-line stop by sophomore Kesuin Sanders.
Many people may take exception against the 2020 Knights because there were no state playoffs, a true, what if? scenario for Coach Tony Grandinetti’s team.
On the flip side, Wall had undisputable talent this year. Rutgers’ lacrosse commit and Wall star Peters put on a show again. Right by his side was Larkin who ran for a total of 890 yards with five 100-plus games and 13 TDs. Overall, Larkin scored 30 total varsity TDs with the Knights.
The biggest thing about the 2020 Wall football team that was different from past years was togetherness, a bond unlike any other.
“This year's team was different from teams in the past because of the team chemistry” Coach Grandinetti said. “This team had a sense of togetherness unlike any team I have ever been a part of. I think part of it was the pandemic but another was the leadership we had on the team. Everyone had a job on this team and we all worked together to accomplish our goals.”
Overall, some may look at the team in a negative way, others may look at it as the best football team in Wall’s history. Whichever way that goes, the fact that this team will forever be remembered in the history books of Wall High School’s athletics is undeniable.
BOYS SOCCER TEAM FINISHES ITS BUSINESS
Wall’s boys soccer got T-shirts during the summer with the school logo and five stars above it, representing five championships the Knights won during their history.
The back of the shirt, however, is what stood out.
Unfinished business was the motto for Wall this year led by Coach Garry Linstra and seniors Phil Lyons, Nico Della Pietro, Jake Pepe, Sean Southwell and Christan Cosenza.
Those seniors, mixed in with a talented group of juniors including star goalkeeper Jojo Gisoldi, created yet another force to be reckoned with for the boys soccer team, who made it all the way to the state finals in 2019, losing in a penalty kick shootout.
2020, however, was different. The players were determined to make up for the loss in the prior year and they did just that.
On top of that, it was the first year in the history of Wall boys soccer in which the team went undefeated. Not even the teams of the ‘80s that featured eventual Olympians, national title-winning coaches and pro players could even do what the 2020 team did.
Nobody could come close to the Knights’ soccer team led by Pepe’s goals, Lyons’ dribbling and Gisoldi’s jaw-dropping saves.
The final match of the season was historic for Wall as it was on the brink of being the first undefeated boys soccer team.
The Knights were set to make the stat no more. And they did.
Pepe got a header to put Wall up 1-0, but then Toms River East equalized near the end of the game.
It felt like a punch in the stomach to Wall, but the team stepped up, determined to finish the business.
Gisoldi made a leaping save, defying gravity, leaving Isaac Newton in awe.
Then, the big break came. A foul in Toms River East’s box led to a penalty kick which was calmly converted by centerback Southwell.
“Winning, of course, is a great feeling,” said Gisoldi, “but doing something that’s never been done before is surreal. We joked about going undefeated during preseason not thinking that it would realistically happen, but seeing how far we got from then to now is crazy.”
At the end of the day, the 2020 Wall boys soccer team will forever go down in history as one of the best to ever step on the pitch and the facts are there to show for it.
In fact, the fall of 2020 was as close to a perfect sports season Wall High School has ever had.