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Flyers build memories from stellar soccer season


Members of the 2020 St. Joseph Flyers’ soccer team are: front row from left to right, Nick Pauley and Jimmy Mahlmeister; second row left to right, Tommy Sheridan, Kaden Cleary, Matthew Heighton, Brady Medinger, Bryson Burcham, Zachary Johnson, Mark Hodges ; third row from left to right, Matthew Sheridan, Blake Stuntebeck, Mark Hodges, Andrew White, Elijah Rowe, , Dru Canter, Hayden Wilcoxon and Michael Mahlmeister; fourth row from left to right, head coach Mike Balestra, Jackson Rowe, Bryce Balestra, Aaron Collins, Jared Johnson, Max Weber, J.C. Damron, Bryce Sheridan, Will Whaley and coach Dwane Johnson. (Photo By Tim Gearhart)

Jim Walker
jim.walker@irontontribune.com

In the year 2045, the St. Joseph Flyers’ boys’ soccer team might have a 25th reunion of his season’s team.
There will be plenty to remember but they won’t have to stretch the truth to make their accomplishments appear better than were actually compiled.
The Flyers posted only the second unbeaten regular season in the program’s history, set a record for wins in a season with 17, set a record for consecutive wins with 17 as they opened the season with a 1-1 tie and never lost until the district finals when Lynchburg-Clay won 3-2 in a shootout after two scoreless overtime periods.
St. Joseph only allowed seven goals all season as they posted 12 shutouts. Senior goalkeeper Jimmy Mahlmeister set a new school record with 568 saves. Bryce Balestra set a record for assists with 55, Jackson Rowe finished second for the boys’ program with 60 careers goals and is third in assists with 37.
The senior group posted an impressive 51-14-6 record over four seasons that included back-to-back Southern Ohio Conference championships, back-to-back sectional titles and two straight district runners-up.
The seniors included Balestra, Aaron Collins, J.C. Damron, Jared Johnson, Rowe, Max Weber, Mahlmeister — all seven played 4 years — Will Whaley and Bryce Sheridan.
“We will miss all nine seniors for sure going forward,” said Flyers’ coach Mike Balestra. “Bryce, Jackson and J.C. have been mainstays and leaders in our offense for several years. Jared, Jimmy, Max and Will were strong in the back for us and our defensive leaders. Aaron and Bryce (Sheridan) gave us fresh legs at defense and midfield when needed.
“We are blessed to have been on the same team with them. With their work ethic and dedication, I foresee great accomplishments in their future.”
Despite the success the team enjoyed last year, Mahlmeister said the COVID-19 situation left a lot of uncertainty heading into their senior year.
“With sports shut down due to the Covid restrictions, many of us worked out on our own to keep our skills sharp and to stay in game shape. We all wanted to be ready to take the field whenever we had the green light to start the season,” said Mahlmeister.
Rowe said the Flyers achieve their success this season didn’t come by accident.
“We had a great season, one of the best our school has ever seen. We went undefeated in the regular season and it was a great accomplishment,” said Rowe.
“We played some good teams, but we worked harder. Every practice and every game made every single one of us better.”
Bryce Balestra said the goals were set early and the work began immediately afterwards.
“We set a team goal at the beginning of the season to win the SOC-1 and go further in the state tournament than we did last season,” said Balestra. “Each practice we worked hard to improve our touches and passes for the benefit of the team.
“In practice, we would work on fiend the open space, making good runs, talking to each other and breaking down defensively. We were coached that every player needed to be fundamentally sound for us to be successful.”
Rowe said that a lot of people were instrumental in the team’s success, especially the coaching staff.
“Coach Balestra, coach Johnson and Justin Mahlmeister worked hard to prepare us for our games. Coach Balestra did a great job of giving us our game plans and preparing us mentally for the game. Coach Johnson worked hard with the defense. Justin worked with Jimmy Mahlmeister in the goal and his contribution to the team showed.”
Jimmy Mahlmeister, Bryce Balestra and Rowe all agreed that the camaraderie among the team — especially the seniors — was a key element.
“We worked hard and earned the season we had,” said Rowe. “Our group of seniors have played together since we were eight-years-old so the chemistry among us is great. Just playing for each other was our motivation.
Mahlmeister said the junior season helped ignite a fire in his classmates and push them to step up for their senior season.
“Our soccer season last year showed us what we were capable of, so our senior class really wanted to win the SOC 1 championship on the field and that next step by winning a district title,” said Mahlmeister. “Those two goals were our motivation since we first started working I the summer.
“We were lucky during our soccer careers to have great coaches, families and fans who always supported us win, lose or draw. We’ve always viewed our team as a family and we try to work for each other and support each other.”
With goals in front of them and a strong schedule, there was plenty of reason to believe that the Flyers were under a lot of pressure to accomplish what they set out to do.
Not so, said Bryce Balestra.
“I didn’t feel any pressure during the season. We never thought about losing. We expected to win,” said Balestra.
“There are 11 of us who have been playing together since the fourth grade and most of the others since junior high. We play together unselfishly, trusting each other and doing everything possible not to let the team down. This is the bond we have. This is what makes us special and motivated the senior class. We are St. Joe!”
Although the senior class has compiled plenty of honors and memories, they are proud of the legacy they will leave behind for future teams.
“While we fell short of winning the district championship, we hope that we left our mark on the St. Joe soccer program and set a good example for future St. Joe soccer players,” said Mahlmeister.
Balestra said falling short of their second goal was disappointing, but it was still a great season that the team could be proud to enjoy.
“We gave it our best shot and came up short. It was a team effort to get that far in the tournament. We walked off the field with our heads held high, proud to be a Flyer,” said Balestra.
Rowe was more pragmatic in his final thoughts.
“We knew most of us were never going to play the sport again, so we really wanted to have a season to remember, and we did just that,” said Rowe.
Yes, memories to last a lifetime. Or at least until the reunion.

St. Joseph Flyers
2020 Soccer Results
St. Joseph 1, Lucasville Valley 1
St. Joseph 11, Chesapeake 1
St. Joseph 4, New Boston 0
St. Joseph 4, Portsmouth Clay 0
St. Joseph 5, New Boston 0
St. Joseph 6, Chesapeake 0
St. Joseph 9, Western 0
St. Joseph 4, Pt. Pleasant 1
St. Joseph 4, Fairland 0
St. Joseph 10, West Union 1
St. Joseph 1, Lucasville Valley 0
St. Joseph 7, Fairland 0
St. Joseph 3, Portsmouth Clay 0
St. Joseph 7, Russell, Ky. 0
St. Joseph 13, Belpre 0
Sectional Tournament
St. Joseph 7, Zane Trace 0
District Tournament
St. Joseph 2, Minford 1
St. Joseph 2, Lynchburg-Clay 3 (shootout)
Record: 17-1-1 with 12 shutouts
All-District
First Team
Bryce Balestra
Jimmy Mahlmeister
Jackson Rowe
Second Team
J.C. Damron
Jared Johnson
Honorable Mention
Max Weber
Matthew Sheridan
All-SOC
First team
Bryce Balestra
Jimmy Mahlmeister
Jackson Rowe
J.C. Damron
Jared Johnson
Michael Mahlmeister
Matthew Sheridan
Max Weber
Second Team
Bryson Burcham
Zachary Johnson
Will Whaley
Defensive Player of the Year
Jimmy Mahlmeister
Offensive Player of the Year
Bryce Balestra
Coach of the Year
Mike Balestra
Senior Academic Award: Bryce Balestra, Jared Johnson, Jackson Rowe, Will Whaley, and Max Weber. Must have a 3.70 GPA or higher and participate in soccer.
Team Academic Award: St. Joseph Central Catholic boys’ soccer team. Must have a team GPA of 3.0. St. Joseph had a 3.61 GPA.