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Striking distance


Four-peat. It’s one of those rare achievements for which athletic teams from youth to pro strive, but few achieve.

Southeast Catholic-St. John Neumann athletic teams have enjoyed three-peats; now the next pinnacle seems within reach for the Pirates bowling squad. The wildly successful program already owns 10 Catholic League crowns, including six over the last seven seasons.

It would be a storybook ending for Neumann, which next year will merge its school with St. Maria Goretti.

"With the facility closing, it would be a tremendous honor and a very memorable honor to go out with a four-peat," said coach Gene Mattioli.

The Pirates, who head into 2004 with an 11-5 record, are well aware that they are wearing the Catholic League bull’s-eye, but that’s nothing new. Every season, teams from the Northern and Southern divisions try dethroning the champs.

In 2000, Archbishop Ryan succeeded, defeating the Pirates in the Catholic League semifinals after Neumann had spent three years on top.

The school’s other three-peat came in 1939-41 for the Southeast Catholic basketball team.

Even though Neumann is a perennial contender in bowling, Mattioli cautions his athletes not to take their past success for granted.

"We can’t be satisfied with just winning," the coach said. "We have to keep improving and make sure we are better today than we were yesterday.

"We are not going to get full of ourselves because we have 10 Catholic League championships."

Neumann certainly has the talent in place to make a strong run. The leader is co-captain and returning First Team All-Catholic Matt Stankiewicz — the only player to participate in each of the 2001-03 championship games. He opened the season with a 206-plus average through the local squad’s first nine games, and is coming off a junior year during which he averaged 191. His main goal is another title, but he admitted he’d also like to graduate with MVP honors.

Mattioli calls Stankiewicz "one of the strongest clutch performers in the history of the program." He’s also a focused athlete.

"I am not thinking about the four-peat because I might get too distracted," Stankiewicz said. "I am just taking it one match at a time."

On Thursday, the Pirates closed out the month with a 4-0 loss to Kennedy-Kenrick. It marked the first time in four matches that the Neumann squad was shut out by a Catholic League opponent.

The Pirates’ four returning starters help make the team a tough one to beat. Senior and co-captain Mike Zarrella, another returning First Team All-Catholic, said Stankiewicz sets the example for the group.

"I look up to Matt," Zarrella said. "He is one of the best bowlers ever to bowl at Neumann."

Juniors Steve DiGiovanni and Joe Stankiewicz — Matt’s brother — are the other returning All-Catholics. Sophomore Chris Pezzano and senior Chris Conroy, who both hold 180 averages, round out the varsity squad. The only component missing from last year’s group is Rob McGinnis, who graduated.

Neumann’s consistent success helps draw a standing-room-only crowd at St. Monica Lanes at 16th and Shunk. The bowlers practice for a couple of hours every Sunday and don’t balk at putting in extra time when Mattioli or one of the assistant coaches deems it necessary. As during recent championship runs, assistant head coach Vince Campolongo and assistants Fred Ward and Tony Herner are providing support.

St. Joseph’s Prep is among many teams gunning for the Pirates after losing in the last two championship games. The rivals will meet Jan. 13 and face each other again in the regular-season finale Feb. 10. The Neumann coach is once again confident that his team will be there for the title match.

"They are a dedicated bunch that honestly and sincerely want to get better," Mattioli said.

It doesn’t get much better than six Catholic League titles over seven seasons. Well, it could — but the Pirates aren’t consumed with the thought of making history.

"I don’t think it’s that much pressure," Matt Stankiewicz said. "Everybody is pretty confident."

The Neumann dynasty

Come March, the Neumann bowlers hope to win their fourth straight Catholic League crown, which would mark the first four-peat in school history. With 10 titles since the 1978-79 season, the Pirates have established themselves as one of the Catholic League’s top bowling programs. Here is a brief history of the championship years.

Year Result

2003 Defeated St. Joe’s Prep
2002 Defeated St. Joe’s Prep
2001 Defeated Archbishop Ryan
1999 Defeated St. Joe’s Prep
1998 Defeated Conwell-Egan
1997 Defeated Conwell-Egan
1992 Defeated Bishop Egan
1987 Defeated Father Judge
1985 Defeated Bishop Egan
1979 Defeated Germantown*
1979 Defeated North Catholic

*The win over Germantown was for the Philadelphia city title.

Remaining schedule

Jan. 8 Bonner Away
Jan. 13 St. Joe’s Prep Away
Jan. 20 Roman Catholic Home
Jan. 22 O’Hara Away
Jan. 27 Carroll Home
Jan. 29 Kennedy-Kenrick Home
Feb. 5 Bonner Home
Feb. 10 St. Joe’s Prep Home

Feb. 17 Playoffs First Round
Feb. 19 Quarterfinals
Feb. 24 Semifinals
Feb. 28 Championship

All home games are bowled at St. Monica Lanes. All matches start at 3:30 p.m.

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