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3 seniors hoping to lead Palumbo to soccer playoffs

Academy at Palumbo boys soccer captains (from left) Reis Hoxha, Denilso Diaz and Carlos Perez discuss strategy while taking the field against Franklin Learning Center on Sept. 14. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Reis Hoxha wants one more kick at the playoffs.

The Academy at Palumbo senior got a taste of postseason soccer during his sophomore year when the Griffins won their division and won a pair of Public League playoff games before wrapping up the season.

All the work the Griffins clocked in leading up to the 2022 season is backed by the inspiration of another playoff run.

“We felt that once and we want to do it again,” said Hoxha, who hails from Port Richmond. “It’s been fun. We’re just getting back on the field together and trying to get our chemistry back. There’s a lot of new faces this year. We lost about six players (to graduation) so it’s definitely helpful to get some games in and get better and prove ourselves every game.”

The Griffins have had mixed results through their first four games but seem on the brink of turning the corner. An opening-day 3-0 win over Bodine set the tempo and a 9-1 victory over Franklin Learning Center showed how dominant they can be. But the Griffins are still learning some early-season lessons in one-goal losses to Olney and Bartram. 

“We think we have a pretty good chance of going to the playoffs,” said senior Denilso Diaz, who lives near 10th and Oregon. “We went to overtime with Olney and that was a new thing for us. I’ve been playing for four years, and that’s never happened.”

Academy at Palumbo senior Denilso Diaz carries the ball past defenders in a game against Franklin Learning Center on Sept. 14. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

The regular season is all about learning and Hoxha, Diaz and fellow four-year starter Carlos Perez are the guys who will be leaned on for experience.

“It’s new to me since I’ve never been in that role before,” said Perez, who lives in the Italian Market neighborhood. “I’m in the back with two new guys on defense and I’m just trying to show them how it’s done.”

Through the first four games, Academy at Palumbo has shown plenty of offensive sparks from all corners as seven different players have scored at least one goal, with Hoxha holding the team lead with four, thanks to a hat trick against Franklin Learning Center. 

“Everyone was passing me the ball and I got a lot of chances,” Hoxha said. “When everybody creates that many chances, everything goes well.”

Academy at Palumbo senior Reis Hoxha blasts a shot that finds the net for a goal against Franklin Learning Center on Sept. 14. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

They are hoping things continue to go well. The Griffins are young, aside from their three seniors, but there is a lot of optimism in regard to this season and beyond.

“We have a very young team,” said Licinio Ferreira, who started his fourth year as the team’s coach. “We only have three seniors and we have a lot of ninth-graders, which is great for the future of the program, but they are raw. They have a little to learn on positioning, but I’m very confident.”

The conference schedule kicks into high gear in the next few weeks. The Griffins are welcoming the challenge.

“Everyone is playing very good,” said Diaz. “I like the way our chemistry has been building up since we started playing. I really like how we’re playing.”

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