October 26, 2022

After Playing for the Dominican Republic U-17 Team, Goalie Pena Emerging as a Standout for Hun Boys’ Soccer

GO TIME: Hun School boys’ soccer goalie Diego Pena clears the ball in a game earlier this season. Last week, senior star Pena made six saves in a losing cause as second-seeded Hun fell 1-0 to third-seeded and eventual champion Pennington in the Mercer County Tournament semis. The Raiders, who topped Lawrenceville 3-1 last Saturday to improve to 11-3-2, will be competing in the Prep A state tournament this week where they are seeded second and will be hosting a semifinal contest on October 27. In addition, Hun will be hosting Peddie on October 29 in a regular season game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After spending this past summer playing for the Dominican Republic U-17 national soccer program, Diego Pena was primed for his sophomore season with the Hun School boys’ soccer team.

“You work there with a lot of professional people and they help shape the way you are as a person and as a soccer player,” said Hun goalie Pena.

Last week, Pena showed how good a player he has become, making six saves, including some spectacular stops, in a losing cause as second-seeded Hun fell 1-0 to third-seeded and eventual champion Pennington in the Mercer County Tournament.

With Hun having shut out the Red Hawks 3-0 in a regular season contest on September 21, Pena and his teammates were ready for a battle in the rematch.

“We were coming into this game with a lot of hype,” said Pena. “It was a game we were looking for. We have got to show up and that is what we did. The first game was a really tough game and we came out on top. In this game, they obviously wanted revenge and they came pretty hard.”

Pena held the fort with a lot of help from Hun’s back line.

“I couldn’t ask for more from my defenders, it was a great game for them,” said Pena. “They had a complete game, they cleared everything they should have.”

A tough bounce on the game winner from Pennington’s Justin Davidyock which came with 1:30 left in the second half made the difference in the game.

“I just saw that that kid got it on the top off the edge,” said Pena. “He was a lefty so that ball went a little bit like a swerve and caught me off guard.”

Hun is seeded second in the Prep A state tournament and could get a rubber match with Pennington, who is seeded third and plays sixth-seeded Blair in the quarters with victor playing the Raiders in the semis on October 27.

“It is that trilogy,” said Pena. “We have to get that final game and we have to win it.”

Hun head coach Pat Quirk was expecting a hard-fought game with the Red Hawks in the MCT clash.

“We knew they were going to come out hard, it didn’t surprise us at all,” said Quirk. “I thought we weathered them. With 10-15 minutes left in the half, I thought we were settled in. We were doing alright moving the ball around.”

The superb play of Pena helped Hun weather the storm. “Diego had a couple of big saves for us,” said Quirk. “He is a great spot back there for us. As a sophomore, he can only get better. I am excited to have him. He distributes the ball well; he got Joey [Bucchere] dangerous on the one.”

While Hun had plenty of possession, it struggled in the final third of the field.

“I don’t know if we were a little more conservative and sat back a little bit,” said Quirk. “We were in a tough situation the last couple of games, other than WWP-South (a 6-1 win in the MCT quarters on October 15), we have been struggling a little bit to score.”

The Raiders got some tough calls as an apparent second half goal was waved off by the officials and a first half collision between the Pennington goalie and a Hun player on the way to goal didn’t result in a call even through it looked like a potential penalty kick situation.

“I thought we had one down there and they called offsides,” said Quirk. “We had one down here in the first half that we thought should have been a penalty. We had some dangerous opportunities.”

Hun did get a call as a Pennington player was red-carded with 26:44 left in regulation but the Raiders failed to capitalize on the one-man advantage despite several forays into the box

“We were getting some guys in dangerous positions there,” said Quirk. “We kept whipping them into the box. They are good inside the box, they can defend well.”

While Quirk was disappointed by the result, he was proud of his squad’s effort.

“I thought we played as best we could, other than scoring goals,” said Quirk, whose team topped Lawrenceville 3-1 last Saturday in a regular season game to improve to 11-3-2. “We handled what they had and the guys that they brought to us. We made a little adjustment with them coming down the left side the whole first half. We handled that better in the second half.”

In Pena’s view, Hun will handle things better down the stretch in the wake of the setback.

“We learned that we need to be playing 100 percent all the time,” said Pena. “We can’t lose focus or anything — we need to be playing hard.”