The dynamic duo

Mount Hebron standouts Mike Napolitano and Justin Martinelli are good friends who have played soccer together since childhood

Soccer

September 13, 2006|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,sun reporter

Mike Napolitano's contribution came from the left edge of the penalty area, one swift move past a defender followed by a clean strike from 18 yards that quickly found the back of the net.

A few minutes later, Justin Martinelli did his share, successfully challenging a defender to win the right side before sending over a precise cross that found a teammate in close. The result was another goal for the Mount Hebron boys soccer team.

Although it was only one half of a scrimmage a couple weeks back - the team's first dress rehearsal of the season - the evidence was clear: With senior forwards Napolitano and Martinelli up front, the No. 7 Vikings have the offense to make a lot of opposing defenses look bad.

"The big thing for them is they both have a lot of respect for each other," said Mount Hebron coach Mike Linsenmeyer, whose Vikings are coming off an 11-4-1 season in 2005. "They're both working hard and working together. They're communicating, showing confidence in one another and always willing to pass the ball to each other - those are big things."

The county's top one-two scoring punch is an ideal blend of tenacity and finesse.

Martinelli is tough on the ball, a physical presence who has a knack for scoring big goals. Four of his 11 goals last season decided games, and each brought more confidence, which he takes into this season.

Napolitano is a tireless worker who won't stop until a goal is scored. Moving to striker after playing midfield most of last season, he finished with seven goals and five assists.

In their first two games this season, Napolitano scored four goals and Martineli had two assists as the Vikings went 1-0-1 at the Arundel Tournament.

Having played club soccer together since childhood, the two standouts are more than comfortable side by side.

"I always feel like I know exactly where he is on the field," said Napolitano, who is starting his third season on varsity. "I could have my back to him and know he'll be making a run to the corner or something. And the big thing is, he's my good friend. I know I can talk to him, yell at him, and he can yell at me, too. It helps out a lot."

With good communication and a combination of persistence and patience, Martinelli is confident the goals will come.

"Sometimes it can get a little frustrating up there, but we know we've got to keep working hard and things will go our way," he said. "Every chance you get, you've got to be ready to put it away. That's all it really is."

While most teams feel fortunate to have one proven scorer, the bonus of having two puts a smile on Linsenmeyer's face. As for opposing coaches, expect some puzzled looks.

"It's a very difficult situation. You always put your best defender on one kid, but then you still have the other kid running loose," Atholton coach Roch DeFrances said. "Then you maybe have to waste a midfielder on the other kid and that changes your whole system. You also think about playing your sweeper back a little farther for more security."

Fellow senior Zach Barnett, an All-State selection last season at sweeper who also should play a big role for the Vikings this fall, gets a firsthand look at what Martinelli and Napolitano offer each day in practice.

Barnett has seen Martinelli's offense grow to the point where he has no definite answer on how to stop him. He also acknowledges being turned around from time to time by the number of moves Napolitano has.

"They're two of the most talented players I've ever played with, and they should be real tough to handle," Barnett said. "I think it's the combination of size, skills and speed. It's fun to know that I can get them the ball and watch them do their thing for a little bit."

With Martinelli and Napolitano handling the scoring chores, Barnett solid in back and several other reliable returning starters to go with some promising newcomers, the Vikings have an opportunity to make it a special season.

"Every year, we start with the same goals: the county, region and then states. The main thing for our team is to just work hard every day and hopefully we can get the job done," Martinelli said.

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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