Track and field has helped Ridgewood’s Patryk Panocha excel at soccer

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In the Ridgewood boys soccer team’s first playoff game, center back Patryk Panocha scored the first goal of his varsity career. He headed in a ball to give the Rebels a one-goal lead over Prosser in the second half of the Class 2A Ridgewood Regional semifinal.

“I had so many emotions running through [me],” Panocha said. “All my teammates hugging me, it was just great.”

The fifth-seeded Rebels won the game 3-2 in penalty kicks on Oct. 21 and then beat Bulls Prep 1-0 on Friday to advance to the Ridgewood Sectional semifinals. They are scheduled to play top-seeded Elmwood Park at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday

Panocha, a junior, has been a major part of the team’s success this year. He pairs with senior center back Matt Lechowski to form Ridgewood’s last line of defense.

“He’s really fast,” Lechowski said of Panocha. “When I can’t get to the ball, he’s always there for me. If I push up a little bit too high and a forward sneaks in through the back on the run, he’ll always get there. He always gives it his all, 100 percent every game.”

Panocha credits some of his success to his time on the track and field team. He does a little bit of everything for the Rebels. Panocha runs the 4×200-meter relay and 200 dash, and even qualified for the 2014 Class 2A state meet in the discus (with a mark of 115 feet, 2 inches) and shot put (37-5). Track has helped with his first step, endurance and acceleration, Ridgewood boys soccer coach Rob St. John and Panocha said.

“There’s a great coach [Ridgewood’s Tony Guagenti] coaching [track], he really got me in shape,” Panocha said. “If it wasn’t for track, I don’t know if I would have been this good at soccer.”

Panocha’s breakout performance came at the Adidas National Soccer Showcase in Ohio during the summer of 2013. After spending the previous year on the freshman team, Panocha was brought along as a substitute. In his first game of the tournament, Panocha was put in at center back. He played well in that game and in every tournament game there after.

“He just got better and better with time,” St. John said. “We kind of all looked at each other, my other coaches and I, and we were like, ‘We might have missed the boat on this guy. This guy’s not just a good player — he’s starting-varsity material.’ ”

Now, he’s more than a starter. Panocha figures to be one of the team’s most important returners next year.

“He’s a great general out there,” St. John said. “He’s not one of our captains this year, but I truly anticipate that changing next year as a senior. He’s a great, great young man. I can’t say enough great things about him.”

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