A few days before the start of the state tournament, Harrison coach Mike Rusek told his goalkeeper Ismael Kone the words his junior had dreamed of hearing since he was a freshman — you’re the starting goalie.
During the regular season, Kone and fellow junior Jonathan Hermo shared the goalkeeper spot with both playing a half each.
“He told me when we made the states ‘hey man, this is your job and you got to focus now. You’re going to be the starting keeper,’” Kone said. “I was like, ‘alright, I’m going to get the job done.’ I was excited. It was my dream since freshman year to be the starter. Now that I’m a junior, I got the starting position.”
To say Kone has gotten the job done would be an understatement. On Wednesday, Nov. 2, Kone recorded a clean sheet in the North 2, Group 2 semifinal against Hanover Park. Then, three nights later in the final against Voorhees, Kone posted another shutout.
Kone’s play in net was instrumental in the Blue Tide’s first sectional title since 2016 and makes him The Observer Athlete of the Week.
“We noticed in practices and in the recent games that Ismael is just a big-time gamer,” said Rusek. “At Harrison, we’re not known for shutouts that’s for sure, but when you have a kid like that in goal, you do feel like we can pull off a shutout today, even against an offense like (Voorhees).”
Voorhees scored 13 goals in its first three state tournament games and presented one of Harrison’s greatest challenges this season.
Shortly after Harrison took a 1-0 lead, Kone made a crucial stop in the 20th minute when German Burset Romero ripped a left-footed shot from the right side of the field toward the near post to preserve the lead.
“After the first shot, I realized this was serious,” Kone said. “I had to wake up, I had to focus for the entire game. And we got it done.”
Kone also used his 6-foot-3 height as well as his considerable length and mobility to come out of the net and stop several Voorhees threats before they could become serious.
That size and length not only makes it harder for opposing offenses to get the ball past Kone, but in the eyes of Rusek, it gives Harrison a physically imposing presence it hasn’t had since All-State goalie Diego Diaz led the Blue Tide to three consecutive state championships from 2006-08.
“He’s just a great all-around athlete, he’s a good kid,” Rusek said. “We really feel comfortable and confident with him back there as our last guy.”
“He’s been very clutch,” said junior captain Diego Flores Sanchez, who scored the lone goal of the night. “He’s got insane length, he’s speedy out there. He’s an amazing goalie.”
For the season, Kone has made 65 saves for Harrison.
As a sophomore, he made 55 saves in a part-time role as the backup to Emiliano Torres.
But now the job is Kone’s and his alone. He and the rest of the Blue Tide will look to continue the scoreless streak on Wednesday, Nov. 9, against a very good Ramsey team, which is ranked No. 10 in the NJ.com Top 20.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)