Armed with playoff experience, Deer Lakes boys soccer is ready to make another run

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Friday, October 18, 2019 | 5:39 PM


Beginning on Saturday, boys soccer teams from around the area will begin their trek to the WPIAL championship game at Highmark Stadium.

The Class AA No. 2 Deer Lakes Lancers will approach their first-round game with No. 15 Steel Valley, along with any other games, as if they are already there.

“We gave ourselves three steps at the beginning of the year,” first-year Deer Lakes coach Dan Yates said. “We have one of three. Now it’s time to get the WPIAL final. We’re not going to discount or discourage anyone, but we have four finals now and Saturday is the first one. We treat every single game as a WPIAL final now.”

This stage of the season was new for the Lancers a year ago. They captured the first section title in school history, then lost to Shady Side Academy in the semifinals of the WPIAL tournament. But their season wasn’t over and they beat Charleroi in the consolation match to punch their ticket to the PIAA tournament.

From there, the Lancers made a historic run. They beat District 10 champion Fairview 1-0 in double overtime before knocking out Quaker Valley in the quarterfinals. Their run continued when they got revenge on Shady Side Academy with a 2-1 victory to earn a berth into the state championship game.

Last year was the Lancers’ first experience with the nervousness that comes with performing on the playoff stage. Now, they are versed in what it takes to excel at that level and are more confident heading into this year.

“We have the experience now,” junior midfielder Devin Murray said. “I think that will really help us push through the playoffs and help us play our style of soccer.”

From the beginning of the season, Deer Lakes has done just that. They’ve recorded eight shutouts, outscored opponents 67-14 and have tested their abilities against top teams like Erie Cathedral Prep, Hampton and Shady Side Academy.

Although the Lancers only lost two starters from last year’s team, they have a different look and feel to them this year. Yates has implemented a style of play that the players have adapted to seamlessly, and they’ve also started to get contributions from younger players as well.

Freshman Ryan Hanes has held down the middle of the field all year long and Nick Braun, another freshman, has locked down the goalkeeping position to solidify the defense after the graduation of Jesse Greyshock.

“It was massive,” Yates said. “We’ve had a couple other kids that have filled in throughout the year too and they are going to be big for the school in a couple years’ time to bed them into the system and get them used to varsity soccer.”

Another big transformation was the position change of Colton Spence. After scoring 21 goals and dishing out 24 assists last season, Yates moved Spence to the back line to solidify the defense alongside senior Ryan Butler.

Throughout the season, the group has become accustomed to playing alongside each other and they’ve hit their stride at just the right time, allowing three goals in their last eight games.

“It’s been very important for us,” Spence said. “We’ve been implementing different people and have been getting used to each other. I think we’re good where we are at right now, and I’ve settled in pretty comfortably after playing that position for club.”

Just like several other teams that will be looking to stop them, the Lancers have the ultimate goal of capturing the first WPIAL championship in school history. After their run last year, they have an idea of what they are capable of.

“There is the sense of, we know what we are capable of,” junior Mike Sullivan said. “We know the team we have around us. I mean, we have to see how we do, but I like our chances.”

Deer Lakes will take on Steel Valley at noon Saturday at Hampton High School.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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