Deer Lakes boys soccer aims to cap record-breaking season with PIAA title

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Friday, November 16, 2018 | 8:36 PM


Deer Lakes could sense the excitement at school this week after it secured a spot in the PIAA soccer championship for the first time in school history.

But as much as the Lancers appreciated the congratulatory messages from principals and teachers, students and staff, they had already moved on from their come-from-behind victory over Shady Side Academy in the Class AA semifinals, putting their 100 percent focus on Saturday’s championship game against District 3 runner-up Fleetwood.

The Lancers and Fleetwood will meet at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium, with the game televised by PCN.

“This ride has been amazing, but I think our coach has done a great job of telling us, look, we can look back on the season when it’s done,” junior Alex Rodgers said. “As of now, we’ve still got one game left, and I think that’s going to take our full attention.”

A win Saturday would put a bow on a record-breaking season for Deer Lakes (21-1-1), one that already includes the first section title in 15 years and the deepest postseason run in school history.

“It’s great to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” sophomore Michael Sullivan said. “This team, it’s a great family atmosphere, and I’m really looking forward to Saturday.”

Deer Lakes had high hopes before the season with all but one starter returning from a WPIAL quarterfinal appearance.

Still, it’s one thing to picture a trip to the PIAA finals during preseason practice. It’s another thing to actually accomplish it, and another thing on top of that to return from Hershey with the only thing sweeter than chocolate: a first-place trophy and gold medals all around.

“We knew this year it was an actual possibility that we could do that,” senior Nick Caro said. “And we proved that even though we’re third out of (the WPIAL), we can still come out and beat every team in front of us and make the state championship and win.”

Every game represents new territory for Deer Lakes, a team that starts just two seniors and one that needed a WPIAL consolation victory over Charleroi to advance to the state tournament.

Yet the Lancers haven’t bowed in the big moments yet, winning their PIAA first-round game in double overtime and getting late goals to beat WPIAL runner-up Quaker Valley in the quarterfinals and WPIAL champion Shady Side Academy in the semifinals.

“I think guys are just used to the pressure by now,” Rodgers said. “We’ve been in big pressure games, like against Charleroi when it was do-or-die. From then on, it’s just been the same situation. I think we need to understand we can’t let these nerves get to us and just play the game.”

The semifinal win featured a late-game comeback against the team that denied the Lancers a trip to the WPIAL finals.

“I think it’s been the mantra of the season, almost,” coach Jordan Wiegand said. “We just keep getting in these situations, and we keep getting out of it. All of it, honestly, is a testament to their hard work and determination. I told them we’re not going to be as technical as the other teams. We’ll be just as balanced, if not on an even level with most of the teams we play in AA. But it’s going to come down to, are we going to outwork our opponent?”

Saturday’s challenge will come in playing a wholly unfamiliar opponent. Deer Lakes played Shady Side Academy, their section rival, four times this season, and the Lancers knew plenty about Quaker Valley, a consistently strong WPIAL Class AA team. Fleetwood (19-6-1) is an unknown.

But Deer Lakes doesn’t anticipate that causing a problem, so long as the Lancers stick to what has worked for them throughout the season.

“As a team, we know what we have to get done,” junior Ryan Butler said. “We have a great group of players, and also our coach is a phenomenal coach. He knows what we have to do to get done and takes charge right away and tells us we have to stay focused.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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