Deer Lakes boys soccer has unfinished business in PIAA playoffs

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Friday, November 13, 2020 | 1:40 PM


As the Deer Lakes boys soccer team took the field for practice earlier this week at Lancers Stadium, players were still buzzing from capturing the first WPIAL title in school history.

They had a few days off to rest, celebrate and relish in what they had accomplished Nov. 5 at North Allegheny’s Newman Stadium. But once they stepped back onto the practice field, the Lancers turned their attention toward something else they have wanted to accomplish since the beginning of last season.

“We’ve got three more final games to play,” Deer Lakes senior Mike Sullivan said. “The biggest thing through the WPIAL playoffs and now the state playoffs has been everything is a final for us. You win and you move on; you don’t win, you go home and I am not ready to go home yet. So, we have three more games to go and we need to keep winning. We’re looking forward to getting to Hershey again.”

That journey starts in the PIAA quarterfinals at noon Saturday when the Lancers (15-1) host District 9 champion Karns City (13-1-1), which defeated District 5 champion Bedford, 1-0, in the first round of the PIAA tournament.

Two years ago, the Lancers made an improbable run to the PIAA Class 2A title game in Hershey when Sullivan and his classmates were just sophomores. They lost that game to District 3 runner-up Fleetwood, 1-0 in overtime, and ever since, they have been looking to return.

They came close last season, falling short in the WPIAL Class 2A title game to Quaker Valley, which went on to capture the PIAA title. Then, they fell to District 10 champion Mercyhurst Prep in the PIAA quarterfinals.

Being that close just gave the Lancers all the motivation they needed.

“We felt that first real heartbreak in Hershey in 2018 and then again last year losing to Quaker Valley in the WPIAL final and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Sullivan said.

The Lancers got that bad taste out of their mouth, but they are looking for something a little sweeter as they start their PIAA tournament run, which presents a whole new array of challenges.

At this point in the season, the Lancers will be going up against teams they have not seen or faced before, which makes it tough to develop a game plan. Some of the Lancers were able to check out the Karns City and Bedford matchup, but Yates still believes they must stick to their game.

“We’re going to be playing against teams we don’t know about, we’re going to be playing styles we have played against but we’re going to be playing against kids from Central Pa. that are built differently,” Yates said. “Kids up in Karns City are built differently, there’s something up in the water in them parts that produce absolute specimens of human beings. So, we have to deal with that and play smarter, faster, side-to-side. We have to play our game, and the pace of the game has to be intensified.”

Along with having that type of mentality, Yates said the Lancers also need to replicate their performance from their WPIAL semifinal victory over Mt. Pleasant. They won 7-1 that day, and it was an all-around team effort that saw six different players score goals.

“We just have to be held absolutely accountable, every single one of us,” Yates said. “The 20 players on this squad won the WPIAL championship, the 20 players on this squad want to go win states. Whether they play or not they are a big factor because we can still do special things. The mentality and the positivity is there.”

The Lancers are coming off one of the biggest wins in program history, but they aren’t satisfied. Now they are looking to leave their mark on not just the program, but Deer Lakes in general.

“The focus has switched to winning states,” Yates said, “and with this team, if they go and win states, they are going to go down in Deer Lakes history as one of the best teams in any sport.”

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

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