Deer Lakes boys soccer motivated to return to WPIAL championship game and more

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Friday, September 4, 2020 | 12:41 PM


Last season didn’t end the way the Deer Lakes boys soccer team wanted.

In the first year under coach Dan Yates, the Lancers recorded a 17-6 overall record, went 13-1 in WPIAL Section 2-2A play and earned their first WPIAL championship appearance in school history. But, they lost to eventual PIAA champion Quaker Valley in double overtime at Highmark Stadium.

Heading into their second year under Yates, the Lancers are motivated to take that next step this season and bring home WPIAL gold.

“We’re not happy with how it finished and we obviously want more than a WPIAL runner-up,” senior Mike Sullivan said. “I think that mindset has been set in since we got here, with the summer workouts and stuff. Everyone has been locked in and we know what we want.”

Although the Lancers lost plenty of talent to graduation, including Ryan Butler, Tyler Tofil, AJ Dorman and others, they return a core group of seniors who have contributed to the team’s success the past few years.

Sullivan, who was the Valley News Dispatch Boys Soccer Player of the Year last year, returns with senior midfielders Devin Murray and Colton Spence. But Yates will have to fill in holes in his back line, which could be their biggest challenge heading into the season.

“We lost a lot of guys, with five graduating out and guys choosing to do other things,” Yates said. “But, that’s what you get with a small school, and it’s just we have to deal with what we got. The plan is to go one better than we did last year, and with the players that we got we should be in and around that area.”

The good thing for Yates is he prepared for this moment last season when he gave several of his younger players plenty of minutes during their conference games. They won seven of those games by five goals or more and after the Lancers went up by enough, Yates would insert his younger players to gain the experience.

“We lost three of our defenders, but we had multiple players dropping into those positions to learn the system and the way we play,” Yates said. “So, when it came to this year, they were ready to start, and they were ready to go.”

Although they’ll have to replace the defenders in front of him, the Lancers also will return sophomore goalkeeper Nick Braun. As a freshman, Braun came up big for the Lancers on several occasions and made key saves in clutch situations. Yates thought that season was crucial for his development.

“That was massive for him,” Yates said. “He’s grown personally, his personality has grown, his confidence has grown, and he’s developed into a good keeper and a good kid. He was quiet when he started but once he got a couple of starts under his belt he was lights out, and he was unbelievable for us last year and we’re hoping it continues.”

Sullivan, Murray and Spence have been at the forefront of the Lancers’ success since they were sophomores. In 2018, they helped the Lancers go 21-2-1 overall and undefeated in section play, before making a run to the PIAA Class AA championship game.

It was the type of season that helped build up experience for the trio, and they’ve leaned on that ever since, giving the Lancers a backbone from the back to the front of their formation. Yates said that’s been crucial since taking over.

“For the spine of the team, it’s huge having them,” Yates said about the trio. “The way that they play and hold people accountable it’s huge, and it just drives what we want to do here at Deer Lakes. They have certain ambitions and goals of what they want to achieve, and they need help from the other players so they drive them and help them get better.”

In hopes of returning to the WPIAL championship game and advancing further in the PIAA tournament, the Lancers feel like they need to lean on what they had during that 2018 state championship run, because getting back to that stage, well, that’s the goal.

“I think we just need to come together on the team and focus on the team aspect of the sport,” Spence said. “We need to come together like we did our sophomore year when we made that run to the state championship game. It’s all about that.”

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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