Deer Lakes boys soccer wants to carry momentum after upset win

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Monday, October 18, 2021 | 9:45 AM


The Deer Lakes boys soccer team is preparing to defend its title and might just be hitting its stride at the right time.

On Oct. 13, the Lancers pulled out a 2-1 win at Shady Side Academy, handing Class 2A’s top-ranked team its first loss of the season.

It was a marquee victory for a program that lost to the Bulldogs on its home field, 5-0, just three weeks earlier.

“They’re an outstanding team from top to bottom,” first-year Deer Lakes coach Aaron Smith said of Shady Side. “Going in, the message to the boys was, if they score, they score. They have some very high-end players, and you plan on them scoring. If they score — and it’s probably going to happen — but just don’t cave.”

Smith said that the closer they got to the start of the match, the better he started to feel about his team’s chances.

“I saw them warming up and brought them back in and was like, ‘Guys, I think we have a shot tonight.’

“When you play 80 minutes hard, anything can happen.”

That said, Smith recognizes Shady Side had the better of the play for the majority of the game, but his team capitalized on its minimal chances.

And that’s what Deer Lakes has done all season. The Lancers haven’t stockpiled lopsided wins but have played strong defense, gotten excellent goalkeeping, and scored when needed.

The win over the Bulldogs gave the team an 8-3-1 record, 7-1-1 in Section 2-2A.

“They’re the most skilled team I’ve coached,” Smith said of his group. “What I wanted to instill in this team is grit. This team, if you look back at their records over the years, has not been an underdog. They’ve been the counterpart.

“But you have to work your butt off, getting back as a team, getting up as a team, and keeping your mental state and staying positive.”

Offensively, the team has been paced by a highly skilled forward in Ryan Hanes, who had 15 goals through Oct. 13.

“From top to bottom, his skill level, his intensity … he’s a complete player,” Smith said. “He’s a great kid to work with. You can have a conversation with him and he just gets it. And he has a fire. If we lose a game, he lets you know about it.”

Mason Metzler has added a solid scoring punch, while Ruger Beer and Michael Butler stepped up to score the goals in the win over Shady Side.

On the back end, the Lancers are stout, allowing 13 goals in their first 12 games. That starts with their goalkeeper, Nick Braun.

“When you have a player with his kind of experience, especially in big games, he just keeps us in it,” Smith noted. “I don’t know anyone else who is making some of these saves. It resonates with the back line. They know they can count on him.”

Deer Lakes has made three consecutive appearances in the district semifinals and two trips to the WPIAL championships, including last year’s win — also a 2-1 triumph over Shady Side. The Lancers went 55-10-1 over the previous three years.

But this is a different group, with new leadership under Smith, and one that will have to prove itself come playoff time. And it will have to do so with a target on its back as the reigning champs.

“We haven’t talked much about that,” said Smith, who wants his team to improve its play on 50-50 balls as the postseason approaches. “I think underneath it all, it doesn’t need to be said. When Shady Side handed us that 5-0 loss, I know that they wanted to take Deer Lakes’ spot. And I can’t blame them.”

“But I can’t concentrate on that and, to be honest, we really don’t have the time to concentrate on what other teams are going to do.

“We know other teams want to win, but so do we.”

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