Defense fuels Deer Lakes on second straight state tournament run

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Thursday, November 7, 2019 | 6:27 PM


Throughout the postseason, the Deer Lakes boys soccer team has displayed a gift for possessing the ball, passing around opponents and finding a way to put the ball into the back of the net.

In their past four games, the Lancers outscored opponents 15-4, and all four goals they allowed came in their WPIAL Class AA championship loss to top-seeded Quaker Valley.

“We’re definitely starting to impose our style on other teams,” Deer Lakes coach Dan Yates said.

Like it normally does, the offense gets the glory for scoring and willing the team to victory. But with this Deer Lakes team, a team that has only allowed opponents to score two or more goals five times this season, the defense has been a major factor in its success.

“Our defenders, Colton Spence, Tony Wanamaker and Ryan Butler, have just been brick walls back there,” Yates said. “Then you have you Nick (Braun) behind them as well, it’s great.”

The Lancers have won 11 of their last 13 games and during that stretch, the defense has only allowed seven goals. Freeport, Mt. Pleasant and Hampton all scored a goal apiece on top of Quaker Valley’s four-goal outing.

Deer Lakes’ defensive success near the end of the season came around after they started to plug in the right players for each position.

“We’ve been trying a couple different things and a lot of different pieces,” Spence said. “I think we finally found the right fits to those positions. So I think we’re finally starting to fit together.”

There are a lot of things that Deer Lakes’ defensive prowess could be attributed to. One significant factor is the play of freshman goalkeeper Nick Braun, which has been a pleasant surprise for Yates.

“He’s been absolutely brilliant, absolutely fantastic,” Yates said. “He’s confident with his feet, he’s confident with the ball, and he’s confident with his own ability. For a freshman, that’s ridiculous. It’s been brilliant to watch his development this year.”

The talented netminder has been stellar for the Lancers all season long, and he’s continued to produce in timely situations. When the Juniata Indians were threatening with a free kick in the first half of their PIAA first-round match on Tuesday, Braun made back-to-back saves.

He pushed away the initial shot then stretched out his arms to make a save on the rebound.

To explain his success, Braun heaps credit on the guys in front of him.

“It’s really big. They’ve helped me out a lot,” Braun said. “They are all leaders, and we’ve all worked together to not allow any goals.”

It’s not just the three defenders on the back line that have been fending off shots all season long. In the 3-5-2 formation that the Lancers play, the play of their midfielders is an essential part to their success as well.

“It gives us a sense of security in the back,” Spence said. “So we know if one of us goes up then the other one will cover for us. It’s a big trust thing.”

On Saturday, the Lancers will get District 10 champion Mercyhurst Prep at 4 p.m. at Slippery Rock High School. The Lakers (19-5) bested Shady Side Academy on Tuesday in a 2-1 victory, so Yates knows they won’t be an easy side.

“They are going to be a good side. If you go off the Shady Side result, I mean, we beat them (Shady Side) and they beat us,” Yates said. “So it’s definitely going to be a good game, and I’m looking forward to it, and I’m hoping the boys will be ready for it as well.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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