In midst of special season, Woodland Hills boys soccer no longer an easy out

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Monday, September 30, 2019 | 6:32 PM


They aren’t a ranked team, and they aren’t going to win their section, but something special is happening this year with Woodland Hills boys soccer.

The Wolverines have forced opponents to take notice, knocking off teams that have blown past them in previous years and using a stout defense to put them within reach of the program’s first-ever WPIAL playoff berth.

Coach Delroy “Lucky” Russell has seen nearly all of the program’s history, having been with the Wolverines since 1993. But this year is unlike so many of those previous seasons, and the Wolverines (8-4, 6-4) enter October holding the fourth and final playoff position in Section 3-4A and needing two wins in their final four section contests to be assured of reaching the postseason.

“I would say luck has a lot to do with it, because we’ve been injury free. But the team is playing together because they like each other, and they’re enjoying this season,” Russell said. “Teams would see Woodland Hills on the schedule and think it was an easy win for them, but this year is different.”

The Wolverines made it clear from the first kick of the season that this would be a different year.

Hosting Penn-Trafford, a team that made the playoffs four of the past five years and beat Woodland Hills in last year’s opener, 7-0, the Wolverines turned the tables and came away with a 1-0 win. Two days later, Woodland Hills picked up a 3-2 road win at Hempfield, and suddenly, the team’s goals shot higher.

“Those wins were really big. After those games against P-T and Hempfield, the guys were going crazy. After those, we felt like we could do anything,” senior goalkeeper A.J. Hill said. “That feeling has carried on all season.”

Fighting against history is always difficult.

The Wolverines have only had a winning overall record once since going 11-8 in 2002. They haven’t had a winning section record since going 7-6-1 in 1998. Their only winning season since then — 2015 — ended with a 5-7 section record, four points out of the last playoff spot.

But people are taking notice of the Wolverines’ success, starting with their own school community.

“I’ve had teachers ask about how the team is doing, and friends are bringing more and more friends to the game. We really have a crowd cheering for us. In the past no one came to the games,” Hill said.

What those fans have seen is a team that has played tight to their opponents, built offense out of the back with possession and shown a knack for winning close games.

Leading that defensive effort have been five seniors — Gavin Moore, Lewis Rodocker, Michael Dasilva, Mark Goggin and Kendall Barry. Each has played well in front of Hill, who Russell praised for being a more assertive, vocal leader this season.

“The defense is really the backbone of the team. They really control the team and build out of the back,” Hill said. “Being solid back there and not having a ton of goals scored against us in games helps our offense and lets them be more confident.”

These Wolverines have played together as a group for some time, many of them playing on the same travel team and futsal team for years, even as some played on different cup teams during the offseason.

Now, as a senior-laden high school squad, the Wolverines are playing confidently and showing they belong with anyone. The team’s worst loss was a 3-0 defeat at unbeaten Plum, a team that beat them just 2-1 in their first meeting.

“They’re playing to win the games, not playing not to lose,” Russell said. “I tell them the easy part is to play the game and have fun, and the results fall into place.”

A few more of those results, and Woodland Hills will be on the WPIAL bracket for the first time ever.

“There’s a little bit of pressure, but we’re encouraged to win the last few (section games),” Hill said. “Last season, by now we knew we weren’t going to make playoffs. … This year, we know we have a chance, and it’s going to make us play harder.”

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.

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