Deer Lakes boys soccer program’s present, future on display in playoff run

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020 | 4:48 PM


Last Thursday, the Deer Lakes boys soccer team captured the first WPIAL title in school history by defeating No. 1 Shady Side Academy for the second time this season.

Although senior captains Colton Spence, Devin Murray and Mike Sullivan, who scored the equalizer to send the game to overtime, made big plays all night long, it was Deer Lakes’ younger players that made “massive” plays, as coach Dan Yates put it, that allowed the Lancers to lift WPIAL gold after a penalty kick shootout.

The Lancers (15-1) host District 9 champion Karns City at noon Saturday in the state quarterfinals.

Sophomore goalkeeper Nick Braun might have played the biggest role in the WPIAL championship. He stopped a Sam Farner penalty kick in regulation, then made two — well, three — crucial saves in the penalty shootout as well.

On the game-winning save, Braun stopped Owen Martens’ penalty kick, but the referee waved off the attempt because Martens started early. The result did not change on the second attempt as Braun made another save and his teammates came rushing to him to celebrate.

“That helps your confidence, and I mean we had a shaky start in the second half, but we pulled through and it really feels good,” Braun said. “The confidence is much higher.”

Braun was not the only sophomore who came up big, though, as Ruger Beer drilled the game-winning penalty kick, and two-year starter Ryan Hanes, midfielders Mike Butler and Mason Metzler and defender Nate Litrun also played key roles in the victory.

That type of performance, on that type of stage, bodes well for the Lancers’ future.

“These kids like Nick (Braun) and Ryan (Hanes), they are going to be four-year starters,” Yates said. “Then next year, when the likes of Sullivan, Devin and Spence go, I also have Nick, Mike Butler, and Hanes as my three core players. It’s going to happen, and it has to happen. They have to take the (mantle) and hold themselves accountable to the standards we’ve set.”

This is not the first time a young group has taken control of the Lancers program. When Sullivan, Spence and Murray were sophomores, they suffered a tough loss to Shady Side Academy in the WPIAL semifinals but worked their way through the consolation game into the PIAA tournament.

They got their revenge on Shady Side in the PIAA semifinals and earned a shot to play for the state title in Hershey. But when those three came back the next year, there were still a few seniors like Ryan Butler, Tyler Tofil and AJ Dorman who could help shoulder the load.

Braun, Hanes, and Mike Butler will not have that opportunity as Jake McCutheon is the only junior on the roster this season. But Sullivan can see the similarities between his class and the current sophomores.

“It’s really going to be their team next year,” Sullivan said. “We were fortunate enough to have a few seniors, and they don’t have those kids around them, so they are going to have to step up and I know they will. There’s no doubt in my mind that they are going to lead the team to the best of their abilities, and it’s going to be exciting to see what they can do.”

Yates said the impact Sullivan, Spence and Murray have had on their younger teammates cannot be overstated.

“To learn from those three players, you don’t get any better in Western Pennsylvania than that,” Yates said. “You really don’t.”

Over the past two years, since he started as a freshman, Braun and his teammates have observed and listened to how his captains have led, and they have taken a lot away from them that will help them push the program forward.

“They believe in us. They encourage us so much, and they help us out,” Braun said. “If we make a mistake, they tell us, ‘OK, just do not make another one. Get back in the right head space and continue.’ These two years with them have helped shape us into leaders, and we’ll be able to take the program even further next year.”

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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