Playoff experience to pay dividends for Deer Lakes boys soccer
The difference between a win and a loss in the WPIAL boys soccer playoffs can come down to the narrowest of margins, as Deer Lakes’ young roster learned all too painfully in 2017.
The Lancers’ season came to a sudden, devastating ending in double overtime of a WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game against Beaver, the game’s first goal after more than 90 minutes of scoreless action sending the Lancers home.
Nearly the entire lineup from that game returns for Deer Lakes as the Lancers will attempt to turn the pain into something positive this fall.
“It’s going to pay dividends for those guys, especially through all those experiences they had,” Deer Lakes coach Jordan Wiegand said. “At least they saw what it’s like to win in the playoffs, but then unfortunately they got to see what it’s like to lose in the playoffs. They’re definitely coming back with a different mentality and will be prepared if we get to that point.”
Wiegand, in the second year of his second stint at Deer Lakes, came within a razor’s edge of a WPIAL title in 2016 when his Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic team lost, 1-0, to Sewickley Academy in the Class A championship game at Highmark Stadium.
Last fall’s loss didn’t leave a permanent mark on Deer Lakes, which went on a surprising run with an ultra-young roster, but it certainly gave the Lancers something to strive for in 2018.
“It was unfortunate to lose in the playoffs, but it’s definitely fueling us for this season,” senior goalkeeper Jesse Greyshock said. “If we make it past that game, it’ll be the farthest we’ve made it in our school history. We’d really like to set that marker.
“I think we just need to continue everything we’ve been doing this whole summer and even back into spring season, too. We just need to keep on the grind and stay focused and not drop any easy games, treat every game like it’s the championship.”
Deer Lakes saw what was possible last fall when section rival Shady Side Academy went on a Cinderella run to the WPIAL championship after an up-and-down regular season.
In the playoffs, anything can happen, Wiegand said.
“Ideally, I think every team wants a WPIAL championship,” he said. “I’ve come close before and didn’t quite get it. This is a hungry team this year.”
It’s also still a young team, although one with plenty of experience. Freshmen comprised nearly half of the Lancers’ 25-player roster last season, and just four seniors graduated. Many of those freshmen return as seasoned sophomores, with a few upperclassmen sprinkled in.
“The pace of the game, everything’s been getting better with everyone,” senior center back Nick Caro said. “They’ve progressed greatly throughout the summer.”
With Caro, a standby on the back line, and Greyshock, who posted a dozen shutouts in his first season as starting keeper, Deer Lakes returns two of its top contributors to a strong defense.
Eric Franciscus, Caro’s fellow center back, graduated, but Deer Lakes hopes to excel again defensively after giving up just 11 goals in 19 games last season.
Two sophomores in Devin Murray and Michael Sullivan will lead the Lancers’ midfield, while a third, Colton Spence, can line up in a variety of spots, Wiegand said. Junior A.J. Dorman led the team in scoring, and classmate Ryan Butler is another top returner.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but each year our product’s gotten better and better,” Wiegand said. ”... We always strive to set the bar higher every year, and this year’s group, they might honestly be the most prepared group I’ve ever had. They’re going to know their responsibilities, they’re going to know the way we want to play and execute things. I truly believe this is going to be one of the best teams I can put on the field.”
Deer Lakes again will compete in Section 2-2A with Burrell, Derry, Freeport, Mt. Pleasant, Shady Side Academy and Valley.
A second-place finish behind Mt. Pleasant and a first-round playoff win over Brownsville preceded the loss to Beaver, but the Lancers are eyeing more this season.
“It’s just putting together the final pieces,” Caro said. “Everyone’s been putting the work in that we should have, it’s just putting the final touches on getting that done.”