SPRINGFIELD >> From the time coach Jason Piombino convened the first huddle of preseason, Nick Jannelli felt compelled to share a message.
The atmosphere at those Springfield training-camp sessions was unique. Fourteen seniors tabbed as contributors stripped much of the angst from the uncertainty of cuts. From their various summer activities and sports of club focus, the members of the soccer team projected that high school reunion vibe, like a group of students back in their native spaces picking up where they left off.
The Cougars’ ethos was studded by beginnings and endings. As a core group that had played together for nearly a decade, this was the first step on their final journey.
Few appreciated that as acutely as Jannelli, who placed profound importance in this milestone venture.
“All year, my message to the guys was that we’re a family,” said the senior, stepping by the day into a more vocal leadership role. “We’re not going to let this season end like we don’t want to. We wanted to do something big.”
Jannelli had set the course to that moment years earlier. A player of uncommon talent, he’d watched his older brother, Peter, parlay success at Springfield to a career at Temple, then Cincinnati.
After impressing at the precursor to YSC Sports in Wayne, Nick Jannelli faced a decision. He was good enough to join the early iterations of the Philadelphia Union Academy after participating in its juniors program for middle-schoolers. But such a move would mean parting with his club, Lower Merion SC (coached by his dad), and eliminate the chance of representing a high school program that Piombino, also a coach at YSC, exposed him to in training sessions starting in seventh grade.
The choice, as Jannelli casts it years later, seemed simple.
“At the time, it wasn’t that big of a decision for me because I knew that I wanted to play with my friends,” Jannelli said. “And I love my club team. I just couldn’t see myself going away from my school and my club team to go to the Academy. It was obviously a very good option, but I just couldn’t see myself doing that. …
“So basically I just stayed loyal to my school because I knew I would really regret missing playing with my friends.”
His loyalty paid off in abundance this year.
Jannelli departs Springfield as a two-time All-Delco. He scored 25 goals and 15 assists in his senior campaign. His career tallies rocketed to 52 goals and 30 assists, both program records he set as a junior.
Dearest to Jannelli, though, are Springfield’s accomplishments this fall, finishing fourth in the District One Class AAA Tournament and qualifying for the PIAA semifinals. Jannelli’s central role in those accolades helped earn the midfielder the Daily Times Boys Soccer Player of the Year Award.
Joining Jannelli on the All-Delco team is teammate Ryan Straube, the Haverford School trio of Conor Bradley, Shane Bradley and Connor Gregory, Episcopal Academy’s Matt DePillis and Matt Freese, Interboro’s Kyle Dutch and Diego Lopez, Marple Newtown’s George Lambritsios and Hunter Dyson and Penn Wood’s John Mansaray.
Lopez and Freese are the only juniors, reflective of a gifted senior class monopolizing 10 of 12 berths. The Bradleys and Gregory are each making their third appearances; they join Freese, Jannelli, Dutch and Lambritsios in repeating from last year’s team.
The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with local area coaches.
Jannelli’s regular season, which helped Springfield to the district’s No. 3 seed, garnered All-Central MVP runner-up honors behind Dyson. But the true measure of Jannelli’s irrepressible star turn came in the postseason, when few in the state could claim to be more influential to their teams.
Every time Springfield required a moment of brilliance, Jannelli delivered. He set up both goals in the District One second-round win, including Andrew Astrino’s overtime game-winner. In the quarterfinals, he assisted on Astrino’s opener before the pair reversed order for the winner, Jannelli hammering home with 10 seconds left to book the 10-man Cougars’ improbable passage to a first state tournament since 1982 in what Jannelli called the “craziest” game he’s ever experienced.
Jannelli was quiet in the semifinal loss to Conestoga, 1-0 on an own goal, but he and the Cougars were by no means done, stoking the fires that propelled the team to within a post’s width of the state final.
“Right when we got back to our first practice after (Pennsbury), we knew we were done celebrating,” Jannelli said. “We didn’t want to have that as our shining moment of the year. … We realized we had a good shot to go all the way. We didn’t want that Pennsbury moment to be the last.”
Pennsbury proved to be anything but the end. Jannelli scored both goals in the first-round states win against Northeast High, the second a sublime slalom through defenders that he celebrated by standing in the rain with arms outstretched waiting for teammates to mob him.
In the quarters, Jannelli’s saved shot was put away by Benny Gast to start the scoring, then Jannelli showed tremendous determination to corral his own rebound and rifle in the winner to tip Fox Chapel, 2-1.
The Cougars’ magic ran out in the semifinals, Jannelli hitting the post in the second half on a superb chance before Seneca Valley found an overtime goal to head to Hershey. The thud of that post will stick with Jannelli through the next stops on his soccer journey. (He is considering interest from several schools from the Division I to Division III levels.)
But that won’t be Jannelli’s lasting memory. He hit the post as an individual, yet he unfailingly portrays every success along the route as belonging to a team that grew closer he ever could’ve dreamed.
“After the (Seneca Valley) game was over, I got everybody in the huddle and I told them, ‘thanks for an amazing run,’” Jannelli said. “It was an amazing run. No one expected us to get that far, but we surpassed everyone’s expectations.”
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