TOWAMENCIN>> Early in the second half of Thursday’s match against Central Bucks South, North Penn midfielder Nick Terchek sprinted nearly two-thirds of the field just to get in the way of the Titan with the ball at his foot.
It’s just something Terchek and his fellow holding midfielder Jack Johnston have been doing all season. Being the blue collar guys in the center of the park isn’t always the most glamorous of roles and it doesn’t pay off with a lot of goals, but it’s absolutely vital to a team’s success.
And with the Knights now 6-1-0 (3-1-0 SOL Continental) after Thursday’s hard-fought 2-1 win over CB South, that work is clearly paying off.
“We’ve done well winning head balls in the middle and switching the field is, I think, one of our strentghs,” Terchek said. “We have a lot of speed on the outside so whenever we switch the field, defenses have a lot of trouble keeping up with us.”
Knights senior Mike Kohler draws a lot of praise and attention and rightly so, as there aren’t many who can match what the senior does as he navigates his way around defenders. But without the guys like Terchek and Johnston in behind and guys like Aidan Jerome out wide, the Knights offense wouldn’t go anywhere.
A holder’s role is to hold back a little bit. Sure, they’ll get some cracks at goal and Terchek had a few good rips from distance on Thursday, but their primary goal is to provide cover, whether that be for the back line or to fill gaps when Kohler starts to press forward.
North Penn has scored some really good goals this season but just as critical, it hasn’t given them up. Thursday’s hit by Titans midfielder Jake Helwig marked just the second goal allowed all year and the midfield guys feel a part of that effort.
“It’s definitely something we take pride in, the minimal amount of goals,” Johnston, a junior, said. “It’s a lot of that tracking back and playing defense back there.”
It’s a position that involves a lot of work, running back and forth between the boxes, getting mixed up in a lot of tackles, taking hits going up to win balls out of the air but it pays off.
“It’s just knowing that while we may not get as many goals as we want, we can’t let up too many goals,” Johnston said.
Jerome, only a sophomore, has likewise been a key piece of the puzzle. He controls the right flank while the team’s strikers, Luke McMahon and Nate Baxter, tend to interchange between the left side and up top.
He’s been involved heavily in the attack, netting some goals and assisting some others.
“We’ve been communicating really well,” Jerome said. “Through practice we’ve gotten to know each other really well and we’ve bonded really well.”
“Whenever we have the ball, we’re definitely looking to find Luke,” Terchek added. “Luke has the skill and speed to beat almost any defender in the league. Obviously we’re also looking for Mikey because he beats a lot of guys.”
Johnston said it’ll be different next year without Kohler but said the senior does such a good job of creating outlets and finding opportunities for the rest of the attacking unit.
The Titans brought a very high-energy and up-tempo style to North Penn’s turf on Thursday and it asked a lot of Terchek and Johnston, as well as the rest of the squad. With an excellent back line behind them, the midfielders are able to go into a tackle with confidence that even if they don’t outright win the ball, the guys behind them will finish it up.
As a team, the Knights are very adept at winning headers, always a tough task and risky proposition. Rare is the uncontested header, especially in the midfield, so getting to the ball first often comes down to will.
“I don’t know much skill is put into it, it’s how much effort,” Johnston said. “If you’re going in for it and you put all the effort into it, you know you can win that ball.”
The Knights have a measuring stick match Saturday morning with unbeaten La Salle with the SOL calendar nearing the midway point. Johnston said he thinks the team is playing well and Terchek agreed, adding they can still keep pushing to get better.
North Penn has a great balance of upperclassmen and younger guys across the field. Seniors like Noah Kwortnik, Kohler, Terchek and Nate Baxter complement guys like Jerome, Johnston and freshman defender Carter Houlihan.
The Knights are not a one-man show by any means. While they have a midfielder any team would love to have, the other guys in that middle third of the field can more than hold their own as well.
“They’ve done great,” Knights coach Paul Duddy said. “They’ve stepped up. When it’s time to give us possession, they’ve given us possession. When it’s time to knock it around and play it, we can and every once in a while, we just go fast and go quick.”