DOWNINGTOWN – In a clash with first place on the line and playing on the road in a fierce crosswind with driving rain, it helps to have the stability of experienced seniors who have been playing together for 10 years.
That’s what West Chester Henderson head coach Sean Ryan has, and on Thursday evening at DeSerafino Stadium, it made all of the difference in the Warriors’ 1-0 boys’ soccer triumph over Downingtown West. Looking to successfully defend its Ches-Mont National title, Henderson took a major step, thanks in part to the calming influence of veterans Richie Schlentz, Jared Matthias and Max Zandi.
“We have a good group back on defense,” Ryan said. “We have three guys who are seniors who have played together since they were seven years old. They know each other’s strengths and how to cover for each other. It’s nice to have that kind of experience on the back line.
“We know the kind of team West is. That they would sit in, counter and look to hit restarts. The conditions kind of helped them, so we just wanted to make sure we didn’t make any silly mistakes.”
Now 4-0 in the division (12-1 overall), the Warriors limited the Whippets (2-1-2, 4-1-2 overall) to just three shots on goal, enabling sophomore goalkeeper, Brady McSwain, to register the shutout.
“To come here on a rainy, cold night against a very competitive opponent, we knew we would have to come out strong in order to win this game,” Schlentz said.
“Our guys came really came out, on a tough night, and really took care of business,” Ryan added. “A lot of these guys have played a ton of soccer and know how to handle when it is wet and slick on the turf.
“This is a very big win. Downingtown West is always a very strong program. It came down to them and us last year for the (Ches-Mont) National side. I know they had a couple ties, but for us to beat them here, it gives us a two-game lead because now we have the head-to-head against them.”
Determined to get off to a good start, Henderson misfired on a couple early scoring chances when drives from Tom Caufield and Kevin Kiefer sailed over the West crossbar. But at the 15:39 mark, Schlentz broke the scoreless tie on a scramble following a Warrior corner kick.
“We ran a play off a corner and I happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Schlentz explained. “It was a bit of a garbage goal, but I’ll take it.
“(West’s) keeper spilled the ball, it bounced off a few players in the box and kind of came right to my foot and I just knocked it in.”
Teammates Caufield and Charlie Collins also had prime scoring chances before the intermission. And even though Henderson took a slim 1-0 lead into the break, it was important to strike first.
“You don’t want to let Henderson front-run,” said Downingtown West head coach John Hatt. “They are a talented team, and you’re not going to get into a high scoring battle with them, so the first goal was very important.”
Ryan added: “Anything came happen on a night like tonight. You can slip and fall, the ball can get caught up in the puddles, so to be able to go ahead, that changes the complexion of the game, we were able to do some things safer defensively with the lead.”
Senior forward Frank DeRosa came close to making it 2-0 on a couple of second half occasions, including a sequence where his initial shot was stopped by Whippets senior forward Strash Jaron, and then by West keeper James Meals on the rebound.
Perhaps the Whippets best scoring chance came with just under seven minutes on the clock, when Dylan Loaec blasted a shot that was turned away by McSwain.
“Henderson is a good team and you want to measure yourselves against them,” Hatt said. “We didn’t win the match but we played hard and hopefully that will serve us well the rest of the season.
“They played on the same field in the same conditions we did. They were able to get a goal and we couldn’t quite do that.”
When it was over, Schlentz stressed the importance of having veteran teammates, like Mattias and Roberts, to guide the Warriors through the match and then close it out.
“It helps for sure,” he said. “This is our fourth year playing together in high school, and it was longer than that before. We can help each other read the game. It is nice playing with people you know. That connection really helps.”
With just six regular season matches remaining, and only two against division opponents, Henderson is closing in on another title.
“We’ve won it the last two years, and we want to win it again,” Schlentz said. “We also want to go far in states, but we have to take it one match at a time. We can’t get caught looking too far ahead.”