East Whiteland – Red-hot West Chester Henderson, which had outscored its opponents 12-1 in its first three contests in the PIAA District One 4A boys’ soccer tournament, knew it faced a particularly tough challenge in the championship final against undefeated Conestoga Saturday afternoon at Great Valley High School.
When the Warriors lost to Conestoga, 2-1, earlier this season, it marked the seventh straight loss Henderson endured against the Pioneers.
“For us seniors, we knew we were 0-7 in our last seven games against Conestoga,” said Henderson senior forward Frank DeRosa. “And our last loss [2-1] was at home. We did not want to lose again.”
Henderson senior defender Max Zandi added, “We came out today with [plenty of] energy.”
The energetic Warriors came out of the gate smoking, DeRosa scored a goal in the 11th minute of play, and Henderson (21-1-1) spent most of the first half in Conestoga’s territory on the way to a 2-0 victory and the District One championship.
To view a photo gallery of the West Chester Henderson-Conestoga District One boys’ championship final click here
Conestoga head coach David Zimmerman, whose Pioneers suffered their first defeat of the season, said, “All credit goes to Henderson, particularly in the first half. For the first 15 minutes of the game, they played like I’ve not seen anyone play.”
Zandi, who assisted on the second goal, said, “This was one of our best games of the season. In Districts, we’ve really been clicking.”
By the end of the game, the Warriors felt relief as well as jubilation.
“When the game was over, I just said, ‘Thank God,’ said Zandi. “We knew we were 0-7 [against Conestoga] coming in.”
DeRosa said, “When the game ended I was really tired. But I really wanted to celebrate with our fans, so we went over to see them [right after the game].”
In the opening round of the PIAA 4A state tournament Tuesday, West Chester Henderson will play Cumberland Valley, the third-place finisher from District 3; while Conestoga will square off against Parkland, the second-place finisher in District 11.
Henderson head coach Sean Ryan said, “I have a lot of respect for Conestoga, they’ve been really successful. We were on them for the first 10 minutes or so, and Frank’s early goal really settled our players down. Frank’s scoring has been a big [advantage] for us lately. Aidan [senior midfielder Aidan McFadden] did a great job whipping the ball in to Frank before he scored.”
DeRosa said, “The play started off with [senior forward] Richie Schlentz playing the ball in, and I took a shot that hit the post. Aidan played the second ball in to me, I saw an opening to the goal, but I couldn’t get to the ball with my foot, so I got my head on it, and it went in.”
In the 40th minute, Zandi got the ball inside to senior Zach Roberts, who fired in a goal just before the half ended to give the Warriors a 2-0 lead. On a similar play a week ago against Lower Merion in the District One quarterfinals, the Zandi-to-Roberts connection led to an overtime game-winner against Lower Merion.
“I was just trying to get a decent ball in, I was trying to aim for Zach and create chaos for the goalkeeper,” said Zandi. “Zach’s been the hot guy for us.”
Ryan said, “Zach’s been one of our key players [lately], with his [clutch] scoring and midfield play.”
Zimmerman said, “That [second] goal was too much, made it difficult to recover from. For us to score three goals at that point is unrealistic.
“I don’t think we played particularly well in the first half. When you get to this level [in the post-season], you have to consistently show up, play well.”
Ryan sees the veteran Warriors coming together at the right time.
“We had some injuries and illness earlier this season, but got everybody back a week before the regular season ended,” said Ryan. “We have a lot of really talented players, many of whom have played soccer [together] for more than a decade. We have pretty good depth of talent – we used 16 guys today.”
For Conestoga, this loss could be a gut check, according to Zimmerman.
“The key for us now will be how we react to our first loss of the season,” said Zimmerman. “Sometimes it can re-fuel a team – we’ll see.”