EAST WHITELAND >> In an up-and-down regular season, Radnor authored arguably its most complete performance Sept. 27, a 3-0 throttling of Strath Haven.
Fast forward six weeks, and many of the leading lights were the same Saturday night at Great Valley as the Raiders stunned top-seeded Holy Ghost Prep, 2-1, in overtime of the District 1 Class 3A final. But those players’ impacts came at different positions on the field.
Both goalscorers, Phil Regan and Andrew Boujoukos, have served spells in central defense, with Regan the preferred choice lately as Boujoukos steps into midfield. Miles Maesaka, a right back for his club team, has shuttled between defense and midfield.
The interchangeable parts introduce a level of unpredictability that makes the Raiders so difficult to stop as they head into the PIAA tournament, taking on District 3 fourth-place team Fleetwood at 7 p.m. at Hatboro-Horsham Tuesday.
“We’re all very versatile, we all work hard in practice and everyone knows they just have to play their role, play composed, play confident,” Regan said. “This is the most versatile team I’ve ever seen. We have different guys playing different positions every game. We never have the same lineup.”
Regan is the ultimate manifestation of versatility. He started the season primarily deployed in midfield, but his speed and aerial ability made him an ideal partner for Cal Congleton in defense, which frees Boujoukos for more attack-minded contributions, including his dangerous set-piece deliveries.
Regan is also coach Joe Caruolo’s ace in the hole late in games as a roving center forward when in need of a goal. He supplied the final touch in the last minute of regulation in the quarterfinals against Phoenixville, his equalizer with 12.1 seconds left staving off elimination and paving the way for victory in penalty kicks.
Regan was at it again Saturday, equalizing in the 66th minute on a typically hard-nosed goal after he (legally, in the eyes of the ref) jarred the ball loose from Holy Ghost goalkeeper Harry Scuron and tucked away a goal on the third chance.
“I love it,” Regan said. “It’s my opportunity just to have fresh legs and use my speed and throw off the defenders who haven’t seen a quick, out-of-control guy. It’s probably my favorite thing to do, spark energy in the team and keep it up.”
While Regan and Boujoukos (also a baseball player) aren’t soccer-first athletes, others like forward Jack Miller and Maesaka are. Their understanding of how to read the game from a variety of viewpoints provides the ballast around which other alterations take hold.
“I consider us a really coachable team, and we can adapt really well,” Maesaka said. “So we can each play like three positions. And coach trusts us there.”
Maesaka repaid that faith in overtime with a game-saving clearance off the line of a header from a Holy Ghost corner kick. The post-guarding duty on set pieces is a constant for Maesaka in midfield or defense.
As some parts of his role change, others stay the same. And team-wide, as long as the approach remains similar, in mentality and in technical approach, the Raiders are secure in winning games multiple ways.
“Our coaches really give us the confidence that we need; ‘Hey, you can play striker, you can play center back, we trust you back there,’” Boujoukos said. “That gives me, that gives Phil, that gives everybody on this team the confidence to score a goal.”
1-2 Penncrest vs. 3-1 Manheim Central
The Lions’ loss in the District 1 title game to Villa Joseph Marie wasn’t just a decisive 4-1 setback to the six-time reigning district champion Jems. It was a stunning concession of goals for a side that had allowed just eight in its first 18 games.
The defensive mettle favors the Lions (14-2-3) being able to compete with teams like Manheim Central, which won its first District 3 title, in Tuesday’s opener at Manheim Township at 5. The question is for a generation of players making their first PIAA tournament appearance how quickly they can adapt to the rigors of states.
Against the Barons (18-4), they’ll have to figure it out quickly. Manheim scored goals within the first five minutes of both the District 3 semis and finals and is particularly dangerous on set pieces.
1-1 Christian Academy vs. 3-1 Fairfield
TCA’s first foray into PIAA soccer is daunting: Against a Fairfield (21-1) juggernaut at Northeastern High at 7 p.m.
The Knights’ only loss this season came to Central York, a 4A team. Along the way, they’ve scored 173 goals, including 33 in two games against Hanover. Their District 3 final was a 6-1 romp over York Catholic, though the Knights needed two overtimes to get by Tulpehocken in the semis.
The Crusaders (13-3-1) have their strengths, with the attacking of Lindsay Haseltine and Hannah Sareyka, scorer of the overtime game-winner in the District 1 final against Delco Christian.