NEWTOWN – In its quest to repeat as league champs, the Council Rock North boys soccer team knew they had to alter last year’s winning formula. Based on their recent 2-0 conquest of archrival CR South, the adjustments suit the Indians just fine.
In 2016, Rock North compiled a 17-5-2 overall record. They topped the National Division of the Suburban One League (SOL) with a 10-2 record. The Indians continued their winning ways in the postseason, going all the way to the state quarterfinals before losing in a shootout to Elizabethtown.
This year, CR North realized that personnel changes brought on by graduation would necessitate some rethinking in their offensive and defensive strategies. Gone were such key players as Nikita IIlin, Nicholas Guarna, Noah Ehlin and Eric Levine. Also gone was the Indians favorite play, a toss in by Ehlin to Levine in front of the enemy’s goal.
Ryan Pave, senior and starting midfielder, recognized the challenge awaiting the Indians. “We lost a bunch of key players last year in the back. We had what we called the twin towers, two huge center-backs. They’re gone. Most of our goals were off a throw-in from our center-back. He (Ehlin) could throw it 30 yards.”
The rethinking stressed strategy over raw athleticism. “Now, we have to transition from a really big athletic team that scores off throw-ins to a technical team that works by moving the ball around. We’re more of a technical team than a physical team. Our center-backs this year are a sophomore and a junior so they have big shoes to fill.”
Understandably, it took some time for the new look Indians to meld their talents. Rock lost its season opener 1-0 to Archbishop Wood in double overtime. A follow-up loss to Harriton brought about some concern.
“At the beginning, we were a bit doubtful about our team. We knew we had seven starters but losing those center-backs was big. We’re getting better each game and through practice. We started out the season with a loss to Archbishop Wood and Harriton. We were not really on the right page.”
A 4-0 win over Harry S Truman in their third game set the Indians in a more positive direction. It also gave them increased confidence as they entered their big rivalry game with Rock South on September 8.
“That game is huge. It’s more of a morale kind of thing. South is our biggest rival. Every year, that game determines who the Council Rock champ is. You get bragging rights and all that. Also, it’s huge in getting the season off on the right foot. It is a big confidence-booster to win at home in front of fans.”
North sensed that playing their game was the best approach to the big matchup with the Golden Hawks. “We kind of went into the game smart. We all knew our role on the team and were able to execute. We practice on that field and it was our home turf and we felt comfortable.”
The two rivals locked horns in a very intense and physical clash. After a furious opening push by South, the Indians started to control the pace. “The key to the game was not losing our head, staying focused. South is one of the biggest games of the year and play gets a bit chippy. People start losing their heads and getting cards and fouls. In that game, you have to put that aside and concentrate on putting the ball in the net.”
The Indians drew first blood when Jon Pugh found the back of the Hawks’ net midway through the first half. They then iced the victory when Ryan tallied with minutes left in the game.
Ryan well remembered his score. “Justin Scharf had the ball in the left flank. He dribbled down the left side. Conor O’Donnell was making a run down the middle. I made a run to the back post. Scharf cut it back and beat his defender and had an open cross. The ball bounced past Conor and the goalie came out. I just stuck out my left foot and outside footed it into the goal.”
The 2-0 win gave the Indians more than local bragging rights. “We felt very confident in ourselves. We started the season on a poor note and the win was huge. We got the feeling that this year we can do it.”
Only four games into the season, the Indians have already adjusted to their new style of play, one that should garnish them plenty of winning performances.
TOP PHOTO: Council Rock North’s Justin Scharf (10) tries to get ball by CR South’s Drew Bresnan (00) and Paul Chorobski (13). (John Gleeson – 21st-Century Media)