Small change has positive effect for Harriton

Sometimes the smallest changes can have the biggest impact.

This was certainly the case for the Harriton High School boys’ soccer team. Plagued by an up and down start including three straight losses to start the Central League campaign, coach Biff Sturla decided to make a couple of tweaks that has led to five straight wins that included a stunning 4-3 come from behind overtime win over Radnor and a thrilling 1-0 win over township rival Lower Merion on September 25.

“We were playing nice soccer in the early season, our defense was solid and our midfield play was great. We controlled the midfield in just about every game. But, we weren’t getting the ball in the net. We had chances every game, but we weren’t getting the goals. I knew we had some talented players in our offense, but the finishing just wasn’t there. I moved a few guys around and for some reason, everything started to click.’

To accompany the change Sturla made with the formation, the four seniors-Kyle Gaeffke, Nick Geaneotes, Adam Poluka and Jerome Thierry got together to discuss what they needed to do as the upperclassmen to raise everyone’s confidence and bring everyone together.

Gaffke said, “Following the Conestoga game the three other seniors and I were talking and we knew something had to change. We knew we had to take practice and our pre-game stretching more serious. Coach Sturla also made a couple of tweaks to our formation moving around a couple of pieces.’

Following their difficult loss to Conestoga, the Rams had to take the pitch the next evening against Shipley in a showdown between two of the preeminent squads in the area.

After falling behind 1-0 in the first half, Harriton came out of the locker room and tallied a pair of goals to register a thrilling come from behind victory. Hoping this would be the start of something positive, the Rams registered a pair of shutout wins over Garnet Valley and Ridley heading into their contest against Radnor.

Against Radnor, Harriton fell behind 3-1 with a little over four minutes remaining in regular time. With confidence falling, the four seniors rallied the troops prompting a thrilling comeback that resulted with Harriton tying the contest in the final eight seconds before completing the comeback in overtime.

Playing a key role in the Radnor contest was junior midfielder Felix Serlin, who leads the team in assists but also came up huge in the Radnor game. Trailing 3-1 with only four minutes left Gaeffke scored to make it 3-2 with time running out. With 20 seconds left, Harriton was awarded a free kick from 45 yards out. Serlin put a beautiful ball into the box, which was occupied by about 20 players. The ball found its way into the back of the net with only 14 seconds left in regulation, forcing overtime.

Two minutes into overtime, Serlin scored Harriton’s biggest goal of the season with a powerful volley from 25 yards out.

After surviving an up and down start, patience proved to be part of the ingredients for success.

“I knew this year was going to be challenging,’ said Gaeffke. “We lost key players from last year and I was unsure what to expect. Once we got into pre-season and I had a chance to look at the team I had a feeling we would be okay. We just needed to put the pieces together and be patient.’

“The seniors have meant everything,’ said Binnion, a junior captain. “Who knows where we would be without them. They are great leaders. We knew we would have our challenges going into the season but Coach and the seniors just told us to stay patient and things would fall our way.’

Sturla said, “Many successful teams are keyed by seniors. They are the ones who are hungriest for success because there is no ‘ next year.’ Naturally, it was the seniors who have stepped up. Gaeffke has been our leading scorer and our inspiration and is an excellent leader on and off the field. He and Geaneotes have stepped up as forwards and the ball has suddenly started winding up in the opponent’s net. Poluka and Thierry have been solid as wing midfielders, they are both constant threats on the flanks and have kept the pressure on the opponents every game. Thierry had a huge goal against Lower Merion. LM does not allow many goals. Jerome had the only goal of the game in a very ‘ defense first’ game.

Credit also has to go to super-freshman Ethan Rodgers who has played almost every minute of every game during the five match win streak. He, along with defenders Anthony Calligaro, Noah Hunt-Isaak, Aaron Dickman, Willie Marks and Matt Binnion have limited the opponents to very few shots. Solid goalkeeping from Lucas Serlin (twin brother of Felix) has also help Harriton’s steady rise in the standings.’

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