Haverford School’s Shane Bradley steps in for brother as Player of Year

HAVERFORD — By mid-October, the customary march to excellence was on at Haverford School.

The Fords had a few impressive nonleague wins to their credit and were on their way to a third triumph in four Inter-Ac League matches Oct. 16 against Malvern Prep.

That’s when things could’ve taken a nosedive, could’ve crumpled to the ground along with Conor Bradley under a heavy challenge on the Fords’ turf.

For a team aspiring to be champions, this would be their defining battle: Could they carry on facing a gaping absence in the middle of the pitch, missing the reigning Daily Times player of the year, an asset indispensable at both ends of the pitch?

The solution, simply, would be to lean on another Bradley.

Defender Shane Bradley, Conor’s brother, and his tightly-knit group of teammates initially feared the worst, that the knee injury would draw the curtain on his season … and possibly on their run.

Together, they made sure that wouldn’t be the case.

“It was emotional for a lot of us, especially me,’ Shane Bradley recalled. “First of all, when Conor came out, they were saying it was a torn ACL, so I was kind of panicking a little bit. But I knew that he would want us to win the game and keep on winning in the season.

“We kind of just took it as playing for Conor. We said that a lot in the huddles and everything, and we just kept on playing, just for him. We thought that if he would be back by the end of the season, we’d just want to keep winning for him.’

On a team where the whole manages to exceed even the sum of some extremely talented parts, the added incentive of playing for a fallen comrade galvanized the Fords, propelling them to a third straight Inter-Ac title. At the heart of that effort was a defense that kept 14 clean sheets, conceded a scant three goals in 10 Inter-Ac games and led the Fords to finish the season ranked No. 14 in the nation, according to TopDrawerSoccer.com.

Spearheading that effort was Shane Bradley, and for that performance, the defensive stalwart is the 2014 Daily Times Player of the Year.

Joining Bradley on the All-Delco team are Haverford School teammates Connor Gregory and Conor Bradley (who dodged serious injury and returned after three weeks), Episcopal Academy’s Michael Hinckley and Matt Freese, Christian Academy’s Evan Needs, Penncrest’s Jude Morgan and Drew Hanna, Springfield’s Nick Jannelli, Marple Newtown’s George Lambritsios, Radnor’s Drew Ryan and Interboro’s Kyle Dutch.

Needs is a three-time selection. The Bradleys and Gregory are on the squad for the second time. The team skews toward underclassmen thanks to a vaunted junior class that features all three Haverford selections, Jannelli, Lambritsios and Dutch. Freese is a sophomore. The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.

It’s hard to distinguish strengths on a Haverford School squad with virtually no weaknesses, bred of a system-oriented approach under coach Bill Brady that brings out the best from the individuals that comprise it.

Nonetheless, Shane Bradley stands out from a defense that allowed what is believed to be the fewest goals in an Inter-Ac season and just seven in 20 matches overall. Pairing with Jimmy Tricolli between fullbacks Brandon Shima and Sennan Farrelly, Bradley was often the player called upon to defuse dangerous situations. Behind that defense, goalkeeper Quinn Letter posted a stellar season averaging just over three shots faced per game.

Against Bradley, a defender with outstanding instincts, impeccable touch and the right combination of strength and speed, the opposition’s attacks were often futile.

A leader by example, Bradley is the first to credit the team’s cohesiveness — especially the relationships forged between defenders — for his success. He also recognizes the value of the team’s staunch defense as providing a dependable security blanket to launch attacks.

“We have good chemistry, and that really helps,’ the Havertown native said. “We’re all strong and we play for each other. We tell each other before every game that if we do our job, the offense will do theirs.’

Early in the season, that was proven time and again. It held true in a 4-0 thrashing of Hill School, avenging a loss in the final of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament final last fall. It was verified when, three days later, Haverford School scored a 1-0 win over St. Benedict’s Prep of New Jersey, regarded as the top high school team in the nation, for that team’s only loss.

“Beating the No. 1 team in the country was amazing,’ Bradley said. “And we knew that if we played our game, we could definitely play with any team in the country. That set the standard for our season so high that I think it has a lot to do with our success this season.’

That standard was tested when Conor Bradley went down, causing some shuffling in the midfield to compensate for an offensively and defensively vital cog. Without him, though, the Fords didn’t miss a beat. They battled past EA before avenging a loss to Springside Chestnut Hill in a 3-0 thumping.

It wasn’t until the EA-Haverford School rivalry day Nov. 8 that Bradley returned to full fitness, sporting a hefty knee brace protecting his partially-torn MCL. While he was gone, the Fords allowed just one goal, finishing a 7-1-2 Inter-Ac slate to claim a third straight league title.

“Our defense was one of our strong points this year,’ Conor Bradley said. “You could always count on them in tight games to keep a shutout. … It’s just awesome because with the defense, you can have so much trust which leads to our attack. A good defense leads to the best offense.’

Shane Bradley chipped in offensively, as well. A primary target on set pieces for his aerial prowess, he scored four times, tied with his brother for third-most on the team.

Bradley, who went to middle school at Annunciation in Haverford and also plays for the Philadelphia Union’s U-18 academy team, has quickly come to appreciate the history and prestige of the Inter-Ac. It’s believed, according to Brady, that no school has ever won more than three straight league titles.

That squarely sets the goal next season for the Bradleys and their illustrious classmates.

“Over the years, I grew to learn how much the Inter-Ac really means to kids. And to have the privilege to win it three times in a row is just amazing,’ Shane Bradley said. “I would love to get a fourth in a row.’

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