Hill’s Forrest fuels improbable PAISAA title, selected Mercury All-Area Player of the Year

Winning had become almost a given in Mark Forrest’s first three years at The Hill School.

The reality though, which Forrest was well aware of, is that winning isn’t a given.

The degree of difficulty in trying to match the success of the 2013 Blues team that won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League and the Pa. Independent Schools Athletic Association championship in Forrest’s senior year would be through the roof.

So, in 2014, the Blues would rely on tenacity — and a fair share of skill, just not quite to the level of last year’s talent-rich senior class that included Division I players and the last two All-Area Players of the Year Wyatt Fabian and Colten Habecker.

At the forefront of that blend of tenacity and talent was Forrest, who was the versatile forward leading the line for the Blues with 18 goals (including five game-winners) and 12 assists in 21 games as Hill went 16-3-2 and improbably won its second straight PAISAA tournament championship.

“I’ll remember how well the team scrapped it out in tough games. We knew we weren’t anywhere near as good as we were last year skill-wise, but the way we played in coming back in four games to win in the last 20 minutes … the grit of the team was incredible,’ Forrest said.

“Last year we relied solely on talent, which is great don’t get me wrong, but to win it like that was special.’

Forrest becomes the third straight Hill player to earn Mercury All-Area Player of the Year honors following Fabian (2012) and Habecker (2013).

He capped his scholastic career as one of Hill’s all-time best by being No. 1 in school history in career assists (29) and career wins as well as third in career goals (50) and second in points (129).

How important was Forrest to Hill’s success this season? He scored or assisted on the game-winning goal in 13 of the Blues’ 16 wins.

Forrest may have the build of a ‘ target forward’ but creating scoring chances for others is what his game is all about as evidenced by becoming the Blues’ career assists leader.

“Mark has the highest soccer IQ of anyone I’ve ever been around, player or coach,’ Hill School head coach Chris Drowne said. “With that, Mark knows where he is on the field, if there is or is not a scoring opportunity for his foot or someone else’s and plays the ball a beat ahead of anyone challenging him. It’s uncanny.’

Some of that stems from his relatively brief history as a forward.

“I’ve only been playing forward for two years,’ he said. “I was traditionally a defender/center midfielder most of my life. I think it’s why I can play in a versatile way up front, because I played center back, center midfield. Now I’m up top and it’s combining those three into something.’

Especially in the past two years, striker has been the spot for Forrest. But the graduation of Habecker, who was last year’s Gatorade Pa. Player of the Year and is currently a freshman at Southern Methodist University, meant a lot more attention would be coming Forrest’s way this fall.

“It wasn’t all on Colten last year, but he really carried the team. And then I realized that was all going to come to me,’ Forrest said with a chuckle. “I just figured I’d rely on the talent and see where it takes me.’

Habecker and Forrest, along with Mark’s older brother Jamie, were integral in each other’s progress from a young age having grown up across the street from one another in Douglassville — Forrest was born in England and still has a large amount of family in the U.K. — as well as playing on the same Lehigh Valley United club teams.

“It was great being able to play with two very competitive soccer players basically whenever you wanted. It was a huge thing to have as far as practice goes,’ Forrest said. “We actually have a public soccer field right behind our house so a number of times me, Colten, my brother, Wyatt (Fabian) when he was in town, we would just go out there and shoot, practice, mess around … it was great.

“And to play on the same high school team was incredible, especially at a school like Hill.’

Assuming a leadership role and taking the job seriously began for Forrest minutes after he fired home the decisive kick in last year’s PAISAA title game win, 2-1 in penalty kicks over Haverford.

“It all started at the end of last year and those seniors looked at me, looked at Will Blake and Zach Keller and said, ‘ It’s your turn next. You have to get it done because that’s what we do.” Forrest said.

Just what the Blues would be able to accomplish this season was in question even from those in and around the program.

“In Mark’s own house, where his older brother (Jamie) captained us and was a four-year player and his parents have been as big a part of Hill soccer as any, there was even doubt within the house how we could be possibly do this year,’ Drowne said. “But Mark was an exception to that from the moment his peers elected him captain and older peers graduated.

“He very much decided that we all know what the standard is and the standard starts and ends with pushing ourselves in training every day and there is no reason we can’t still meet our goals. And if somebody better beats us then I’ll shake their hand. It’s that type of attitude that is priceless when it comes from a player.’

The season started with a few less-than-stellar results. It was one of those — a 3-0 defeat to N.J. powerhouse St. Benedict’s — that Forrest felt marked a turning point.

“We may have lost 3-0, but I think the team as a whole played better than it had before and people were trying harder and that was something that needed to happen. From there on out there weren’t any issues with that,’ Forrest said.

“It was absolutely positive. Some of the players on the team, maybe me included, felt like things were going to come easy. I think in that game people really stepped up and we knew it had to be like that every game of the season.’

The MAPL season was almost over before it began. But Forrest scored two goals in the final eight minutes to lift Hill over Peddie 3-2, a game he considers one of his season highlights.

“I think because he so relishes big matches and enjoys training for them — he’s one of the people who insisted we step our schedule up even further this past year, which we did with two more nationally-ranked teams on the schedule — and Mark relishes that and can’t stand when there isn’t every reason to be pushed everyday by himself, by the schedule, by his teammates,’ Drowne said.

“There’s an optimism to him that if the final whistle hasn’t gone the ball can still find the back of the net and that is so admirable and one of the reasons he scored so many goals in the final minutes of matches this year.’

The pursuit of a fourth straight MAPL title fell short in the final league game with a 3-1 loss to archrival Lawrenceville — one area this year’s team couldn’t match its predecessor.

It’s the one loss that still burns Forrest, faced with it again in a harsh way while being interviewed inside the Hill Trophy Room, which is tiled with team pictures, but only the ones that win the MAPL title and beat Lawrenceville.

The defeat appeared to have provided the team a burst of motivation ahead of the PAISAA tournament.

“It may have put fire in the bellies of the team,’ Forrest said. “I remember the practice in the week leading up to the state semifinal and it was better than it had been all year.’

Hill prevailed 2-1 over Kiski Prep on a snow-swept Harry Price Field in the semifinals and moved on to meet Mercersburg Academy — an upset winner over Haverford School in the semis — for the second time in two weeks (they drew 2-2 in MAPL play).

A tight game, deadlocked into a second overtime finally went the way of Hill on Keller’s game-winner to complete the PAISAA repeat.

“The relief of seeing that ball roll in was ridiculous; I’ve never been so happy in my life to see the ball go in,’ Forrest said.

“The character of everyone on the team enabled us to be successful. The big players in the senior class really stepped up. Coach Drowne was asking for that in the beginning of the season and that’s exactly what he got.’

As Drowne sees it, there was no greater contribution than Forrest’s.

“As one of the harder working guys in practice for four years, that rubbed off on other players. Finish a drill strong or finish a match strong, those weren’t words out of his mouth, they were actions,’ Drowne said.

“People just wanted to play with and for him each week, which was really impressive.’

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply