Marple Newtown has been waiting for this season

NEWTOWN SQUARE >> This time three years ago, Charlie Dodds looked at the group of Marple Newtown soccer players assembled before him and faced a decision.

He possessed a smattering of veterans, guys whose leadership probably outpaced their technical ability on the field. And he had a group of freshmen who showed obvious talent, albeit raw and in need of refining, but whose ceilings as players were high enough to make even a grizzled, veteran coach like Dodds wonder what could be with a few seasons of polishing.

Dodds concluded that the best thing for his players and his program was to let that group of precocious freshmen play from the start, taking their lumps on the varsity field and learning their lessons a year or two sooner than their peers at other schools.

That choice has charted the course of the last three seasons, and Dodds hopes the result of all those growing pains is a spectacular senior season for what he regards as the most talented group he’s coached in seven seasons at Marple.

“I think we’re finally going to get our chance to win it,” senior defender Aaron Corr said. “We’ve always had flashes of when we were very good, and just everybody else was bigger and they would dominate us. And we would lose unfortunately. But we’ve always been building up to this year to try and win.”

George Lambritsios, Marple Newtown’s All-Delco senior striker, gets in some work during a preseason practice. Lambritsios socred 15 goals last season to help the Tigers earn a berth in the District One Class AAA playoffs. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)
George Lambritsios, Marple Newtown’s All-Delco senior striker, gets in some work during a preseason practice. Lambritsios socred 15 goals last season to help the Tigers earn a berth in the District One Class AAA playoffs. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

The class prepping for its final season is loaded with talent, particularly of the attacking variety. George Lambritsios is the biggest target, literally and physically, for that admiration, as the barrel-chested All-Delco striker scored 15 goals a season ago. The orchestrators of many of those goals, the flitting runs and deft passes of Kostas Silkas and Hunter Dyson in midfield, are also back for a fourth go-round. Silkas and Dyson combined for 17 goals last season, while Dyson’s versatility in playing centrally or pulling out to the wing is a vital concession that allows Dodds to jam the midfield full of creative playmakers.

The lineup is populated by members of a 13-strong senior contingent, many of whom have played since Day 1. Corr anchors the defense in front of goalie Ben Staud, while Rocco Mesoraca, who contributed significantly as a freshman, is back after injuries that have limited him in recent seasons. Antonio Mandell, Gianmichael Allodoli, Jack Clincon, Nate Lannon, Nick Costa, Josh Lessig and Michael Levengood round out the group.

The Tigers’ senior corps has had the opportunity to grow and bond together through the seasons. They finished in the basement of the Central League as freshmen and won just five games in their sophomore campaign, including just one league match. But those setbacks laid the groundwork, and when the Tigers’ physicality finally caught up to that of their opponents, all those traits instilled over two tough seasons shone through.

“A lot of us played together when we were younger, so we always kind of had that chemistry,” Lambritsios said. “Now that we’re all bigger and stronger, we can put it together and play better as a team.”

“We know what each other is going to do,” Corr said. “We know where they’re going to be, what their strengths are, what their weakness are. So we know what to play to and always communicate together.”

Last year’s drastic improvement to 10 wins, including seven in the Central League highlighted by a postseason-clinching win over Radnor, landed them in the District One Class AAA playoffs, a vital step in the progression. It may have ended in disappointing fashion, a hard-fought 1-0 loss to a Conestoga team that had handed the Tigers a 3-2 defeat in the regular season, but the No. 24 seed gleaned more than just another layer to their hunger for success from last fall’s experience.

“It was a really significant step,” Lambritsios said. “And it was a confidence booster, showing that we have the potential to get there.”

Many of the ties on the field go much deeper than just three years, forged through clubs outside of high school competition. Those relationships have fostered a sense of anticipation, the whispers of “wait until they’re seniors” reaching a deafening pitch as the season approaches.

The expectations have risen in concert, but it’s such an end-directed process for the seniors that they’ve also increased their preparedness, particularly for that level of pressure. The players are well aware of the goals that others project on them, and they harbor lofty goals of their own. More than one last week threw around the word “championship,” and aside from the perennial threat posed by Conestoga, Marple figures to be one of the frontrunners.

“Charlie’s been talking us up for years because we know that we’re a talented class,” Dyson said. “We just try to keep our composure and we’re just really excited.”

“The first three years of playing, it was really a learning experience,” Lambritsios said. “We lost a lot of games, but we also learned a lot. Junior year, we made the playoffs, and hopefully this year, we’ll go for the championship.”

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