A fitting finish to Haverford School’s journey

CONSHOHOCKEN >> As Jimmy Tricolli charged into the pile of celebrating Haverford School players with the championship plaque, few seemed to mind that they shouldn’t even have been on the field at the Proving Grounds Saturday night.

That’s not an underdog, seat-of-their-pants, good luck story. It’s the backdrop of a hectic week that culminated with a sending-off worthy of the Fords’ golden generation — a 1-0 win over Malvern Prep in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association final — even if it wasn’t the one they expected or hoped for.

The plan for Haverford School wasn’t to end against local opposition, but to cap their season with a holiday training trip to Germany, 10 days scrimmaging youth teams and getting a firsthand immersion in European soccer culture to benefit the near dozen players that will continue their careers beyond high school. Given the conflict with the PAISAA Tournament, the Fords would have fielded essentially a JV team after varsity departed Wednesday.

Those designs, though, went up in smoke this week as panic stemming from the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris spread through Europe. Tuesday’s cancellation of a soccer match in Hanover, Germany, between Germany and the Netherlands was the signal to the Fords traveling party of 21 players that discretion may outweigh the learning experience.

Over the next day, coach Bill Brady held collaborative discussions with parents, his players and the school administration. When a consensus favoring caution emerged in the hours before they were scheduled to leave, the voyage was scrapped.

“We were pretty upset honestly,” midfielder Alec Haas said. “It was pretty dejecting because we thought we’d be playing with international kids and having some fun together like a last hurrah.”

But a consolation prize that had been shunted to the side, the PAISAA Tournament, softened the blow and presented another opportunity for the current crop of Fords to augment the trophy case.

“When we found out that we weren’t going to be going to Germany, we were like, ‘all right, we’ve been given a chance here. Let’s make the most of it,’” Tricolli, a senior defender, said. “We’ve had an amazing senior class and we’ve worked too hard not to go out on top, so we really poured everything we had into it this week to make sure we finish at first place.”

The transition was clear. The Fords loafed through the first half of Monday’s quarterfinal with Friends’ Central — because what motivation did those who couldn’t finish the quest for a trophy have? — before a stern talking-to at the interval turned on the jets for four unanswered goals and a 5-1 win. While friends from other schools texted lamenting their absence from the tournament with Germany beckoning, the Fords refocused for a 3-1 banishment of Penn Charter in the driving rain in Thursday’s semifinal.

In Saturday’s finale, the Fords were the better team by a comfortable margin. It was a tight affair befitting the nip-and-tuck finish of the Inter-Ac, the only breakthrough a Malvern Prep own goal when Connor Gregory’s shot deflected off Cullen Pina. Quality chances were few and far between, the game bearing the hallmarks of Haverford School’s usual suffocation of opponents: Composed, comprehensive and often complete.

Tricolli and Shane Bradley, two of the seven seniors bound for college programs that propelled the Fords to four straight Inter-Ac titles, helped Will Baltrus keep the clean sheet with two saves.

Though it wasn’t on the continent they’d expected, the Fords still threw themselves a season-ending celebration.

“Winning the Inter-Ac for the fourth time in a row is a big honor,” Haas said. “We wanted to do that and that was the plan. But it was about getting as far as we could with anything.”

“Our freshman year we won it, and then we were robbed of it two years in row,” Tricolli said. “So to finish out back where we started, it kind of completes the circle of our careers.”

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