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Pennridge gives its all for Valimont, bows out to Lower Merion in PIAA-4A quarterfinals

Pennridge's Luca Angello (10) lays down as teammates mob him after his second-half goal against Upper Dublin during their District 1-4A second round game on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

BUCKINGHAM >> Pete Valimont knew it was coming.

The past few years, the Pennridge boys soccer coach and his wife would have one of those quiet loud conversations at the end of each season regarding his future. There won’t be one of those conversations this year, as Valimont has decided to step away so he can spend more time with his family. That didn’t mean he or his players weren’t trying to make it last as long as possible.

Saturday, the run came to an end as the Rams fell 2-0 to Lower Merion in the PIAA 4A quarterfinals played at Central Bucks East. His team had given all it had but that didn’t make the ending any easier.

“I don’t think it set in until we shook hands, the guys came over and you’re trying to figure out the words to say realizing its the last time that kind of setting and that kind of environment is going to occur here,” Valimont, who has coached the Rams the past 15 years, said. “Hat’s off to Lower Merion and coach Nico (Severini), that’s a fantastic program and if we’re going to lose to anybody, I’ve got no shame in losing to Lower Merion.”

After the final whistle, the toll was evident. Pennridge, which fell behind 2-0 in the first half, put everything it had into the last 40 minutes of its season and asked plenty of the District 1 champion Aces. When they finally got off the field, the Rams players looked it, some slumping down on the bench or crouching on the field just exhausted from trying to keep their season going.

Valimont had the players jog across the field to salute their parents in the stands, then return for a final team talk and a last line of handshakes, hugs and goodbyes. His four sons, all adopted as little brothers by the players this fall, made their way across the field as Valimont and his assistant coaches thanked those players for their efforts.

“The second half, we just wanted to turn it on,” Rams senior co-captain Shane Velez said. “The first two goals against us were unfortunate but we knew we had a chance. We were battling them all half, so we came out with 40 minutes and it was do-or-die.”

Velez, bound for UMass to continue his career, and Valimont shared an extra-long moment together in the final line. Part of the reason Valimont put off his decision to step away and part of the reason this was the right year came down to this senior class. With co-captains Velez, CJ Dimmick, Jared Hess and Tommy McKinney along with classmates Fernando Columna, Brian Thomson, Peter Derro, Aidan Ayala, Zachary Klepeiss, Jhoa Hernandez, Nate Connor, Jack Bruno, Andrew Parlee and Ryan McMahon having been through the ringer, it was the right group to go out with.

“It hasn’t all hit me yet, I’m still coming off the shock of playing but the last four years under him, it was such a great experience,” Velez said. “It’s nothing but good thoughts and happiness. I know it’ll hit me when I get home tonight, not being able to play high school soccer anymore but all the bonds and friends I’ve created will stick with me.”

This group was on the team that lost in the 2020 District 1 final, lost in the last playback a year ago to just miss out on states again and finally got over the hill this year. The Rams beat Abington Heights 4-1 on Tuesday, the program’s first state win, but it went beyond any accomplishment or result with this group of seniors.

“I’ve had a handful of those guys in the middle schools, I’ve had Shane, Jared, CJ and Tommy in sixth or seventh grade so I’ve known them the last seven years,” Valimont said. “I started a team for the Future Player Academy club during COVID, I cold-called kids and said ‘you want to come play for me?’ and I had 10 of our 14 seniors come and play with me. For me, with the connection I had, I was super-connected with them and I knew this would be the right time to do it.”

“We’ve been through everything, ups and downs, and it’s really brought us closer together,” Velez said. “Losing that district final, making it for the first time to states, it brought us closer as a group of friends more than anything.”

Valimont knows the cupboard isn’t bare at Pennridge and he was hopeful one of his assistants would be able to take up his role leading the team forward.

“My boys have been on this ride, they’re in the pictures, after the first state game the guys are picking up my youngest, it’s been a fantastic experience for them,” Valimont said. “I didn’t have that growing up so for my kids to experience that and for my athletic director to allow me to have that, it’s been pretty special.”

Walking off the pitch one last time, holding “Rappy the Ram” – the stuffed animal horned ram one of his boys had bought on a shopping trip to Cabela’s that became a token on the bench during the postseason – Valimont admitted as much as he’s at peace with the decision, it’s going to take time to come to terms with.

“It’ll set in the next couple of days, it’ll set in again at the banquet and I think it’ll set in next August – I told my wife we need to make sure we’re on some kind of trip so I don’t try to sneak back down – but it’s been a heck of a run,” Valimont said. “I wouldn’t take anything back, I’ve learned a lot as a coach. I was very green in the beginning and thought winning was going to be easy. We had dark ages where we weren’t winning a lot – a lot of years I thought I was going to get fired – but this senior class and these last four years were very special.”

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