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Lower Merion boys soccer had memorable season despite loss in state final

MECHANICSBURG – A few minutes after Lower Merion’s loss to Seneca Valley in the PIAA 4A boys’ soccer state championship final Saturday – the Aces’ first appearance in the PIAA boys soccer state finals in 34 years – LM head coach Nico Severini talked about what a memorable campaign the 2022 season was for his team.

“I think this was a phenomenal season for us,” said Severini. “They worked hard, played for each other — we put ‘Team Together’ first. We accomplished a lot of things this season that most Lower Merion teams have not. We were able to play in the fourth state final in the history of the program, and we had the most wins in a season in the program (23). We were the first team to win both a Central League title and district title in more than a decade. Our players developed a camaraderie day in and day out.”

Severini also expressed gratitude for the fan support the Aces have received this fall. In addition to the fans in the stands at Eagle View Middle School’s field Saturday evening, several Lower Merion coaches were in attendance, including boys’ basketball coach Gregg Downer, LM girls soccer coach Kevin Ries and former Aces boys soccer coach Jon Fadely. At the end of Saturday’s game, the Lower Merion team walked over to the Aces fan section, and were greeted by plenty of applause.

“I think it speaks volumes and is a reflection of the school, that we have a (strong) program that we have from the top down, from the athletic director (Jason Stroup) and our administration,” said Severini. “Coaches like Kevin and Gregg and Jon have been there since my Day One, supporting our team. We have a lot of (LM) teachers out here too, and it’s a really nice feeling.”

Lower Merion senior forward Sam Nyenka, who scored the lone goal in the Aces’ 1-0 win in the PIAA 4A state semifinal Nov. 16, said, “We definitely appreciate all of this fan support. It’s a long two-hour drive to come out here (to Mechanicsburg), and it’s the first time we’ve been in the state finals in more than 30 years, so we really appreciate it.”

Speaking of fan support, about 3 ½ hours before the start of the game, as the two Aces team buses pulled out of the Lower Merion High School parking lot, more than 100 LM fans were gathered at the exit, cheering the team and waving banners as the buses passed on their way to Mechanicsburg.

About an hour before the start of Saturday’s game, Severini spoke to the team — which included 15 seniors – about the importance of going all-out on every play, and added, “There were maybe 10,000 soccer players (in PIAA schools) who started in mid-August and they all wish they could be the 25 players here tonight.”

Early in the championship final, Lower Merion appeared to have the upper hand, making several laser shots on goal that were saved by the Seneca Valley goalie.

“Sometimes soccer goes that way, sometimes you get a team on their heels and you can get one or two goals, and it changes the complexion of the game,” said Severini. “When (Seneca Valley) scored the first couple of goals, it changed the rhythm of the game and we just weren’t able to get the momentum back. Seneca Valley is a very good team. We were hoping to jump out to a lead first and then see how the game would go.”

The Raiders scored their first goal 9:32 into the contest, then six minutes later tallied again to take a 2-0 lead. By halftime, Seneca Valley had taken a 4-0 lead en route to its 6-0 victory.

Coming into Saturday’s contest, Lower Merion (23-2) had outscored its opponents 80-8 and posted 18 shutouts, including five in a row heading into the state championship final.

“Our players were fearless this season; I think they played for each other,” said Severini. “We had a bunch of seniors that jelled together. Our defense really jelled, starting with our goalie Crosby Johnson, our center backs, Thanos (Danillidis) and Mori (Rothman) and right and left backs Liam (Clifford) and Jude (Vaughan). We had a very, very strong back line.

“Tonight, that’s the way the game goes sometimes. It was unfortunate for us tonight, but one game doesn’t make a season. There were 23 other wins that we had (smiles), a district championship. The team was good and today we were just a little short.”

For Nyenka, his favorite memory of the 2022 season was winning the District 1 4A championship against Conestoga. The Aces won by a 1-0 score, and Nyenka tallied the game’s only goal.

“Winning the district final, playing alongside friends that I’d been playing with since I was 10 years old, and getting that trophy, that was a great (experience),” said Nyenka.

Several Lower Merion seniors have committed to play college soccer, including Nyenka (University of West Virginia),  Danillidis (Franklin & Marshall) and Andrew Davis (Colgate).

Players on the PIAA 4A state runnerup Aces include Nyenka, Danillidis, Clifford, Vaughan, Davis, Johnson, Rothman, Justin Poles, Jack Forman, Elliott Holl, Joaquin Jenkins, Simon Rosen, Owen Bress, Josh Huh, Etienne Idol, Khalid Jafer, Jimmy Paz, Asher Weisman, Ben Cromer, Oliver Saunders, Max Schmeider, Quann Feldman, Grant Curry and Nathan Cohen. The coaching staff includes Severini, Patrick Cronin, Dennis Hagan, Marc Gottfried and Will Rosenbaum. The team manager is Andrew Badt.

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