When Great Valley ented the District 1 Class AAA playoffs on October 23, conventional wisdom stated the Patriots were not expected to do much.
Great Valley entered the tournament as a No. 15 seed, along with a fourth place finish in the Ches-Mont American Division.
Despite a 12-4-2 record entering the playoffs, the Patriots were one year removed from a trip to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals.
The experience was there, but the results were not coming on the scoreboard. Fortunately for Great Valley, head coach Dave Moffitt knew just what to say to his team entering the tournament.
“We talked about playing within ourselves and relying on the core of guys to get us through,’ Moffett said. “As the regular season was going on, we were playing better. We decided to focus on playing our game and everything else would take care of itself.’
That strategy worked out tremendously for the Patriots as they were set to embark on a playoff run for the ages. Great Valley upset three top-10 seeds en route to a second place finish in District 1 followed by defeating two district champions in the PIAA playoffs.
Great Valley ended its season in Hersheypark Stadium playing in the PIAA Class AAA championship game. The Cinderella run was a testiment to Moffett, the receipent of the Daily Local News All-Area Coach of the Year award for the second consecutive season.
“Winning this is gratifying because the award is a reflection on the team,’ Moffett said. “It’s a recognition of how well they played throughout the season. Their performance got us to where we needed to go.’
Great Valley’s playoff run almost didn’t make it past the first round of the district playoffs. Playing its only home game of the tournament, the Patriots found themselves trailing by a goal at halftime.
They didn’t panic, which was a tactic relied on during the remarkable four-week stretch.
“We told the team not to worry,’ Moffett said. “They just went out and played their game and carried that throughout each round. We were prepared no matter the situation emotionally, no matter if we were leading or trailing.’
Great Valley rallied for three second-half goals, two from Kyle Hoops and one from Jack Hajnik, to defeat Owen J. Roberts. The Patriots rode that momentum to an upset of second-seeded Neshaminy two days later, followed by a 1-0 defeat at No. 10 West Chester Rustin in the district quarterfinals.
After clinching a state playoff beth with the victory over Rustin, Great Valley upset Wissahickon 1-0 in the semifinals before falling 1-0 to fourth-seeded Central Bucks East in the District 1 Class AAA championship game.
The Patriots were just getting started.
In the PIAA Class AAA opener, they defeated District 11 Champion Southern Lehigh 2-1 before defeating District 3 champion Reading High 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
Great Valley avenged 2013’s heartbreaking loss in the state semifinals by defeating Mechanicsburg, the third-place team from District 3, 2-1. Their Cinderella run ended in Hersheypark Stadium to the hands of District 7 champion Peters Township by a 2-1 final.
The Patriots fought to the end, just like they had all season. During the playoff run, many players stepped up with key goals to keep Great Valley’s season alive.
Mike Carrigan broke a 0-0 stalemate with the game-winner against Rustin in the 78th minute to send the Patriots back to the PIAA playoffs. Carrigan then followed with that performance with the game’s only goal to send the Patriots back to the district final in the win over Wissahickon.
Jack Hajnik also provided some heroics as well with the eventual game-winner in the 53rd minute to lead Great Valley past Reading High in the PIAA quarterfinals.
The Patriots received contributions from all over the field during the run. Hajnik, Carrigan, Colin Deitch and Kyle Hoops each had three goals in the playoffs.
Keeper Aiden Claffey allowed just nine goals in nine playoff games, along with plenty of spectacular saves to keep the Patriots ahead in tight games. All 26 players on Great Valley contributed to its state playoff run.
“It was a total team effort,’ Moffett said. “All these guys were able to do great things. The contributions were coming from everybody. They just played their role, came together and stepped up.’
The result…a season fans in East Whiteland Township will not forget.