WORCESTER >> Ryan Morgan told his teammates all season it wasn’t going to be a rebuilding year.
Outside the Archbishop Wood boys soccer program, it might have come across as a bit crazy. Sure, the Vikings had a superb 2018 season but they’d also graduated more than a starting lineup worth of players and had precious little experience coming back.
Morgan believed in his team and that belief led Wood to a third straight PIAA 3A semifinal appearance.
While the Vikings fell 2-0 to a quality Strath Haven team Tuesday night at Methacton, it didn’t detract how far Wood came in just a few months.
“I love this group of guys and I told them at the beginning of the year, don’t let other people define you and don’t let anyone else put the label on you,” Morgan, a senior captain, said. “We had the opportunity to be a very good team and at the end of the day we were a very good team, we just didn’t make it where we wanted to go but overall, I’m just really proud of everybody.”
Wood lost its top three scorers from a year ago, its goalkeeper and most of its starting defense, so there were a lot of ups and downs early in the season. Teams aren’t judged on their start, but instead their finish and by the time mid-October rolled around, it was a different Vikings squad.
For senior captain Matt Murphy, who fought his way back from a mid-season injury, the growth was what he was most proud of this fall.
“It means everything,” Murphy said just after sharing hugs with his coaches. “We lost 15 seniors, nobody knew what we were going to be able to do and we went out and started proving people wrong. We were far apart at the beginning of the year, there were a lot of pieces we had to put together but by the end of the year, most of them were coming together.”
Strath Haven, the team that knocked Wood out in the semifinals last year, went through its own share of changes during the season. Tuesday’s game was intense but well-contested with Wood failing to convert a couple inviting chances in the first half.
It opened the door just enough and Haven capitalized on corner kick goals by Jake Hooper and standout defender John Holstein six minutes apart in the second half. In between, Holstein headed a shot by Shane Collier off the line and keeper Charles Shankweiler saved a follow-up bicycle kick by Giuseppe Propato at the crossbar to deny Wood an equalizer.
“Instead of keeping our heads up, some of us dropped our heads and weren’t as into the game,” Morgan said. “That’s a moment where everyone has to keep their heads up, have a good five minutes and try to get one in.”
“Seeing that was hard, we tried to stay in it but they have a good team and it’s a good defense,” Murphy said. “They packed it in a bit and that was really it. It was getting us all year, we prepared for it and didn’t execute. We knew exactly what they did and just didn’t execute.”
Wood had some younger really step into their own during the season. Lou Daniel and Dom Petruzzelli earned starting roles in the back, Shane Collier was a strong complement to Morgan in the middle, Christian Clyde came on late in the year and plenty of other guys found their niche.
“They have the luxury of getting a lot of people back,” Murphy said. “I’d tell them to work hard and come into the season in shape. It’s not like we didn’t have the talent this year and they’re absolutely going to have the talent next year, they’re just going to have to work harder and they’ll get there.”
Morgan would certainly love to be playing this weekend, but he understood this group got more out of the season than anyone expected them to. The senior hopes next year’s team can improve on this year and reach the PCL final again and finally get over the PIAA final four hump and reach Hershey.
“The first week, we were scared of what type of team we were going to be because not everybody was buying in,” Morgan said. “After the last two weeks, we played our best soccer and I couldn’t have asked for more from these guys. They put all the work in, bought into what the coaches were saying, we had our leaders take control of the team and played our hearts out.”
STRATH HAVEN 0 2 – 2
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 0 0 – 0
Goals: SH – Jake Hooper (Andrew Lowman), John Holstein (Lowman)