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DLN BOYS SOCCER PREVIEW: Uncertain season not enough to keep Conestoga down

The 2019 Central League boys’ soccer season was a testament to the staying power of the Conestoga program.

The Pioneers had, perhaps, the youngest squad in head coach Dave Zimmerman’s long reign and yet the team still managed to finish second in the league with an 8-2-1 record. And then ’Stoga went on to advance to the elite eight of the PIAA playoffs before falling to the eventual state champs in overtime.

“We bring back more players who got significant playing time the season before than ever in my career,” Zimmerman said. “We lost the fewest number of seniors – four — who contributed significantly.”

That should be a scary scenario for the rest of the Central League. Well, everybody except maybe Lower Merion, who returns most of its top players from a team that ended Conestoga’s five-year reign as league champs.

It will be quite a battle this fall, assuming that the plans announced several weeks ago to play a limited season against only Central League opponents actually happens.

“Our league is going back-and-forth,” Zimmerman reported. “There is disagreement about what we should be doing. Some teams want to abandon the plan.”

The Pioneers boast two veteran and dangerous strikers in Eli Brown and Grant Burns. Brown scored 14 goals last year and was an All-League selection. The top returning defender is junior Simeon Dorsey.

And at a place like ’Stoga, you know that a productive feeder system is going to add a bunch of quality prospects every year. A total of 125 players attended tryouts, and six freshmen managed to make the varsity squad.

“We kept the largest number of freshmen that we’ve ever kept,” Zimmerman said. “It is a very talented class.”

In addition, for Zimmerman’s 19th season at the helm, he is expecting all of the returning players to ratchet their play up a notch or two. That is, or course, assuming the season goes off unscathed in the midst of a global pandemic.

“I sort of expect our players to get better from year-to-year,” he said.

“Three weeks ago I didn’t think we would have a fall season. A lot of people thought we wouldn’t start up until next spring. So this is really a pleasant surprise.”

Graduation hit Unionville hard with the loss of All-American Michael Hewes, three-time All-Ches-Mont defender Garrett Pinkston and All-Ches-Mont keeper Alex Dolce. But head coach Rich Garber has five starters back from last season’s 17-3-2 squad, including four-year starter Alex O’Leary, a first-team all-league defender. Forward Kyle Ketterer is also back and he shared the team-lead with 21 goals in ’19, along with defender Ethan Lord, and midfielders Anthony Zucchero and Peter Murray. “With only seven seniors and two other returning varsity players, we will need to relay on the players moving up from the junior varsity to be pivotal in the success of this team,” Garber said.

It seems like West Chester Henderson is always in a hunt for the Ches-Mont title, and 2020 should be no different. The Warriors were 8-2-2 in the league (11-5-2 overall) a year ago and have marquee returning players at key positions, like standout junior goaltender Tino Kneis. Last season he allowed just one goal against Ches-Mont National opponents and helped guide Henderson to its seventh straight division championship. The team’s top forward is Ethan Jarden, who notched eight goals and six assists as a sophomore. And defensive midfielder Adam Gomaa started 17 games in ’19 and chipped in two goals and four assists.

Bishop Shanahan head coach Jim Kalavik has quality returning starters at all levels, including cousins Bryce and Zane Domsohn. A junior forward, Zane garnered all-league honors after scoring 14 times and dishing out six assists. Bryce is a junior goalkeeper who recorded four shutouts and authored an 83% save percentage. The Eagles were 13-7 in 2019 and the ’20 unit also features midfielders Colin Deal and Sean Gingrich, who combined to score nine goals and six assists, and defender Evan Cunningham.

With a good mix of returning and new players, Downingtown East is also a Ches-Mont contender. The Cougars were 7-1-4 a year ago (9-5-4 overall) and leading scorer Luc Rising is back at forward. The junior scored 12 goals in 2019 and head coach Tom Creighton describes him as fast and relentless. Crafty senior Drew Murta is an established attacking midfielder, and sophomore James Blake came on late a year ago in the midfield. “This group will be able to compete daily,” Creighton said. “Once this group gets on the same page, we will be a tough team to play.”

Looking to build on a solid season last fall, Downingtown West (7-3-1 in the Ches-Mont, 12-6-1 overall) could boast one of the area’s most dynamic offenses. Senior midfielder Dylan Englehart headlines an attack that also includes sophomore forward Matt Lohr and MF Kyle McWilliams. Ironically, the squad’s top individual performer is probably senior defender Ethan Ernst, a first-team all-league pick in 2019. “We should field a very solid team this season with a good mixture of seniors and underclassmen,” said head coach John Hatt. “The strength of the team could be our attacking play with some creative players. If we can consistently provide a quality attack we could have a quality season.”

Just 9-9 last fall, Great Valley looks to make a big leap in 2020 with the return of its core. Two, four-year starters Matthew Wellener (forward) and Quintin Wrabley (goalie) anchor the offense and defense, respectively. And senior attacking midfielder Ethan Williams is a three-year starter. “With Wrabley manning the goal, Williams providing the creative spark and Wellener scoring goals, this year’s team is capable of competing with any team,” said head coach Dave Moffett.

The heart and soul of the team at West Chester Rustin is a trio of juniors who started every game last season: Mohamed Hendawy, Ryan Seelaus and Dimitri Makris. They combined to score nine goals and dish out 12 assists as sophomores. The Golden Knights also have two senior center backs to anchor the defense in Judah Knaub and Tyler Emig, who was a first-team all-league selection. “We return a hungry squad that made districts last year, but lost two key members (to graduation): leading scorer Matty Scoffone and all-conference goalie Andrew DiStefano,” said head coach Ryan Castle. “The squad also has the addition of several rising sophomores that look to play a big role in our season.”

West Chester East dropped a lot of close games a year ago with a squad primarily made up of underclassmen. With another year of experience, the Vikings will likely improve on their 5-8-5 season (3-4-5 in the league). “Our sophomores and juniors from last year look to make this season more successful after a tough season a year ago,” said head coach Charlie Dodds. One is junior Nick Nowak, who was a second-team All-League pick in 2019. Others include seniors Eric Betchel, Owen Van Dyke and Ryan Cogill. And junior John Regester is back in the net for East, and was named a team captain along with Nowak.

At 10-7-1 last season, Kennett was a squad that few were able to overlook. That will likely be the case yet again, but the Blue Demons suffered heavy graduation losses, including Edwin Guerrero, Daniel Kunzig and Christian Zavala. Kennett has just two senior starters, but one is Evan Hartman. Others to keep an eye on: junior Gavin Steele and sophomore Zach Mannices.

Head coach Scott Polk is taking over for Steven Potter at Coatesville. He returns after four years away from the program and inherits a team that was just 1-10-1 in the league (6-11-1 overall). Seniors Franklin Calle (midfield), Adam Bradley (forward) and Patrick Frederick (defender) are all back, but the future is bolstered by sophomores Nate DelSantro and Alex Shultz who can play midfield and forward positions. “Delsantro and Shultz will drive our offense, while Frederick keys a back line that will feature nothing but seniors,” Polk said.

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