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2021 Mercury Boys Soccer Team-by-Team Preview

Boyertown's Beckett Wenger (20) slaloms through the midfield as Perkiomen Valley's Matt Holmes, left, Luke Hansen, second from right, and Trey Busedu give chase. (Austin Hertzog - MediaNews Group)

Pioneer Athletic Conference

Boyertown

Head coach: Matt Danner, 2nd season

Last year’s record/accomplishments: 8-4 PAC, 8-5 overall, PAC champion, District 1-4A qualifier

Players to watch: Beckett Wenger, Sr., Forward; Ryan Goffice, Sr., Forward; Colin Eisenhard, Sr., Forward; Tristan Chambers, Sr., Midfield; Justin Patten, Sr., Back; Matt Selders, Sr., Back; Luke Moser, Sr., Back; Nick Rothenberger, Sr., Goalie; Brady Albanese, Soph., Midfield; Macade Knoblauch, Soph., Midfield.

Outlook: Expectations are a funny thing. They are what the Bears had plenty of entering the 2020 season with most of the first XI returning from the 2019 PIAA semifinal team. Boyertown found the encore more challenging when it started off 3-4 before rattling off five straight wins to repeat as Pioneer Athletic Conference champions. A loss to rival Spring-Ford in the District 1 first round won’t have helped the satisfaction of the 2020 campaign though. Expectations are still around in Boyertown with the PAC’s top player, Beckett Wenger, returning as a senior (PSCA All-State, Mercury All-Area first team in 2020) alongside fellow three-year starters Justin Patten and Matt Selders. With Patten, Selders and Luke Moser, the Bears have three of four starters returning in their back four in front of goalie Nick Rothenberger. The attacking personnel alongside Wenger will be largely new and will be looked upon to fill the scoring void left by 2020 All-Area first teamers Matt Kerr and Dimitrije Randjelovic. “Our goals remain consistent from year-to-year: to win a PAC title, to qualify and compete for a district title, and get back to the state playoffs,” said coach Matt Danner. The Bears enter as the frontrunner in the PAC race, but like they learned in 2020, nothing gets decided on paper.

Methacton

Head coach: Dave Stevenson, 5th season

Last year’s record: 3-8-1 PAC, 4-8-1 overall

Players to watch: Otto Hull, Sr., mid.; Graham Halfpenny, Sr., def.; Quinton Stemler, Sr., def.; Brayden Ahlum, Jr., mid.; Braden Kavanagh, Jr., mid.

Outlook: The Warriors aren’t exploding with returning players from the 2020 season but there is ‘a core to build around this season,’ according to coach Dave Stevenson. The anchor will be the midfield led by senior Otto Hull and junior Brayden Ahlum who will help the team overcome the departure of All-Area second team Zach Stevenson. Stevenson also notes the need for first-time varsity players to step up quickly to help handle the competition of the PAC Liberty. As much as anything, Stevenson would love to see the toss-ups start flipping in the Warriors’ favor. “Our first goal is to improve upon our efforts of last year’s shortened season,” he said. “Too many close games did not end in our favor and this year we’d like to change the outcomes of those types of games to our win column. If that happens, the PAC Final Four is a possibility.”

Norristown

The Norristown boys soccer team celebrates after winning the United Ten championship, 2-1, over Reading Saturday, April 10. (Submitted photo)

Head coach: Jason Pinnock, 2nd season

Last year’s record: 6-3 overall, United X champion (spring season due to COVID-19 pandemic)

Players to watch: Diego Guzman, Sr., midfield; Renato Castillo, Sr., midfield; Adan Morales, Jr., midfield.

Outlook: Last fall was a disappointing time for the Eagles when all fall sports were canceled at Norristown. But the spring brought a new opportunity under new coach Jason Pinnock and the Eagles had a championship to celebrate, winning the United X title. Not too bad. WIth a shorter turnaround than their counterparts and some positivity pulsing through them, things are looking up in Norristown. One opposing coach mentioned being ‘excited’ to see the level that coach Jason Pinnock can elevate the Eagles. Senior Diego Guzman is the Eagles’ attacking engine and scored twice in the team’s United X title win over Reading. All together, it has the PAC Liberty looking as competitive as ever and the Eagles aiming for a District 1 playoff berth.

Owen J Roberts

Head coach: Eric Wentzel, 9th season

Last year’s record: 5-7 PAC, 6-7 overall

Players to watch: Austin Chambers, Sr., Midfield; Carson Johnson, Sr., Defender; Andrew Keddie, Jr., GK; Joey Kish, Jr., Midfield; Isaac Stephenson, Jr., Forward; Ethan Williams, Jr., midfield; Nicky Gambone, So., Defender.

Outlook: The Wildcats were too liable to surrender three and four goals to stronger teams in 2020 so it is a pleasing development to have coach Eric Wentzel’s preseason assessment. “We should be very good defensively,” he said. “We have some experience back in those positions and should be able to play well on that end. Andrew Keddie is one of the best goalies in the league and should help solidify the defense.” OJR did graduate three All-Area players, including Julian Funaro (first team), but were not as hard hit by graduation as some other league rivals. The loss of top returning scorer Stephen Mullen to injury (ACL) will hurt and leaves question marks about scoring supply. OJR is aiming to reach the PAC and District 1 playoffs, ‘but we know that will be no easy task,’ says Wentzel.

Perkiomen Valley

Perkiomen Valley’s Owen Slack defends Boyertown’s Dimitri Randjelovic last season. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Head coach: Zach Allen, 3rd season

Last year’s record: 6-5-1 PAC, 6-6-1 overall, District 1-4A qualifier

Players to watch: Owen Love, Sr.; Adam Natoli, Sr.; Javier Schorle, Sr.; Owen Slack, Sr.; Ben Watson, Sr.; Ethan Witkowski, Sr.; Justin Angelo, Jr.; Luke Hansen, Jr.

Outlook: The Vikings were firmly in the PAC title picture in 2020 but faltered late with a 1-4 finish that wasn’t the happiest farewell for a sizable senior class that included All-Area first teamers Matt Holmes and Steve Warren. There are holes to fill but a few familiar names like Owen Slack (All-Area second team in 2020), Owen Love and Ethan Witkowski. Nonetheless, coach Zach Allen is seeing many new faces who will need to get comfortable quickly to compete for a PAC title. “We have lots of inexperienced players who will need to elevate their physical and tactical abilities for our team to remain competitive in a challenging division,” Allen said. “If the returning players can become leaders and impact players, it can allow the younger, more inexperienced players to get acclimated to the level of play and grow into their roles.” With a lot up in the air in the PAC Liberty, the Vikings can be right in the mix and should contend for a spot in the District 1 postseason.

Phoenixville

Head coach: Michael Cesarski, 8th year

Last year’s record: 2-6 overall

Players to watch: Efe Ulcay, Jr., Midfield; Ricky Kaniewski, Jr., Striker; Sandro Vennera, Sophomore, Striker/Midfield; Max Khazen, Jr., Midfield; Xander Bernal, Jr., Centerback; Liam Yeatman, Senior, Centerback; CJ Jahn, Jr., Midfield; Evan DesMarais, Jr., Midfield; Michael Sposato, Jr., Striker.

Outlook: It’s hard to take much from the Phantoms’ 2020 season: the results weren’t great, but neither were the circumstances of a delayed start due to covid precautions followed by an abrupt eight-game non-league slate. It would seem more likely for Phoenixville to return to being one of the upper-tier PAC Frontier sides. “We have a strong group of midfielders who are good in possession, create opportunities for the strikers, and defend as a unit,” said coach Mike Cesarski. “Our defenders are also very consistent and experienced together.” The Phantoms will look for a large junior class to be program leaders. Like practically every program, finding consistent goalscoring is a concern, but if they do, a trip to the District 1-3A playoffs should be within reach.

Pope John Paul II

Head Coach: Sackda Viravong, 3rd Season

Last year’s record: 2-6 overall

Players to watch: Aidan Zepp, Sr., forward/midfield; Stephan Rist, Sr., midfield; Dylan Russ, Sr., goalkeeper; Ben Rubinich, Jr., midfield; Alex Glenn, Jr., defender; Aidan Gray, Jr., def./mid; Ian Goetz, Jr., def.; Ben Bosio, So., forward.

Outlook: The Golden Panthers found life difficult after only beginning games Oct. 13 last year amid a delayed start due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A more traditional preseason will be a welcome time as PJP seeks to replace two-year team MVP Brett McMenamin and top defender Tommy Rutkowski. Third-year coach Sacka Viravong is making defending a focus this fall. “Defending is going to be the key for the team this year. If we can minimize mistakes and allow fewer goals, it will keep us close in the game,” he said. He’s also prioritizing mentality and fitness as PJP tries to get into the upper echelon of the PAC Frontier, which returns in 2021 after not existing a year ago when only six schools played in the official PAC season. “As a team, we need to remain strong mentally and retain our fitness on the field,” Viravong said. “If we can lessen injuries, we can make this soccer season respectable.”

Pottsgrove

Jeremy Thompson, Pottsgrove

Head coach: Jay Witkowski, 18th year

Last year’s record: 7-4-1 PAC, 8-5-1 overall, District 1-3A finalist

Players to watch: Landon Shivak, Sr., midfield; Jeremy Thompson, Sr., forward; Troy Watts, Sr., forward; Nduati Michuki, So., def.

Outlook: The Pottsgrove program built for years toward the 2020 season and finished as a PAC contender, finishing a half-game off the title, and reaching the District 1 Class 3A championship game. The aftermath leaves a lot to be determined with the Falcons searching to replace eight graduated starters, including Mercury All-Area Player of the Year goalkeeper Luke Kaiser, first team defender Cooper Fiore and second teamers Shane Gleason and Mike Troutman. “We return only four players with varsity experience. This is by far the youngest squad we will put on the field in quite some time,” said longtime Pottsgrove assistant Jeff Erb. “There will be a ton of ‘on the job’ training and opportunities to learn for everyone.” Forward Jeremy Thompson has shown an ability to score big goals, Troy Watts has pace and unpredictability while Landon Shivak will heavily influence the midfield. The rest is largely unknown. Pottsgrove has consistently been at or near the top of the PAC Frontier Division – the team has missed the PAC playoffs just once since they began in 2005 – but with so much turnover this will be as challenging a coaching job as longtime head coach Jay Witkowski and Erb have faced. That doesn’t mean the Falcons can’t keep their place in the PAC’s upper level, it just means it won’t be while riding on cruise control.

Pottstown

Head coach: Jace Stofflet, 1st year

Last season’s record: 0-3-1 overall

Players to watch: Jake Moser, midfield; Adam Green, goalkeeper.

Outlook: The Trojans program has been taken over by Jace Stofflet, a 2014 Boyertown graduate and former Bears player who works as the Transition Coordinator at Pottstown. Times were tough in 2020 with the Trojans having nary a semblance of a season due to pandemic-related delays to the season and managing to get only four games. It’s a big ask with so little continuity, but the Trojans will try to make it work. The goals are simple: “(We’re) looking to increase our win record and be competitive in all matchups,” Stofflet said.

Spring-Ford

Head coach: Brent Kissel, 6th season

Spring-Ford players embrace (9) Justin Russell after he scored vs West Chester East in 2020.

Last year’s record/accomplishments: 7-4-1 PAC, 9-5-1 overall, District 1-4A semifinalist

Players to watch: Justin Russell, Sr., fwd.; Dylan Smith, Sr., mid.; Cameron Jones, Jr., mid.; Matt Henzler, Jr., def.; Luca Carboy, Jr., mid.; Logan Hyduke, So., GK.

Outlook: The talent pool is always deep at Spring-Ford. How true that is will be tested this fall with the Rams trying to replace 10 graduated starters from last season, including Mercury All-Area first team attackers Tommy Bodenschatz and Andrew Merchant. Sophomore goalie Logan Hyduke is the lone returning starter while senior Justin Russell brought a spark to the attack last year. “We will experience some growing pains as a new squad coming together in the always competitive PAC,” said head coach Brent Kissel. “We are a talented team though and we are looking forward to the opportunity to prove ourselves.” Spring-Ford rarely drops too far down the PAC Liberty ladder – it has made the league postseason every year since 2016 – but maintaining that streak will require some quick gelling from the new Rams.

Upper Perkiomen

Head Coach: Kyle Fisher, 8th season

Last year’s record: 3-7-2 PAC & overall

Players to watch: Matthew Wanamaker, Sr., Goalkeeper; Anthony Durrant, Sr., center back; Blake Schwenk, Sr., center back; Matthew Milkowich, Sr., midfielder; Nick Aron, Sr., midfielder; David Schwab, Sr., forward, Enoc Padilla, Sr., midfielder; Jim Friedman, Jr., Forward; Mateo Schneidt, Jr., Midfielder; Aiden Heiser, Jr., midfielder; Logan Watkins, So., midfielder.

Outlook: A 3-7-2 record a year ago won’t look like much, but some records require context. The Tribe’s 2020 is one. They went toe-to-toe with the PAC’s top 6 programs and were one of two smaller schools (Pottsgrove) to play in the official Pioneer Athletic Conference season that fielded only seven schools amid COVID-19 pandemic delays and cancellations. They earned plenty of respect but not a postseason berth almost entirely due to schedule strength. Now, Kyle Fisher’s squad must realign without its strong Class of 2021 that was led by All-Area first team midfielder Cole Kendra and second team defenders Michael Fisher and Jack Cupitt. Senior captains Matt Milkowich, David Schwab and Enoc Padilla will be tasked with leading the Tribe. Returning to an up-in-the-air Frontier Division will benefit Upper Perk. “Our team needs to replace the leadership of a solid graduating class,” coach Kyle Fisher said. “A quick start is critical with 5 games in the first 8 days of the season.”

Others

Daniel Boone

Head coach: Shane Ferguson, 3rd season

Last season’s record: 7-3-1 Berks II, 9-5-1 overall, District 3-3A qualifier

Players to watch: Cian Picariello, Ryan Woomer, Nate Millard, Cam Henry, Chad Brown, Luke Harper

Outlook: Lots of area teams endured significant graduation losses, but the Blazers may take the cake. With 14 graduates from the Class of 2021 that helped Boone to second-place finish in Berks II and trip to the District 3-3A playoffs, there’s a lot of new parts to be figured out for the Blazers. The wins were more plentiful in 2020 in DB’s move from Berks I to Berks II and stay in the less-stacked second division will aid the Blazers as they incorporate many new players.

The Hill School

Head coach: Wyatt Fabian, 1st season

Last year’s record: No competition due to COVID-19 pandemic

Players to watch: Jalen Grant, postgrad, center back; Liam Jones, postgrad, outside forward; Sam Biafore, postgrad, outside forward; Jordan Samuels, Sr., midfield; Blake Groff, Sr., GK; Gavin Mpiana, Jr., midfield.

Outlook: It’s unknown territory around the Hill boys’ program. The Blues last competitive match was their 2019 Pa. Independent Schools Athletic Association semifinals defeat that ended a run of three straight state finals trips under then-head coach Chris Drowne. Drowne exited Hill in 2020 after a hugely successful 15 seasons that featured three PAISAA championships and seven Mid-Atlantic Prep League crowns. In place is one of the best players of his tenure, 2014 graduate Wyatt Fabian. Fabian, the Mercury All-Area Player of the Year in 2012, set program records for career matches and minutes played as a center back before playing collegiately at Franklin & Marshall where he was a two-year captain and All-American. Fabian’s first roster has a new look, too, with a trio of impact postgrads in Jalen Grant (Navy commit), Sam Biafore and Liam Jones. Senior midfielder Jordan Samuels is one of the few carryovers from the 2019 season. “I believe that we have a really strong group this season,” Fabian said. “We have a ton of creative attacking players who look to move the ball as well as a really strong set of backs behind them. Blake Groff gives us a calming presence in the back as well as a goalkeeper we can play back to.” There’s little time for the team to gain its footing while opening against prep powerhouses like South Kent and St. Benedict’s, but that is what is being asked if Hill is to maintain the lofty levels it has been at for the past decade. “This preseason has given us time to begin to pull together this group and build the bonds that will lead to a successful season,” Fabian said. “Our goals are to be the best side that we can be. We set high expectations for ourselves and aim to compete for the MAPL and PAISAA titles.”

Perkiomen School

Head coach: Nick Koffel, 4th season

Last year’s record: No competition due to COVID-19 pandemic

Players to watch: Brock Reber, Taka Tokunaga, Eduardo Tejada.

Outlook: Last time out the Panthers were Tri-County League champions of the regular season … back in 2019. With last season canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic a good amount of time has passed since then, but not Perkiomen’s winning expectations. “Our team fully expects to go out and win the league,” said coach Nick Koffel. “We are a confident group and we expect to win every time we step on the field, regardless of who we play.” That is more unknown than most seasons with Perkiomen playing in the Penn-Jersey Athletic Association. The Panthers will play in the Blue Division with Barrack Hebrew, Foundations Collegiate, Girard College, Kohelet Yeshiva, Mastery Camden, New Foundations Charter, Phelps, Pine Forge and Solebury. With a very inexperienced defense, Perkiomen will look for its veteran midfield to lead. “We have a few returning guys that can really make a big impact at that position and they will dominate a few games themselves and will lead our team to success,” Koffel said.

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