Shane Velez was intent on leaving the Pennridge boys soccer better than when he started.
“Really, I wanted to put the focus on the team and just be a role model,” Velez said. “And someone that the freshmen and the sophomores could look up to and base how they want to lead the team the next few years.”
There was no doubt Velez the 2022 The Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media Boys Soccer Athlete of the Year – helped elevate the standard of success for the Rams in his senior year, impacting play all over the field as Pennridge reached the PIAA tournament for the first time since 1997 and earned its first-ever state victory.
“A lot of the teams in our conference have been able to make good runs the past few years, “ Velez said. “I was hoping this was our year to make our run and have us be talked about and be able to look back and be like I was a part of that team that was able to make such a great run. So it’s really amazing.”
Velez, a fourth-year varsity player and two-year captain, finished with 17 goals – netting six game-winning tallies and collecting a hat trick in the PIAA first-round win – while also handed out eight assists and anchoring a defense that posted 11 shutouts as Pennridge ended the season at 17-8-0, advancing the District 1-4A semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals.
“Our ability as a team to work together, I was confident that we were going to be able to go far and make this state tournament,” Velez said. “And I didn’t really have a doubt that we weren’t good enough to make it, it was just were we going to put in the effort and grind it out.”
His performance garnered recognition not just in the Suburban One League Colonial Division, where he was named MVP in earning all-division honors for the fourth time – the last three years at first team – but also on both the state and national level.
Velez was named Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association (PSCA) Male Player of the Year along with being selected to its all-state squad at defender. He was among the 81 players in the country chosen to the United Soccer Coaches Boys High School All-America Team. He was also named to the United Soccer Coaches All-Region II (East) Team.
“I’m definitely grateful for all the awards,” Velez said. “I’m not a big guy trying to get all the attention cause I can’t do anything without my team.”
Velez provided the Rams exemplary play from the center back role where he could assess the constantly changing situations of a soccer match – from determining what was needed to shore up the defense to when it was right to jump in and provide an additional player on the attack.
“It gives me the ability to see everyone in their position and help communication on offense and defense where players should be, if they have time, if there’s space, if they have a man,” he said. “So that really center back allows me to use my abilities to their best of their capability.
“And then go into the attack from the center back, it’s usually I’m open and I’m free so I’m able to draw a defender or two and open up one of the attacking players when I push forward which is great for our team, giving us numbered advantage up top.”
Pennridge had been close to qualifying for states the past two seasons but were denied at the doorstep each time.
In 2020 with only District 1-4A side making PIAA play, the Rams lost in the final on penalty kicks to Neshaminy. The next year, the Rams had two opportunities but in the district quarters loss to Conestoga then were edged by SOL Colonial rival North Penn in the fifth-place game.
“Definitely senior year coming into it, it was the last one so I knew playing with the guys the past two years this was going to be a good year to make a good run and have a chance to go deep,” Velez said. “So started off summer league, we were able to win summer league and it just was like a good start to the season.
“We were all working together, we were able to play as a team and I really think starting off 3-0 in the beginning of the season really gave us that extra momentum and solidified us. We knew we were good and we knew we could go far and gave us that energy.”
The Rams started 2022 with the side that ended their previous campaign, topping North Penn 2-1 in the season opener Aug. 29. Pennridge picked up a 3-1 win over Souderton before shutting out Faith Christian – which went on to reach the PIAA-1A semifinals – 4-0.
“We knew that Faith is always like a rival cause they’re so close to us and we haven’t played them in a few years,” Velez said. “And we know they’re always like the top in their division, winning states through that so we knew they were going to be a tough competition and we came out early and fast against them and put in I think it was two quick goals in like 15 minutes.”
Consecutive road losses to Central Bucks East (3-0) and Central Bucks West (3-1) dropped the Rams to 3-2-0, but Pennridge stopped the skid with a 3-0 win over Central Bucks South in the first of four straight shutout victories. The Rams kept rolling, stretching the winning streak to eight after blanking Quakertown 4-0 Oct. 3.
“We were playing a five back before that and we decided that we were going to flip back to a four back,” Velez said. “We put three in the midfield so I really think solidifying that midfield was what really helped us become dominant again and be able to continue the run of winning.”
After a 2-1 loss to North Penn, Pennridge came back to top Souderton 2-1 in double overtime then shut out East 2-0. But the SOL Colonial title eluded the Rams with a tough finish to the regular season. Pennridge fell 2-1 to CB West in double OT and two days later a first-half penalty kick sent CB South past the Rams 1-0 with the Titans ending up claiming the division crown.
“It definitely hurt, that game,” said Velez of the South loss. “But we came back the next day and we were just talking to each other, we were like ‘It’s in the past, it’s behind us.’ We had to put our head into the next game because it’s one game at a time now. Win and go on, we lose and get knocked out so we really just had to put it behind us.”
Earning the 11th seed in the District 1-4A tournament, Pennridge began the postseason getting past No. 22 Wissahickon 1-0 at home in the first round. The Rams traveled to Upper Dublin for a second-round contest with the No. 6 Cardinals, getting two second-half goals to move on with a 2-0 victory.
With spot at states on the line, Pennridge posted its second straight upset and third shutout in a row, topping No. 3 Downingtown East 1-0 to reach the district semis.
“We knew we had 80 minutes and that we could compete with any team in the area,” Velez said. “So by doing that we were able to cement our name in basically Pennridge history by being the second team to make states.”
The Rams ended up with fourth place in the District 1 playoffs, giving them a matchup with District 2 champ Abington Heights in the first round of the PIAA tournament. Velez made sure Pennridge came away with the program’s first state victory, scoring three times in a 4-1 victory.
“To be able to get a hat trick in a state game and get us our first win in state is a pretty unreal experience and feeling,” Velez said.
After completing a stellar high school soccer career, Velez is eagerly anticipating his next step in the sport at the University of Massachusetts.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’m already looking forward to August when I get to go back up and get to start preseason and get to play in some college games.”