Hershey >> For a high school to have both of its soccer teams competing in the state championship final is a rarity.
But Conestoga achieved this Friday at the PIAA Class 4A state finals at Hersheypark Stadium, and a sizable contingent of Pioneer fans braved the cold, windy evening to lend their support.
Conestoga boys soccer assistant coach Blake Stabert said, “This is the biggest student section we’ve ever had at a state [soccer] playoff game, and they brought great energy here, for both the boys and girls teams. It’s a great environment, one of the best I’ve seen, for high school playoff soccer. It shows the quality of soccer here at Conestoga, boys and girls, and a commitment to excellence. Both teams worked really hard through the ups and downs of the season.”
“The doubleheader, I think, was a first, certainly in school history to have both teams playing for a state championship,” said Conestoga boys’ soccer head coach David Zimmerman following his team’s 1-0 win against Seneca Valley in the nightcap. “The fan support for both teams tonight was great. I even saw a lot of Conestoga alumni here tonight, and it’s great to hear the roar of the crowd, it helps us a lot.”
“I could never dream that we’d have two teams in the state finals here today, but it’s a tribute to our soccer program,” said Conestoga athletic director Kevin Pechin. “Our girls and boys put in a lot of hard work and time and effort, and it’s a tribute to our coaching staffs as well. There’s always a little friendly competition between the two teams – if the one team’s successful, the other team wants to match it, and they’re a very close-knit group.”
After the Conestoga girls lost to Moon Township, 2-0, in the PIAA 4A girls state final, the team stayed to watch the Conestoga boys battle Seneca Valley.
Conestoga girls senior defender and captain Haleigh Wintersteen said, “My brother Kole is on the [boys] team, and he gets a lot of minutes – I’ll be here supporting him and the team through the cold (laughs). He and I even wear the same number . This doubleheader, with both [Conestoga] teams going to Hershey for the state final, has been an amazing experience for both teams.”
Conestoga sophomore forward Kole Wintersteen said, “A whole lot of school spirit has been going on the last few days, a lot of encouragement and motivation [between the two teams]. We all came into this game in the best frame of mind.”
Pioneer senior midfielder Sebastian Tis said, “Having two teams in the state finals just means that our program is one of the best in the state, if not the best in the state. And the [Pioneer] Pit is the greatest thing in the world, I love them all. When we went over there to shake their hands after the game, it felt like everything we have worked for finally happened, and they [the Pit] can share it with us.”
A number of Conestoga players and coaches mentioned how the friendly competition between the two teams made each one better.
Conestoga girls soccer head coach Ben Wilson said, “Practicing on the same field every day, one after another, you definitely pick up some of the energy from each other, and there’s competition to see who can go further [in the post-season]. Conestoga is a soccer school, a soccer area. All of our players and all of the [Conestoga] boys players play for a variety of clubs in the area – the West-Monts, the Delcos, the Penn Fusions.”
Pioneer senior midfielder and captain Elli Mayock said, “I definitely think our two teams feed off each other’s momentum, especially coming off last year with the COVID. This year everyone was so much more hungry to win.”
Following the Conestoga boys’ 1-0 win against Seneca Valley, Pechin said, “It was in the back of our minds that we didn’t have the opportunity to compete last year in the state tournament because of COVID, so this definitely sweetens it.”
Following the Conestoga girls’ 2-0 loss to Moon Township Friday, coach Ben Wilson focused on his team’s positives.
Wilson said, “After being here [in Hershey] in 2019 and then opting out of the playoffs last year [as a member of the Central League], the fact we could come right back this year and make the state finals with basically an entire different group of girls is pretty impressive. We graduated all of our major goal scorers after that 2019 run, so this is a whole different group – there’s only five girls left from that 2019 team.
“What I love about this team is that, compared to a lot of my previous Conestoga teams, this team is just really tough, really strong, and a really smart group of girls as well, and they’ve really been assembled in a variety of different ways – we have players who have been varsity starters here since their freshman year; we have girls who started at JV-B, then jumped to JV-A, then went to varsity; we have girls that played three years of JV-A and then went to varsity. The fact that all these girls could come together from all these different routes and make it to the state final is pretty impressive.”
Mayock said, “Not only our team, but our grade as a whole is so close – we were in it for the same goal. It was not only the talent that brought us here, but also how much we wanted to play for each other.”
“I think our team has a lot of heart,” said Haleigh Wintersteen. “We always push each other to our limits, and the last 10-15 minutes tonight, knowing we were down 2-0, we did not stop putting our heart on the line, our bodies on the line.”
Conestoga senior center mid and captain Megan Daly said, “We come to practice every day as a family, and we’re together like a family, and I think that helped us get this far this year.”
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