By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA –Another season of Inter-Ac boys soccer is upon us and the league should be as close as ever. The league has produced three different champions in the last three seasons and one of the programs has gone on to claim consecutive Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) titles. The parity of the Inter-Ac was extremely evident last season as three teams won at least one game in the state tournament.
Here’s our 2019-20 Inter-Ac boys soccer preview:
Season Recap:Inter-Ac champions. Claimed the No. 2 seed in the PAISAA Tournament, lost to the Kiski School, 4-3 in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals.
Returning players: Senior center/mid MJ Atkins, senior goaltender Will Boyes, senior midfielder Mitchell Hark, senior midfielder Luke Macaione, senior defender Brennan McBride, senior defender Will Springer.
Team Outlook:After a memorable run to their first league title since 2015, the Fords have number of major pieces to replace from a year ago. Griffin Wada (University of Chicago) was the Inter-Ac MVP and a Pa. All-State selection after scoring six goals and three assists. Will Micheletti (Franklin & Marshall) had 20 goals and 11 assists on his way to being named First Team All-Inter-Ac and Nick Pippis (Haverford College) was another valuable contributor last season for the Fords, who graduated six seniors, including four starters.
Boyes, a University of Chicago commit, helped the Haverford School post seven shutouts in 19 games last season and is back to man the net. Senior midfielders Luke Macaione (12 assists) and Mitchell Hark have offers from Amherst College, Emory University, Hobart College and Middlebury College and facilitate the Fords attack. On the backend, senior defenders Brennan McBride and Will Springer will keep attackers out of the box and look to increase that shutout total from last year. An unplanned addition to this year’s roster is sophomore center/back Andrew Johnson, who was previously a member of the Philadelphia Union Academy U17 team. Johnson “decided to pursue his high school career full time,” as head coach Dan Keefe stated and he’s excited about what Johnson brings to the table.
The second-year coach enjoyed an impressive inaugural season at the helm and saw the program take a colossal step forward.
“The team that went forward had played .500 soccer in previous seasons and had some difficultly getting over the hump,” Keefe said. One of the most exciting things that happened for us last year was we had senior-heavy roster and exceptional players coming back. There was an opportunity for us to really make waves.”
The Fords claimed three PAISAA titles in fives years from 2011-15 and are hoping the foundation is there to get back to competing yearly for both Inter-Ac and state crowns.
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy
Season Recap:Claimed the PAISAA title, 3-1, over The Hill School (second straight title). Beat Malvern Prep and the Kiski School on the way to the title game.
Returning players:Junior Jack Leininger, senior forward Dane Harmaty, senior midfielder Kevin Buck, junior center/mid Connor Koschineg, senior midfielder Jack Rice, senior defender Vincent Sciarrotta, senior mid/outside Scott Bandura, senior forward Luke Feeney.
Team Outlook:Philip Burckhardt (Drexel) scored twice and Peter Kapp added one goal as the Blue Devils won their second consecutive state title last season. It completed an accomplished two seasons which also included an Inter-Ac crown in 2017. It was a team with several mainstays who improved with each title victory. Burckhardt had 21 goals and eight assists, Kapp was a three-year starter and forward Luke Greenberg had 10 goals in his final season. Goalkeeper Owen Elliot (Penn State) had 26 shutouts over the last three seasons (nine as a senior). Defender Jack Myers (Springfield College in Massachusetts) had the game-winning goal to win the Inter-Ac title in 2017-18 but missed all of his senior season with a torn ACL.
While the 2019 class is gone, there are several holdovers who were integral to back-to-back state titles. Leininger scored a goal against Penn Charter last season. Harmaty was an All-Inter-Ac selection as a freshman and had four goals and eight assists as a junior. Koschineg is a captain as a junior after having been a starter since his freshman season. He had three assists on his way to First Team All-Inter-Ac honors as a sophomore. Buck and Feeney should be focal points of the offense as seniors.
Rice (high ankle sprain), Sciarrotta (concussion) and Bandura missed most, if not all, of last year with injuries but expect to be in the fold each game. Bandura is committed to play baseball at Princeton and the multi-sport athlete, who was the catcher for Mo’Ne Davis when the Taney Dragons went to the Little League World Series in 2014, should be another nice addition to the Blue Devils lineup.
Springside Chestnut Hill won the 2018 PAISAA soccer title - PSD Photo
It was a memorable two-year run for head coach Brian Zalasky, who played at Elizabethtown College from 2002-05, and the fourth-year man feels the team has found something that was missing in his first two seasons.
“It’s obviously been very rewarding, not only the two championships but also to see the boys that I’ve had develop,” Zalasky said. “In the previous seasons, we always saw that we had the pieces for a strong season but there was something that was missing that we couldn’t get around. Over the last two seasons, I think we’ve been able to get around and learn more about bonding as a team.”
Season Recap:Finished third in the Inter-Ac. Claimed the No. 1 seed in the PAISAA Tournament but fell to Mercersburg, 2-1 in the quarterfinals
Returning players:Senior goalkeeper Trevor Manion, senior defender Brendan DePillis, senior forward Tryston Craft, junior Xander Lotsis, junior defender Scott Doig.
Team Outlook:Despite beginning the season with a 16-game unbeaten streak, the Churchmen finished in the top three of Inter-Ac for the fourth straight year. To open the Inter-Ac season, they defeated every league opponent, including the Haverford School and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, and scored 10 goals while only allowed two in that span. All-Inter-Ac selection Samuel Wilson (Colby College) scored 21 goals in 18 games including eight in league play. Fellow All-Inter-Ac choice Harrison Malone (Washington College) registered five goals and 11 assists.
The Churchmen still boast enough to make another run at both the Inter-Ac and the PAISAA behind Clemson commit Manion, who had six shutouts last season. He won 13 games and only allowed one goal per contest. He made seven saves in Episcopal Academy’s 2-1 win over the Fords. Manion continues a long line of imposing netminders under Knox, which includes Union backup goalkeeper Matt Freese (2017) and A.J. Marcucci (Connecticut College), who was named NCAA Division III goalkeeper of the year. DePillis, who head coach David Knox said, “wins a lot of head balls,”will lead the unit directly in front of Manion alongside Doig. Craft will be called upon to make up for the loss of Wilson and Malone. Lotsis is another name to watch who should a big impact this year.
Four sophomores, who all saw time as freshmen, will have increased roles this season including Tristan Whitaker, Mark Dzwoncyzk, Flynn Kearney and Sam Malloy.
It will be a rough road to stay amongst the top teams in the Inter-Ac as four of the Churchmen’s first five league games are on the road.
Knox, now in his 11th season, notes that the top three finishes indicate how close his team has been and how they do not need to deviate from what they’ve been doing.
“We’ve been on a great run the last four years but obviously we’ve fallen a spot short of where we want to be,” Knox said. “Over these four years, we’re seeing a lot players graduate and go off to top D1 and D3 schools. The players see a standard is set and when they come in practices and games, whether it’s even freshman or sophomores they know what’s expected of them.”
Season Recap:Defeated Germantown Friends in the first round of the PAISAA Tournament then fell to eventual champion Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in the quarterfinals
Returning players: Senior defender Christian Siaton, senior midfielder Kieran Barr, senior defender Jaden Vogelman, senior forward Ethan Kogut
Team Outlook:First-year head coach Susan Barr takes over for Andrew Kummerer, who had run the program since 2015. She will be tasked with returning the Friars to the top of the Inter-Ac, a place they have not been since 2012. Barr is the Friars’ third head coach since 2007, following Kummerer and Leighton Walters, who was the school’s longest-tenured soccer coach. She’s hoping she can develop some of the current players into the caliber of former standout defender Andrew Aprahamian, now a redshirt sophomore at Stanford.
Gone are midfielder/defender Zach Hurchalla, who was First Team All-Inter-Ac selection and Friars team MVP and defender Kellen Fitzgerald. A strong senior class of Kogut, Siaton, Vogelman and Kieran Barr should help put the new head coach in position to be competitive throughout the year.
Season Recap:Defeated Perkiomen School, 6-0 in the first round of the PAISAA Tournament, lost to The Hill School, 3-0 in the quarterfinals.
Returning players:Senior midfielder Jude Shorr-Parks, senior midfielder Ryan Bradby, junior forward Nico Kruger
Team Outlook:The Quakers are hoping to get back to playing at level like the one they did in 2016 when they last won the Inter-Ac then made a run to the PAISAA final where they fell to The Hill School in penalty kicks. Head coach Bob DiBenedetto is in his 14thyear at the helm of Penn Charter and he’ll be without as an accomplished senior class as he has had during his tenure. Center back Billy Melnick (Rutgers-Camden) was a four-year starter and a Second Team All-Inter-Ac choice last season. Midfielder Ethan Cripe was also a four-year starter and so was goalkeeper Kyle Earley.
Still, there’s plenty of players to be excited about this year including senior midfielder Jude Shorr-Parks, who led the team in scoring a season ago. So far this year, he scored a goal against Father Judge, a pair of goals against Woodberry Forrest (Va.) and a penalty kick in a route of Scotland School for the Veterans Children. Ryan Bradby is a senior midfielder and the kicker for the Quakers football team. He had a goal against Woodberry Forrest and a hat trick against Scotland School for Veterans Children. Nick Kruger, a junior forward, also had a goal against Woodberry Forrest to begin the year. Another option DiBenedetto is excited about is Jimmy Melnick, Billy’s younger brother. The 13-year-old freshman defender has started every game during nonleague play and, as DiBenedetto framed it, “You would never guess he’s 13 years-old. He’s already taking over a leadership role by calling things out and moving guys around.”
DiBenedetto knows the Quakers have a ways to go before they get back to being a team similar to 2016 but he’s continue to push the younger, experienced players to mature and develop.
“We look to get better every game and we’ve done that every game so far. We’re very young and we started out looking very young.”
Season Recap:Lost to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in the first round of the PAISAA Tournament
Returning players: Juniors Chris Hackley, Shane Connolly, Jacob Grim, Max Mateo and Kolby Palmer. Sophomore Jacob Lee, Christian Combs and Connor Wetzel. Senior goalkeeper Ryan Fairlie
Team Outlook:Kurt Wetzel begins his second season as head coach of the Patriots without a few key players who have moved on in Drew Budinsky, Grant Giampalmi and Jacob Kotik, who saw a lot of time off the bench. He’s the third coach in four years at Germantown Academy and with having begun to lay a foundation he’s hoping improvement will follow.
On the backend, he’ll have senior captain Brendan Hasson and Ryan Fairlie. Sophomore Connor Wetzel, no relation to Kurt, returns after starting as a freshman in the back and he’ll be joined by junior Blake Battisto. Fairlie will be the Patriots’ anchor in net. While victories were few last season, Germantown Academy made strides as evidenced by its draw with Episcopal Academy and holding Springside Chestnut Hill Academy scoreless for 78 minutes.
Wetzel, a 1988 graduate of Germantown Academy, understands the scope of the league and how the parity between each club is so close.
“The challenge of getting to the top of the Inter-Ac is that all the games are difficult,” Wetzel said. “SCH won the league in 2017, and has won back to back State Cups. Episcopal has been in the mix on the last day of the season for at least the last three seasons that I am aware of. Penn Charter is our natural rival for the last 130+ years, Haverford has been a perennial league winner and powerhouse, and Malvern consistently provides well coached and balanced teams.”