Photos/Videos: Donna Eckert, Kathy Leister, Rachael Macauley, Lennie Malmgren & Mark Zimmaro.
By: John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – For most if not all teams in the revered Philadelphia Catholic League, it’s no secret that their primary goal is to eventually hoist the championship plaque and proudly hold it high while an adoring community snaps pictures.
COVID-19 ruined that annual celebration last fall. Once in danger of not playing a single game, the PCL was able to scratch together a little less than half of a regular season. For the first time since the PCL’s inception in 1957, however, league playoffs were nixed, though several programs were able to participate in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) tournament.
With the first of 11 sets of league games having been played on September 10 and another docket scheduled for September 14, the PCL is already in full swing.
“It’s been a blast,” said La Salle senior Seth Michalak, whose Explorers have captured three of the past four league titles and eight crowns this century. “We are so blessed to be able to have a normal season. After a hectic couple of years, we are so excited and definitely want to take advantage of the first normal season back.”
Of the PCL’s dozen squads, no one was better last year than undefeated Archbishop Ryan, which finished 7-0. In this year’s league opener, the Raiders extended a regular-season winning streak to 10 over three seasons, defeating host Devon Prep, 5-1. Junior Timmy Cliggett notched four assists – all to different scorers. Next up is an early-season, playoff-like game when Ryan visits La Salle Tuesday.
“This group has seven projected starters who have started the last two seasons, and this is the first group since I have been a boys’ coach that will not start a freshman,” said Raiders coach Ryan Haney. “The heart, courage, and resilience of the kids impress me constantly. I have been so blessed to be around them.”
In their PCL opener, Archbishop Carroll fell to Archbishop Wood, 5-0. The Patriots will host Roman Catholic today.
“What drives our team, I believe, is the will to get better each day and to play for one another, which makes us competitive,” said Patriots senior Connor O’Brien. “We have a lot of great leaders among the upperclassmen who have showed what it means to play Carroll soccer.
“I feel that the underclassmen have done a nice job so far of following in the seniors’ examples of trying to improve as a unit every day. I have been impressed by the improvement of the freshmen and sophomores so far. I believe the program will be competitive in the future because of the promising talent of several players in the younger grades.”
In their PCL opener, senior captains Braeden Kehan, Dom Petruzzelli, and CJ Clyde helped Archbishop Wood defeat visiting Archbishop Carroll, 5-0. The Vikings visit Bonner-Prendergast today.
“I have a team this year that is a work in progress,” said coach Hugh Kelly. “We are trying to find our potential. I have a couple of seniors and a few underclassmen making up our roster. We need to get better each time out. The team is working hard in a very tough league with a number of good teams.”
In their PCL opener, Bonner-Prendergast struggled in a shutout loss to St. Joseph’s Prep. The Friars host Archbishop Wood today.
“Personally I think when a team is struggling, that is when a team really shows if they’re a team or not,” said senior Enoc Lisaint, a four-year varsity player and three-year captain. “It’s very easy to be happy with guys around you when you’re winning. I think part of being a team is not pointing the finger at others when things go wrong, but also not blaming yourself for everything either.
“A great way to get back on track is to learn from the mistakes made and not defeat yourself or fellow teammates on previous results. You can’t change the past, so whining about it will only keep you distracted from learning and improving.”
In their PCL opener, Cardinal O’Hara and their five returning starters lost at Roman Catholic. The Lions visit Lansdale Catholic today.
“We have a pretty even amount of seniors, juniors, and sophomores in our starting lineup and on our team in general,” said junior Paul Daly, a first-team All-Catholic. “Our starting lineup has a pretty good amount of people who haven't played that much on varsity previous to this year.
“The opening game loss opened our eyes to how competitive the Catholic League is this year. We knew that Roman Catholic is an amazing team and knew that it was going to be difficult to compete with them. Yet, a positive from that game is that we stopped them from scoring for 20-plus minutes in the first half. As a young team, we just need to build on how well everyone played during that stretch and keep working hard.”
In their PCL opener, underclassmen-laden Conwell-Egan fell to visiting La Salle, 6-1. The Eagles visit St. Joseph’s Prep today.
“It’s always tough losing, especially your first game of the season,” said senior Blake Delia. “It’s important to learn from those experiences and to build off of it. Another thing is to keep the team spirit high and not to get down on ourselves for the games to come.”
In their PCL opener, Devon Prep lost to visiting Archbishop Ryan, 5-1. The Tide travels to Father Judge today.
“We have a unique group of players,” said Devon coach Siafa Dempster. “With most of the group being freshmen and sophomores, they are eager to prove that they have what it takes to play at the varsity level and continue the winning tradition.
“Our strength, which could also be our weakness, is our youthfulness. We will be depending on our key returning upperclassman such as (jenior) Jack Ferry and (senior) Chris Walton to lead us this year.”
In their PCL opener, Father Judge received a goal by sophomore striker Abou Cherif five minutes into the second half, and the defense did the rest in a 1-0 win over visiting Lansdale Catholic. The Crusaders host Devon Prep today.
“We are a very young team this year with a lot of talent,” said senior Brett Rajkowski. “Our subs are who help us most coming off of the bench, giving us lots of energy and almost always scoring important goals. We are also friends on and off of the field so we have a lot of team chemistry.
“Winning Friday was big for us, not only because it was our opening PCL game, but Lansdale always seems to give us a good game. All week we were excited, locked in and ready to go. We played pretty well and had multiple opportunities we should have scored on in the first half.”
Despite a gritty effort in their PCL opener, Lansdale Catholic was edged at Father Judge, 1-0. The Crusaders host Cardinal O’Hara today.
“This is the deepest roster that LC has had in years,” said coach Casey Farrell. “Not only are more than half of our starters from last year's team returning, but we have many younger players who have really stepped up and shown the coaching staff that they are more than ready to contribute ahead of expectations.
“Beyond that, the majority of our players are position-less. I can put them almost anywhere on the field and feel comfortable that they will be able to do their job to help their team win. Luckily for me, their egos do not get in the way. They just want to help in whatever way they can, at whatever position that ends up being.”
After a 6-1 success at Conwell-Egan in their PCL opener, La Salle increased a three-season winning streak to 15. The defending champion Explorers received goals from junior Conor Clair and seniors Justin Eney, Sam McShane, Hayden Grosso, Tim Madden, and Matt Ciccolella.
The Explorers face their toughest assignment in two seasons today when they host Archbishop Ryan.
“The Catholic League is and always has been a competitive group of teams with talented guys who grind every year and put on entertaining matches,” said senior Jake Barton. “It’s a great feeling knowing that every PCL league game is going to be a grind and we must leave it all out on the field in order to come out on top.
“This year, our team has more chemistry than ever before. We are all good friends and get along great. Aside from being friends, we are all aware of our role on the field and what needs to be done in order to be successful. Our coach, Tom McCaffery, is doing an awesome job of preparing us both mentally and physically to have a great season, and I think we have the talent to make an impressive run this year.”
Senior Eddie Donovan marvels at the Explorers’ ability to adapt to various circumstances.
“One thing that makes this year’s team different than previous years is our flexibility as a group,” said Donovan. “We have a lot of returning guys and also a lot of guys who can play multiple positions. Our ability to adapt to any type of game will be a great strength of ours as the season goes on.”
Hoping to ultimately reach the PCL championship for a seventh consecutive fall, Roman Catholic opened with a decisive shutout win over visiting Cardinal O’Hara. The Cahillites visit Archbishop Carroll today.
“I think we had the opportunity to work on some loose ends that have been lingering since we broke camp,” said coach Ray DeStephanis. “We played our starters through the first half and got our bench significant minutes after that. Credit Cardinal O’Hara, though. They play hard and with intensity the full 80 minutes."
“Heading into the 2021 season, I think what’s most intriguing and not just for us, but realistically every team, is regrouping after an anything but normal 2020. Some teams played in a different season (fall and spring); some played constantly altered and alternative schedules. While that may not sound like it’s a big factor, I’ll challenge that while soccer is soccer on the high school level, the tenacity and neighborhood rivalries that the PCL offers is second to none," added DeStephanis. “So it’ll be great to get back to those associated atmospheres where any team on any night can take your club to task. Honestly, our league provides that very opportunity for unsung heroes to rise to the top at moments when you’d least expect. That’s PCL soccer.”
In their PCL opener, St. Joseph’s Prep used two goals apiece by seniors Cole McCartney and Will Calvert to thwart visiting Bonner-Prendergast. Contributing in the shutout were keepers Coleman Monaghan and Owen Schulz who split time in goal. The Hawks host Conwell-Egan today.
“This squad has been really special because we have some great senior leadership,” said senior Denis McBride. “The beginning of the season threw us a couple of obstacles with key injuries. But these setbacks motivated all of us to step up and fill their roles.
“I have been a part of three very solid varsity squads at the Prep, but this team just has a different vibe. With most of our key players being seniors, we have good chemistry that we have built on since freshman year. Our guys are seriously brothers both on and off the field.”
Tag(s): Home Schools Philadelphia Catholic Soccer Boys Soccer Philadelphia Catholic League Arch. Carroll Boys Soccer Arch. Ryan Boys Soccer Arch. Wood Boys Soccer Bonner & Prendie Boys Soccer Cardinal O'Hara Boys Soccer Conwell-Egan Boys Soccer Father Judge Soccer La Salle Soccer Lansdale Cath. Boys Soccer Neumann/Goretti Boys Socce Roman Catholic Soccer Saint Joseph's Prep Soccer Devon Prep