It didn’t end the way they wanted it to.
But the players on the New Hope-Solebury boys soccer team can look back on the 2019 campaign with pride.
The Lions fell in the PIAA Class 2A final, 2-1, to Quaker Valley on Friday at Hersheypark Stadium.
“They were the best team we played all year,” New Hope junior defender Will Albano said. “... For a 2A school, they had some great athletes.
“I don’t think you can really prepare for that.”
The first half was scoreless, with both teams having chances but Quaker Valley getting the better of it.
The Quakers finally put one in with 17:52 remaining in the second half, when Dom Reiter found the net. Fritz Reiter added what would prove to be the game winner at 10:27 and the Quakers suddenly held a 2-0 advantage.
But the Lions were used to playing from behind, and rallied. Senior midfielder Ben Koeppen scored the final goal of his high school career with a feed from Deven Smith with exactly six minutes remaining, and the Lions still had hope.
“It’s most definitely disappointing to lose,” said Koeppen, a team captain. “I’d rather win the game with my boys than score a goal in a loss. We worked so hard to get here each and every one of us wanted it so much.”
In the final minute of play, Quaker Valley fouled to give the Lions one last chance. Davis Nagg took a shot but it was saved by Quaker Valley goaltender Rees Edwards to seal the state crown for the Quakers.
“When we were down, 2-0, I still felt like we were in the game,” Koeppen said. “Once I scored, we were within one and we’ve come from behind before, but this time we didn’t have as much time as we usually do in that situation.
“I still thought we had a little bit of hope and after I scored I thought maybe we’d get another one but we didn’t.
“It was an amazing season. It was our first time ever in the championship game in Class 2A. It’s a good run for New Hope and I hope people in the future will look at this and see that it’s possible.
“They put a lot of pressure on us. They beat us; they were fast. We were losing the 50-50 balls and that was the biggest difference.”
Quaker Valley had three corner kicks in the game to none for New Hope and outshot the Lions 13-8.
“When they scored their first goal, that one guy (Dom Reiter) got across the field, that was the one guy we had to stop and he got across and there was nothing we could do about it,” New Hope coach David Bachart said.
“Earlier this season we’ve been down by a couple goals to some really good teams, especially in the first round of states we were down two goals with 10 minutes left, and we came back and ended up winning that game so we just keep playing our brand of soccer and hoping for the best.
“We were pushing right at the end. We needed that push a little bit earlier. I think that second goal lit us on fire but the fire was started a little too late unfortunately for us.
“It’s disappointing to lose the game but it was a hell of a season and they should hold their heads high.”
The Lions end the year 17-7. They were the Bicentennial Athletic League Independence Division runner-up to Holy Ghost Prep, then went on to defeat Devon Prep for the District One Class 2A title.
They lost to District 12 titlist Lansdale Catholic in the regional championship, but still earned a berth in the state tournament.
In the opening round, they came from behind to defeat District Three champion Fleetwood, 3-2, 5-4 in penalty kicks, then came from behind once again to top District Four runner-up Midd-West, 3-2, in overtime in the quarterfinals.
The semifinal game was the only time in the state tourney that New Hope never trailed, holding off a late surge by District Four champion Lewisburg to win, 2-1, and set up the date in Hershey with the Quakers (24-2), the champions of District Seven.
“Next year we have a great group of kids coming back,” said Albano, a captain. “New Hope does a great job of making sure kids growing up in the farm system are always together so we’ll have a good group coming up, too.
“We think we can come right back here next year. Obviously, we didn’t want to lose and I feel badly for all these seniors that I love so much but we just hope we can come back next year. Now we know what it feels like and next year I promise you it’s going to be a different story.
“I’m looking forward to it so much. This is my favorite part of high school; even if I play in college, this is the best time of my life.”
Next season, the Lions depart from the BAL and will compete in the Suburban One League.
“We’ll be seeing more teams like this all the time so when it comes time for our district and hopefully state runs we’ll be ready and we have a lot of young players coming back so we’re excited for the future,” Bachart said.
“Next year we’ll be in the SOL so we’re going to see more teams like that and if anything, it’s going to prepare us to get back here,” he said. “We’ll be used to playing fast players like that.”