“I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more,” the Proclaimers sang.
The CB West soccer side gladly rode 1,000 miles – 1,105 to be exact – this Cinderella postseason that ended with Friday’s state final in Hershey.
Buck keeper Ryan Van Pelt turned in another superlative performance, saving 10. But District One champion North Penn (25-1) scored two late goals to claim the PIAA crown with a 2-0 win.
Friday’s result does not diminish the Bucks’ (14-8-5) special run, who played all nine playoff games on the road.
“The traveling has been tough I guess, but we’ve gotten used to it,” noted co-captain James Lutz. “It’s a time for our team to bond and think about the game ahead of us.”
“We’ve been on one road trip around the state for these entire playoffs. We got to be with each other a lot more and it helped us bond together,” co-captain Bailey Moyer echoed, “as the season went on.”
West barely even made the District One playoffs as a 23 seed; a Sept. 26 loss to CB East dropped the Bucks to 3-4-4. CB West closed the regular season 4-1-2, and then played incredible soccer once the postseason arrived.
“I just think no one wanted to go home. Everyone wanted the season to go as long as possible,” Moyer said. “Some kids dug in and for some kids who maybe weren’t performing as well as before, it clicked to them that this could be their last time playing high school soccer. They really wanted to get it done and keep the season going.”
“It was mostly getting an underdog mentality and us realizing that we haven’t really done anything yet,” Lutz added. “We need to keep winning and improve who we are.”
After Jimi Leder’s second playoff golden goal gave West a playback win at Neshaminy, the Bucks snatched the last spot for states via penalty kicks at Unionville.
Once you’re in states, you’re in states and the Bucks took full advantage of their third straight PIAA berth. West posted consecutive 1-0 wins against District Three champion Central Dauphin and District Seven runner-up Mount Lebanon. On a frigid night last Tuesday in the state semifinals, West again emerged victorious from PKs, topping District One runner up Boyertown 1-1 (3-1) as Van Pelt saved three straight Bear penalty blasts.
West’s postseason defense was nearly impenetrable. The Bucks yielded just seven goals in over 800 minutes of playoff soccer against top flight competition.
“It’s the grit we have, and the belief to keep the clean sheet. That’s been one of our biggest goals for the season and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping it going,” Lutz credited.
West knew that North Penn, who topped the Bucks twice during the regular season, would be a tough out. “They have a little more attacking prowess. They’re a little more dynamic than almost every other team out there,” scouted West coach Stefan Szygiel last Thursday. “There are teams that have a top guy. They have a top four, five or six. We respect their program. We know them so well and they know us so well. I think both teams will be gracious to each other, however it goes.”
Bloomsburg-signee Moyer participated on another West magical ride this fall as placekicker on a football team that won their first conference title in over 15 years. Moyer saw parallels with both squads.
“It’s the fight in both of these teams,” Moyer noted. “In football, we had a small roster but we did well in the regular season against teams with a bunch of kids. Every game they grinded really, really hard and fought to the end. I see the same in this team. Every game, we’re all there and we work as hard as we can until we get the result.”
“Bailey said it perfectly,” Szygiel added. “The commonalities with the football program and with any West athletic program. These are multi-sport kids. They are used to having to fight and claw their way.”
Szygiel’s formula has worked to near perfection. In each of the last three years, West advanced to the PIAA final fours or won District One.
“That we’re talking about state tournament performances for three years in a row is something that we take a lot of pride in with this program,” Szygiel offered. “The common theme between all of these teams: They are willing to dig in and grind out a result. They just love being around each other. That’s the special thing.
“That’s a major intangible and you can’t teach that,” Szygiel continued. “It’s in their DNA now. The more times we can go deep – and this is as deep as you can go – we’re gaining more for the program for the years beyond.”
West’s season ended on Friday: in theory. “The unique thing about this group is that they just don’t want to go home,” Szygiel emphasized. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they showed up at Monday for practice even though the season is over.”