Last season, the Elizabethtown Area High School boys soccer team entered the District 3 playoffs as the No. 2 seed in Class 4A before getting upset by No. 15 Central Dauphin, ending the season prematurely. This year, the Bears had the opportunity to do the same to another top seed. Unfortunately, their efforts came up short.
Elizabethtown fell to No. 2 seed Wilson 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs in an away contest on Tuesday, Oct. 23. Thus, the Bears’ season is over. The loss drops them to 9-6-1 on the season (10-6-1 if the midseason exhibition against Hopewell Valley Central is factored in).
“We felt like we were gonna be a dangerous 15,” head coach James Sostack said. “It’s a game of opportunities in districts. Credit to them; they had kids who could finish the ball. It’s sort of been our season throughout. We just haven’t been able to execute in the final third.”
Six minutes into the game, Wilson found the net, with junior Patrick Ndambo scoring off a pass from sophomore Devven Fry. Late in the first half, sophomore Victor Vottero got one through via an assist from senior Sage Klein, giving the Bulldogs a 2-0 advantage at the break.
In the second half, Ndambo got his second goal of the night on a breakaway, with the assist going to junior Ethan Stitzel. Junior Lucas Sarge tacked on an impressive goal with just over six minutes to go off a long shot that ricocheted in off the left goalpost, providing a sizable cushion Wilson to coast to victory. The Bulldogs will play No. 10 seed Conestoga Valley, who beat No. 7 Red Lion 3-2 on a last-second goal, on Saturday, Oct. 27.
The Bears, meanwhile, were unable to convert their own scoring opportunities. Each team was close in shot on goals (Wilson had 6, Elizabethtown had 5), but solid attempts from senior Tyler Bixler and sophomore David Fry were stymied by senior Bulldogs goalkeeper Ben Solsky, who stopped all 5 Bears shots. Elizabethtown senior goalie Brecken Musser, meanwhile, had 3 saves.
“That’s been the story of our season,” Sostack said. “We’ve worked on the training ground to try and fix the problem. Some things are God-given. They (Wilson) had some good finishes. Obviously, once you’re down two or three, you get creative with the formations, so you leave the back door open. Even on that last goal, Brecken had it covered.”
The team will say goodbye to 11 seniors who will graduate in June, seven of whom were starters or regular parts of the rotation (Musser, Bixler, Chris Gartley, Jon Gartley, Evan Schneider, Giani Leppler and Jared Kiess). It will definitely be difficult to fill the void they’ll all leave behind. Schneider led the Bears in goals this season, while Musser was mostly solid in the net. The two Gartleys were rocks on defense and were part of the 2016 team that went all the way to the state finals.
“The twins have been around for a long time, so they’ll be dearly missed,” Sostack said. “They’re quality players and quality kids. The entire senior class is that way as well. Brecken was stronger as the season progressed. I thought Giani played a fantastic game and had a fantastic season. Obviously, with their experience, they’ll be dearly missed.”
On the bright side, Elizabethtown looks to have a nice core among the underclassmen to build on next year. Junior Caleb Gerber was second on the team in goals behind Schneider, with Fry coming in third. They were among six underclassmen to find the net. Still, the offense is something that could be improved on ahead of 2019; while the Bears allowed just 18 goals this season, they only scored 23 themselves.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Sostack said. “I think that, slowly but surely, we’ve seen improvement with the younger core. I think the juniors and sophomores who will be returning will hopefully gain some experience from being in districts and getting so much playing time. Naturally, at the end, I was clearing the bench to get some of the younger guys an opportunity to play under the lights.”
There will be plenty of pressure for Elizabethtown to stay relevant next season. The team has made districts in each of the last six years, after all. However, Sostack and his coaching staff have shown the know-how to keep the Bears competitive when the going gets rough. In any case, the team will have a long break ahead of them to prepare for yet another go-around.
“We’ll continue to do our offseason program,” Sostack said. “It’s pretty comprehensive. I think there are some things we’ve identified this season, more so than past seasons, about technical training, and we’re gonna need a lot more of that in the offseason. It’s the use of both feet, trapping and understanding positioning to finish. That’s been a telltale sign for us this year, so we’re gonna have to go back to the drawing board and work on some of the basics.”