Elizabethtown Area High School boys soccer head coach James Sostack will freely admit it: The Bears are, as he puts it, reconstructing the program this season.
That’s been evident through the first five games of 2019, though you wouldn’t know it by the team’s record. The Bears fought through their recent slate of games to finish 2-1 and improve their record to 3-2 on the season.
The loss, a 4-0 shutout to Central Dauphin at Jane Hoover Field on Saturday, Sept. 7, was a tough one, though the Rams could be considered an early favorite to win the Class 4A Championship in District 3. However, both wins were 1-0 double-overtime tilts at home against Lancaster-Lebanon League opponents, the first against Cedar Crest on Thursday, Sept. 5, and the second against McCaskey on Monday, Sept. 9.
“This definitely is a slow process for us,” Sostack said. “We’re trying to find our identity (and) we still have a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of fundamentals that we’re not executing. We’ve played just about every game well. (The Central Dauphin score) is indicative of (playing) an extremely organized and well-motivated team.”
The win over Cedar Crest turned out to be an instant classic. Neither team was able to find the net for the entirety of regulation. The Bears had better success in the end, tallying 13 shots on goal in comparison to just 5 from the Falcons, but senior goalkeeper Mark Billman continually kept his team alive.
With the game scoreless after two halves, the contest went to overtime, though both sides failed to earn a game-winner, forcing a second overtime. Finally, with just over three minutes left, junior Hayden Musser got one past Billman to give Elizabethtown a thrilling victory. Billman finished with 12 saves overall, while Bears senior JJ Oberholtzer had 5.
Elizabethtown returned to Jane Hoover Field two days later to face off against Central Dauphin in a non-league outing. In contrast to how the previous game went, the Rams didn’t wait around to score, using a defensive breakdown to allow freshman Kyle Hoyt to get a goal just over four minutes in. Later in the half, sophomore Andrew Renaldi scored on a header off an assist from junior Justin Yutesler to put the lead at 2-0.
Senior John Axtman provided Central Dauphin a cushion midway through the second half, first with a goal off a rebound, then with an assist off a corner kick to Renaldi, who scored on another header, in a span of 62 seconds. Thus, the Rams were able to cruise to the win from there. Sophomore Eric Axtman stopped all four of Elizabethtown’s shots in the net. Oberholtzer had 8 saves before yielding to sophomore Donovan Henriques late in the second; the latter had 5 saves.
Finally, the Bears opened up Section Two play against McCaskey. Like the Cedar Crest game, the two sides would eventually battle to double overtime. Unlike that game, however, both had numerous chances to find the net beforehand. The Red Tornado nearly had goals off two headers, the first from senior Peter Chol late in the first half, and the second from senior Jackson Yobo just a few minutes into the second, but both shots wound up sailing over the crossbar.
Just a few minutes after Yobo’s header, Elizabethtown had a prime chance to score off a direct kick from senior Jake Sevcik, which bounced off the right goalpost back into play. Senior Caleb Gerber got the rebound with his head, but his shot would careen off the crossbar.
After two Bears corners were deterred, the game went to overtime. Sophomore Nay Say Lwae had a fastbreak McCaskey shot snarred by Oberholtzer (9 saves). A corner late in the period by Elizabethtown was cleared by the Red Tornado, which eventually forced a second OT.
Finally, just under a minute in, the Bears broke through. Junior David Fry took a pass from Gerber and streaked down the right sideline, passing back to fellow junior Daniel Tema in the middle. Tema’s shot wasn’t clean, making contact with a McCaskey defender, but it managed to get by sophomore goalie Grady Bachman (6 saves), nailing off the right post and into the net for the Elizabethtown victory. It was a big statement win, especially for the defense, which shut out a Red Tornado squad that had scored 16 goals in its first three games.
“Credit to my marking backs, Hayden and (senior) Adam (Evans),” Sostack said. “They did their job very well. (McCaskey) has extremely dangerous strikers, so because we opted to do a man-to-man marking system, that really helped to silence an otherwise very potent goal-scoring team.”
The Bears were scheduled to go on the road to face Central Dauphin East in a non-league bout on Wednesday, Sept. 11. They’ll then go to Garden Spot on Thursday, Sept. 12, before returning home to battle Ephrata on Tuesday, Sept. 17.
“I’m obviously pleased,” Sostack said. “It’s early days yet. Section Two’s gonna be a log jam. I’m sure Lampeter-Strasburg will be strong. Manheim Central and Ephrata are rebuilding. We’re very much for the first time in many years reconstructing. I think that teams that have played us have recognized that it’s not the old E-Town. The boys are trying to build on the past legacy, so it gives them something to aspire to.”