When injuries deprived pre-season favorite Haverford School of an All-American goalie and one of its top scorers during the first month of the soccer season, the quest for the 2010 Inter-Ac League title became a wide-open race.
No one school had an overwhelming amount of talent, so the team that could maintain its focus and muster just a little more desire than its rivals would have a good chance to claim the championship. That team turned out to be William Penn Charter, which won the league outright this fall thanks to a 3-2 victory over Germantown Academy in the final game of the season on November 13.
The Quakers finished with an Inter-Ac record of 6-2-2, which translated into 20 points in the league standings, where three points are awarded for a win, and one point for a tie. In another November 13 contest, Haverford defeated Episcopal Academy, 2-0, to wind up just one point behind PC, with a record of 6-3-1.
At 4-5-1, GA and Episcopal tied for third place, then came Malvern Prep at 3-5-2 and Chestnut Hill Academy, at 2-5-3. On November 5 CHA helped Penn Charter’s cause by coming from behind to tie Haverford, 1-1. The Quakers also played to a stalemate that day (1-1 at Episcopal), but still remained one point ahead of the Fords in the standings.
When Charter topped Chestnut Hill, 3-1, in the next-to-last game of the season, the Quakers were in control of their own destiny and would win the league if they prevailed against the Patriots on November 13. The pivotal contest was part of the annual GA-PC Day celebration, and this guaranteed a large crowd of the teams’ customary supporters along with plenty of returning alumni.
U.S. Olympian Chris Albright, a 1997 graduate of Penn Charter, was on hand. In fact, Quakers’ coach Bob DiBenedetto reported, “Chris was around all week. He talked to the kids at halftime of one of the games and he was just very encouraging and supportive. I really appreciated it and I know it meant a lot to our guys.”
GA had beaten Charter 1-0 in their first encounter this fall, and the Patriots scored the first goal in the rematch two weekends ago. The Quakers knew that Germantown, like most of PC’s opponents, would be keeping a close watch on Rob Friskey, a senior who has committed to Cornell University.
Coach DiBenedetto explained, “Friskey had so many goals in the preseason that teams in the league just homed in on him, and Michael Goldman was smart enough to take advantage of that.”
Goldman, whose college short list includes the University of Pennsylvania, proceeded to score a natural hat trick in the final game, putting the Quakers up 3-1 at halftime. What appeared to be a fourth goal for the PC senior was wiped out by an offsides call.
On a direct kick with about three minutes remaining Germantown made it a one-goal game, 3-2, and that’s how it ended as Charter’s senior goalie, Michael Baron, logged eight saves for the day. Baron, who’s headed south for Emory University, accumulated eight shutouts this season, four of them in league games. He was named the Inter-Ac League MVP for 2010.
“It’s impossible to replace the seniors we’re losing,” stated DiBenedetto. “You have a guy like Dan Schuman, who’s been there at sweeper for three years and has done a great job. Jeff Blechschmidt, in the middle of the field, is as good as any player in the league, in my opinion.”
Also among the departing upperclassmen are Max Mandelbaum and Perry Rosenberg, along with Grant Guyer and Tyler White, who will both be playing lacrosse at Dickinson College.
“In a school this size, you’re not going to have an entire team of guys whose main sport is soccer,” said DiBenedetto. “But those guys who only play soccer during the school season were just as committed as the ones who play all year. The older guys who didn’t start and didn’t get a ton of playing time were always enthusiastic and encouraged the younger guys. We needed that because we started six or seven sophomores and freshmen, depending on the line-up on a given day.”
Back-up goalkeeper Ben Krieger was the only junior on the roster, and looks to be the lone senior starter next season. Sophomores Sam Agre, Josh Cannon, Ray Vandegrift and Zach Weinberg regularly appeared in the starting line-up, and were spelled by classmates Etienne Dumas, Ted Foley, and Ed McLaughlin.
As the Quakers’ primary marking back, Agre was usually assigned to guard the opposing team’s top scorer, and DiBenedetto pointed out “In the league games he didn’t give up a goal to any of the kids he was marking.”
Ninth graders Sean O’Brien and Matt Sullivan started in the midfield, and Cole Brown was usually the first freshman off the bench. The other rookies who made the varsity squad were Brad Jones and Ian Reagan.
Penn Charter laid the foundation for a successful run the in league by playing non-league clubs such as nationally-prominent St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark, NJ), Delaware power St. Mark’s, and strong Philadelphia Catholic League squads like Archbishop Wood and St. Joe’s Prep.
On October 2 the Quakers’ overall record stood at 5-5; from that point on they would go 8-2-2 to finish with a mark of 13-7-2.
“Winning the first two games in the league was huge,” said DiBenedetto, referring to 1-0 victories over Episcopal and Malvern. Then came a 1-0 setback against defending champion GA, a game which the PC mentor admitted his team did not deserve to win.
“GA played a good game and we didn’t respond,” he stated. “I was so sick to my stomach after that game I couldn’t go to work the next day. I thought it might have cost us the league.”
His players, especially the seniors, were also upset by the letdown. They redoubled their efforts and PC only lost one game the rest of the way, a 2-0 decision at Haverford that put the Fords one point behind the Quakers. Next up was the rematch with Episcopal on November 2, and while the game was still in progress (and tied 1-1), DiBenedetto learned that the CHA-Haverford game that same afternoon had ended in a tie.
“Rather than gamble going for the win, we played it safe because a tie would still keep us ahead in the league,” the PC mentor said. “The kids weren’t necessarily happy with that at the time, but I told them that it would work out in the end.”
That game took place on November 5, and three days later DiBenedetto’s wife, Adrienne, gave birth to their fourth child.
“I was at the hospital for a couple of hours and then she let me go,” he said. “She’s a soccer wife, and she knew I was itching to get out to practice.”
The following day the Quakers defeated Chestnut Hill, setting the stage for the title-clinching showdown against GA.
“Seeing the seniors’ faces after we won the league was priceless, and I told them ‘You guys will remember this forever.’ “ DiBenedetto related. “All season long the kids did everything that we [the coaches] asked them to do. It doesn’t happen that much in high school, but I was lucky enough to have a group of kids that just stuck with the plan.”