by Tom Utescher
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy is commonly known by the initials SCH, but this fall those letters could stand for Soccer Central on the Hill.
In the Pennsylvania Independent Schools championship game last Wednesday evening at Immaculata University, the Blue Devil boys pulled off an impressive kind of double-double.
With their 2-0 victory over defending champ Hill School, they tacked another title onto the Inter-Ac League championship they’d won five days before, and with Wednesday’s victory immediately following a triumph by the girls’ team in their PAIS final, SCH became the first franchise to claim both Indy Schools crowns in the same season. The boys’ team finished the 2017 campaign with an overall record of 19-3-2.
Roughly 15 minutes and then 33 minutes into the first half last Wednesday, junior Phil Burckhardt scored the Blue Devils’ goals. In the absence of another 11th-grade attacker, the injured Luke Greenberg, Burckhardt’s contributions became particularly important late in the season, but he’s really been a major presence in the team’s scoring column all along.
Second-year head coach Brian Zalasky stated, “Phil has been unbelievable. Looking at his season overall, he had 16 goals and 11 assists. We had 51 goal on the season, so that means he played a role in more than half of the goals this team scored. He has great heart and great hustle; he’s just a fighter.”
Springside Chestnut Hill was every bit as solid at the other end of the pitch. With the outcome of the PAIS title bout, junior goalie Owen Elliott finished his second season as a starter with 13 shutouts. In the middle of the season, the Blue Devils blanked their rivals seven times in a row.
The SCH keeper was quick to spread the credit around, commenting, “We varied our formations. We used three in the back and then sometimes four in the back, and I think it confused the other offenses. Also the guys who played center back, Jack [Myers], Vince [Sciarrotta], and Mike Buck, are unbelievable players, just throwing their bodies into tackles.”
Myers, a junior, and Sciarrotta, a sophomore, will both be back with Elliott next year. Buck is a senior co-captain along with classmates Matt Greenberg (Luke’s brother), Tague Harmaty, and Luke Vogelman.
In the PAIS final, the SCH lads were encountering a Hill School program that not only had won the championship last season, but had claimed the title three times in four years.
Back on September 14, Hill School defeated SCH, 3-2, but the Blue Devils had gone on to enjoy quite a successful season. Seeded second for the PAIS tournament, they knocked off Penn Charter (1-0) and Episcopal Academy (3-1) during the first full week of November to reach the championship game. At the end of that week, on October 11, they won the Inter-Ac League championship in a dramatic come-from-behind overtime victory over Malvern Prep, 2-1.
Hill School entered the PAIS finals with an overall mark of 13-5. The Rams had finished 3-2 within their own Mid-Atlantic Prep League, but along the way they had beaten the eventual MAPL champion, North Jersey’s Blair Academy. Seeded first for the PAIS tourney, Hill had advanced past Pittsburgh’s Kiski Prep (4-1), and MAPL rival Mercersburg Academy, the fifth seed (3-2).
The Rams began last week’s final in a vigorous manner, and the Blue Devils backpedaled a bit early on before they found their rhythm.
“They were definitely pressing us in the beginning, but we kept organized and held them off,” Zalasky said.
A longtime goalie, Elliott has learned that as the only player who can consistently see the entire field, he must embrace the duty of directing his teammates.
“I had a coach when I was pretty young who trained me to be a communicator,” he explained. “He would get on me if I didn’t talk enough. That’s a big part of my job.”
Upfield, SCH began to change the momentum. Burckhardt broke into the box on the left, evaded one defender, and let loose his shot as another back approached. With 25:14 remaining in the first half, the game-winning goal was up on the board.
In the middle of the period a strong shot by Burckhardt was saved by the Hill keeper, and later a ball sent into the box by Myers found no one on the receiving end. With under 10 minutes left, a well-aimed corner from the right by the Rams came to naught as Elliott punched the ball away in the air.
Coming back down the pitch, Springside Chestnut Hill earned a free kick a few yards above the 18-yard line a little right of center. Myers took the first run at the ball but it was Burckhardt who followed him and struck it. The junior’s second goal went into the books with 7:05 to go in the first half.
With about two minutes left Hill penetrated toward the SCH goal along the right endline, but in a scramble outside of the near post Elliott was able to dive on the ball and hold it.
The Blue Devils would take a two-goal margin into the second half, but they knew they had to remain vigilant on defense, particularly in regard to one Hill School sophomore. Posing a threat with his skill and his speed, Josh Shepherd had hurt the Devils back in the September battle between the two teams.
“We dropped a couple of steps on him,” Elliott noted. “We were always aware when he was coming, and it helped us.”
In the opening minutes of the second period, SCH cleared the ball out on a Hill corner kick, then had a wall of defenders block a direct kick by the Rams. On offense, the Blue Devils had an outside shot deflected out to the left of the goal, then couldn’t muster a shot on the resulting corner play.
As the middle of the period approached, Hill made two long serves into the SCH box, and the ball was headed out first by Buck and then by Sciarrotta. Hill tried a short corner, but couldn’t work the ball inside.
Around 18 minutes remained when Hill was given a direct kick out on the left side and sent a line drive in toward the goal a few feet off the ground. Near the left post the ball was deflected up into the air and Elliott leapt up and snatched it.
For much of the last 10 minutes, SCH was actually pressing for a second insurance goal. The Devils came close on a header by Scott Bandura and a follow-up flick by fellow sophomore Dane Harmaty (Tague’s brother). A well-struck ball by Burckhardt was saved by the Hill keeper, who also stopped a shot by the younger Harmaty in the final minute.
Two goals were more than enough, though, and the Blue Devils had reached their objective.
“We wanted the double; we practiced all-out on Monday and Tuesday,” Elliott noted. “There are no letdowns with this team.”
Zalasky remarked, “These boys have pulled for each other all season. I’m lucky to have guys with this kind of positive attitude.”