Sewickley Academy boys soccer season fun while it lasted
As the lone senior on the Sewickley Academy boys soccer team, Tom Mulholland had to decide pretty quickly how he would view his final game.
The Panthers trailed 2-0 at halftime of the PIAA Class A championship game against District 11 champion Moravian Academy on Friday at Hersheypark Stadium and went on to lose the game, 4-0.
While most of his teammates took the loss pretty hard, Mulholland chose to look at the positives.
“I figured I had to make sure I had fun playing my last game,” Mulholland said. “Basically on the bus ride back, since we had four hours, I made sure to keep telling the guys that they still have another year together.”
Although Sewickley Academy failed to defend last year’s WPIAL and PIAA titles this season, Mulholland still was able to recognize all that his team accomplished this time around.
“It was definitely a positive note to go out on, even though we didn’t win in the finals,” he said. “I was certainly proud to be on that team. No one thought that we’d be any good considering we lost so many seniors last year.”
To make it back to the state championship, the Panthers had to get past Winchester Thurston in the semifinals, who had beaten them in the WPIAL championship 1-0 after a shootout.
The Panthers held a 2-0 lead for most of the second half in the rematch but saw the lead slip away in the final 20 minutes of the game as the Bears scored twice to send the game to overtime.
Sewickley Academy coach James Boone admitted that the tying goals were probably a result of switching the team’s formation away from an attacking mindset like it had been playing all game, but credited the Bears for battling back.
“They’re very talented,” Boone said. “I kind of figured when we were up 2-0 that they’d probably get a goal. Two goals were more than I was hoping for, but we readjusted and went back to our original formation.”
The formation switch worked to perfection, as junior Matt Teitelbaum scored the game winner in overtime to send the Panthers back to Hershey.
Both Boone and Mulholland insisted that getting revenge on the Bears was not the reason for the excitement that followed.
“I think it was really just the fact that we won the state semifinals and were going to Hershey for the third year in a row,” Mulholland said. “Most of us were on the team last year, but we just didn’t play very much. We had been to Hershey, but I think the excitement was that we got to play.”
At the state championship, the Panthers ran into a team very similar to their own championship squad from the year prior, as Moravian Academy featured 12 seniors.
“I thought my players played very well,” Boone said. “They hustled and did what they were asked to do, but unfortunately Moravian countered what we were doing really well.”
The Panthers coaches asked a lot of their players all season, many times adjusting lineups and formations to attack the weaknesses of opposing teams. The team switched formations three times in the playoffs alone, Mulholland said.
During the regular season, the team frequently ran a 4-5-1 formation with Teitelbaum as the striker up top, but in the playoffs the Panthers initially switched to a 4-4-2, moving sophomore Justin Pryor up to striker with Teitelbaum.
They reverted back to a 4-5-1 at times and also experimented with a diamond defensive formation, so that outside fullbacks Ben Mulholland and Ryder McDougall could help with the offensive attack.
But never did the coaches expect more from the players than they had to offer.
“The kids are very open to hearing our suggestions and willing to do what we ask them,” Boone said. “We try to break it down to what they understand and make it simple for them, but these kids are very bright and soccer educated, so it didn’t take much.”
Next year, guys like Teitelbaum, goalie Jackson O’Neill and defensemen Gus O’Connor and Todd Doyle will provide plenty of senior leadership for the team, giving the Panthers a great shot at returning to a fourth straight PIAA championship.
Just because the team didn’t come home with a gold medal doesn’t mean this season should be forgotten, though.
“This year was the most fun I’ve ever had playing soccer, especially since I was able to play with my friends,” Tom Mulholland said. “All last year I got to practice with the younger kids and get closer to them, and this year I got to play on the field with all of them. It’s really just fun, and that’s what I want to tell the team. Sometimes people forget to have fun and that’s when you lose it”