‘Wolf pack’ says goodbye to Quaker Valley boys soccer
In August 2011, a group of freshmen showed up to training camp for the Quaker Valley boys soccer team unaware of all that awaited them.
Four years later, those same players are again entering the unknown, and again, they’re doing it together.
With a 2-0 loss to the WPIAL Class AA champion South Park in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs, the nine Quaker Valley seniors known as the wolf pack have played their last game together.
“I think it was day seven of working out freshmen year, (athletic trainer Derek Clark) called us the wolf pack because like eight of us were huddled in the back corner of the weight room,” senior captain Matthew Rodgers said. “The name has stuck ever since. It’s hard to believe it’s all over.”
Over the last four years, Quaker Valley compiled a 34-12-2 record in Section 5-AA and reached the playoffs each season, but being a member of this team was about so much more than winning games, senior midfielder Keaton Grant said.
“These past four years have been awesome for all of us,” he said. “We always look forward to being with Coach (Gene) Klein, being with the team, and it’s not just soccer. We took a lot of life lessons out of this.”
The Quakers’ section has arguably been the toughest in Class AA in recent years, and facing such high level competition on a regular basis taught the seniors to face adversity, Rodgers said.
That lesson paid off this year, as the Quakers had to win a play-in game against Beaver just to enter the WPIAL playoffs as the No. 15 seed, earning the right to face No. 2 Mars in the opening round.
Many saw the Quakers as the lesser team, and their lack of size didn’t help their case.
“We are not as big or as strong as the other teams out there, but we definitely had more heart for the game,” senior forward Landon Narkevic said. “Even looking at the lineup when we’re called out, the other teams just laugh.”
But the Quakers upset Mars before doing the same to Shady Side Academy in their quarterfinal matchup. A 2-0 semifinal loss to West Allegheny knocked them out of the WPIAL playoffs, but not before they had proven themselves to the rest of the league.
“There’s a lot of competition that I think is unparalleled in Section 5,” Rogers said. “You have at least five teams competing for a playoff spot, and the fact that we were able to make it to playoffs and take out the No. 2 seed, I think it taught us older guys that if you compete with enough passion, you can overcome the obstacles.”
The team faced plenty of obstacles before reaching the playoffs as well.
The Quakers stumbled to a 4-4-1 section record and sat in fourth place at the end of September with three games to play, putting their streak of 32 consecutive years of making the WPIAL playoffs in jeopardy.
“We lost to Obama Academy, 2-1, and got two red cards,” Narkevic said. “Coach said it was one of the most disappointing games that he had ever coached. We didn’t think we would make the playoffs at that point.”
But after then third-place Montour also lost to Obama Academy with a game against Montour remaining on the schedule, the Quakers took control of their own destiny and won two straight games to seal a playoff spot and keep the streak alive.
Now the seniors must pass the team on to the next crop of young players like freshman Landon Grant and sophomores Walter Hubsch, Owen Harkins and Ike Lagnese who showed their own ability to fight through nervousness and make an impact on the field this season.
“As the season progressed, all the younger guys really gained composure during the games,” Narkevic said. “You could see how they matured on the field. They were calm with the ball, Walter (Hubsch) especially. He wasn’t even a varsity player to start the year. He was just on JV and he got called up to play and earned a spot on varsity.”
As they walk away from the team they poured so much into, the seniors will remember far more than the countless hours they spent on the field together.
“Spending almost 20 hours a week together for half the year, you form some kind of bond with the team,” Fritz Wiltman said. “I think the friendships, the bonds we’ve made with the guys, are so much more than they would have been if we were just hanging out.”