LEWISBURG – Despite carrying an unblemished 21-0 record into today’s PIAA Class 2A final against Deer Lakes, as far as the players and coaches on Lewisburg’s boys soccer team are concerned their record might as well be 0-0.
The Green Dragons’ mentality of taking it one game at a time as served the program well, not just this season but in year’s past as Lewisburg is vying for its fourth state title since taking the Class 3A crown in 2000. The team also claimed back-to-back Class 2A titles in 2015 and 16.
“Lewisburg soccer teams over the years try to have this mindset of one game at time. This team has lived this mindset,” said Lewisburg coach Ben Kettlewell. “We have been enjoying the process since the first day of the season.
“We believe that us as individuals are only successful if we are all successful. We try to make each other look good and help each other,’ added Lewisburg’s coach.
That statement has certainly been the case during Lewisburg’s state title run as the Green Dragons have outscored their opponents 12-0 through three games.
“My entire team has helped offensively, and we continue to create space and play to what the other team gives us,” said Kettlewell. “We don't force the issue and do something that isn't there.”
Senior forward Jack Dieffenderfer has led Lewisburg in the state playoffs with four goals and one assist. Senior co-captains Ben Liscum has two goals and three assists, and Anthony Bhangdia has scored three goals.
In addition, Alan Daniel, Eli Adams and Nick Passaniti have also found the back of the net in the state playoffs.
And when it comes time to keep the ball out of the net it’s just not the job of senior goalkeeper Tony Burns, it’s the whole team’s job.
“I would say our patience and communication are our keys to playing organized and keeping the clean sheets,” said Kettlewell. “We wouldn't have gotten this far without the entire roster - all 25 players.”
That offensive prowess may serve Lewisburg well today against District 7 champ Deer Lakes (18-1), which enters the contest having allowed just one goal in the state playoffs while tallying six.
Leading the Lancers is the senior trio of Ryan Rodgers, Devin Murray and Michael Sullivan, and defensively sophomore goalkeeper Nick Braun has posted 12 shutouts on the year.
“Deer Lakes will be a good team as they come from District 7. They are battle tested and will be ready to play,” said Kettlewell. “We will need to stay within ourselves and play our individual roles.”
The Green Dragons are also as battle tested as they come. This is the third time in the last four years they have reached at least the state semifinals.
“This team has what it takes for big moments. They have the right mindset to play in this game,” said Kettlewell. “The boys are excited, but they realize there is still another step to take.”
There is only one step left thanks for Tuesday’s hard-fought 2-0 win over Oley Valley in the semis, and Kettlewell has kept practices leading up to the championship game pretty similar as the ones he conducted leading up to the state finals in 2015 and 16.
“We are keeping things similar with our routine. We work hard at practice and focus on (the things we can control),” said Kettlewell. “We are just trying to recover from Tuesday's game and get ourselves in a rhythm and feeling good about ourselves.”
The Green Dragons will no doubt be a little nervous prior to the game, but Kettlewell does not expect that to be an issue.
“Any time you play at HersheyPark Stadium you will have nerves, but once the whistle blows, we will start playing our game,” he said.
And although none of Kettlewell’s current players were on the team the last time the Green Dragons won states, some of their older siblings were. Liscum, Bhangdia, Dieffenderfer and Philip Permyashkin all had brothers who played on the back-to-back title winning teams, and they were likely in attendance in watching them bring home the gold.
“It is pretty unique for the younger siblings to get their chance to play in this game. They are excited and are getting lots of support from previous alumni and older brothers,” said Kettlewell. “It will definitely help that they were in attendance.”