This was supposed to be the year where Westhill’s boys soccer team shook off eight years of varying disappointment and made a triumphant return to the state championship weekend.
For 19 games, that plan worked to literal perfection, resulting in 19 wins and a berth in Saturday’s regional final against Section IV champion Susquehanna Valley at Norwich High School.
But one step short of the state final four, Westhill tripped up - and SV took full advantage, a first-half goal making all the difference as the Sabers shut out the Warriors 1-0.
All through the autumn, what separated Westhill from other teams was its ability to pass the ball from station to station with maximum efficiency, avoiding the sort of air collisions that, while spectacular to watch, rarely result in much production.
SV knew this, and spent the first half staying low and forcing the Warriors to the air. Suddenly, Westhill wasn’t as effective, and the Sabers could afford to be patient with its own attack, waiting for a good opportunity.
That arrived in the 26th minute. SV earned a corner kick, which Ryan Caroway took. The ball slipped through players on both sides before the Sabers’ Mike Rood found Joe Stento, who fired it past Westhill goalie Chris Burrows.
From there, the Warriors’ defense, effective for so much of the season, regained its footing, keeping SV from adding to that single tally and giving Westhill loads of time to even it up.
It never happened, though. Even as the Warriors’ passing game revived in the second half, SV kept everyone back, so the likes of Conor Powell and Barak Ben Yehuda never found open space to operate.
Time after time, a good pass or timely shot got turned away by the Sabers, anchored in the back by goalkeeper Colin Manchester, who recorded nine saves.
Even with this disappointment, Westhill could still point with pride to its 19-1 campaign and sectional title.
Powell departs, as does Luke Longo, Owen Hennigan, Jackson Haber and Colton Price, but Ben Yehuda, Burrows, Matt Perry, Matt Torak, Jake Etoll, Alex Skeele and Tom Kinsella lead a large returning cast that, in 2013, could get back here again, or even further.