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Southmoreland grad makes most of chance at St. Francis

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 9:17 p.m.

Coming into the Northeast Conference playoffs, sophomore Ryan Byers didn't see much playing time for his St. Francis Red Flashes Men's soccer team.

But he got his chance against the top-seeded Quinnipiac Bobcats, in the first round.

And he made the most of it.

Byers, a 2011 graduate of Southmoreland High School, blasted a left-footed goal from 18 yards away only 1:33 into the game for his first collegiate goal.

“When I took the shot, I instantly knew it was going in,” said Byers. “After playing for so long, you get almost like a premonition about things like that. When the goal went in, I was so excited that I honestly kind of blacked out. I don't remember much about the celebration or anything, because I was so happy.”

Entering the game, the Red Flashes didn't feel like an underdog.

“Quinnipiac is a very good team, but we never really looked at the game as if we were underdogs, “said Byers. “We knew going into playoffs that we were as good as anybody in our conference.”

St. Francis would go on to beat Quinnipiac 4-3 on penalty kicks. Four days later, the St. Francis playoff run would end, with a loss to Fairleigh Dickinson, 6-5 on penalty kicks.

“The loss in the finals was extremely hard, because we made it so close,” said Byers. “We were one penalty kick away from being in the NCAA tournament, so it was extremely heartbreaking.”

For members of the Red Flashes, an NCAA Division I team, they knew even as the number-four seed, anything could happen.

“It was extremely cool to be in the playoffs this year because it just seemed like all our hard work paid off,” said Byers. “That is the goal of every team at the beginning of the season because if you make playoffs, anything can happen.”

Byers progressed through the season and heated up in the postseason.

“I thought Ryan had a solid season this year,” said head coach Michael Casper. “He just kept on getting better and better as the year went on, and it culminated with in him having a break-out weekend in the NEC tournament.”

Byers was named to the all-tournament team.

Division I soccer has been a interesting adjustment for Byers.

“College is a whole different game compared to high school,” said Byers. “At the Division I level, the speed of the game, intensity of the game, and the quality in which everyone plays with is completely different than high school, and takes a while to adjust.”

His adjustment to a new team with players from all over the globe — seven foreign players are on the team — has been easy, as they are a very close team.

“It wasn't hard to adjust to my teammates because everyone was so welcoming,” said Byers. “Our team is more like a family than a team.”

Byers has had a lot of fun playing with his teammates at St. Francis.

“College soccer is so much fun just because of the people that I play with,” said Byers. “The guys on my team are like brothers to me, and to play a game that we all love seven days a week is definitely something special.”

“It's tough on all freshmen as they transition from high school to college,” said Casper. “It was tough for Ryan to go through that, but one of the best things about Ryan is his commitment and his willingness to do whatever he was asked.”

The coaching staff for the Red Flashes is very knowledgeable, in Byers' opinion.

“We have an unbelievable coaching staff that really knows the game of soccer, and they genuinely care about the players, which is something that is very important,” said Byers.

Byers was red-shirted and had to sit out his first year at St Francis.

“Going into college, I was used to playing every game, and sitting out an entire year was very tough.” said Byers.

Byers accomplished two goals at St Francis, as he plays soccer at the Division 1 level and is fulfilling what he has wanted to do in the classroom.

“I chose St. Francis because I knew I wanted to play at the Division-I level,” said Byers. “It was something I have always strived for, and this team gave me that opportunity. It also offers one of the top physical therapy programs in the nation, which is what I wanted to go to school for.”

Byers has excelled in the classroom, as he has made all-academic honor roles for both semesters last year, but it hasn't been easy.

“Academics are much harder than high school, especially when playing a sport,” said Byers. “Soccer takes up an unbelievable amount of my time, so I make sure to make the most out of the free time I have.”

Byers was redshirted because his program for physical therapy requires six years of schooling. He decided to give up playing his freshman year, so he could complete five years in college.

Byers and the Red Flashes will be looking to make some noise next season.

“My hope for the future is that our team will be able to win our conference tournament next year,” said Byers. “We came so close this year, and I know that is the most important thing to our team.”

Bill Tissue and Valerie Crise are freelance writers.