Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic boys soccer approaching elite status
When Aaron Kelly accepted the Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic boys soccer coaching position earlier this year, he knew he was inheriting a program on the rise and nearing elite status.
Earlier this decade, the program shifted from a co-ed team to a boys' squad. As expected, the Trojans struggled in their first few seasons, and compiled a record of just 2-14-0 in 2014. Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic improved to 7-9-1 the following year, though, and last season, the Trojans won 19 games. In doing so, the team not only made the playoffs, but also reached the WPIAL Class A championship, where it lost to Sewickley Academy.
As a result, Kelly, who had been an assistant previously at Franciscan University in Ohio, set three lofty goals for the Trojans in 2017: go undefeated in section play, win the WPIAL championship, and win the PIAA title.
The Trojans accomplished the first two, as they went 14-0 in Section 3-A, and then captured the program's first WPIAL title at Highmark Stadium. North Catholic had a chance to achieve the third objective, too, but fell to Camp Hill, 3-2, in overtime in the state final.
“It was definitely a successful season,” Kelly said. “The biggest key was having good players from top to bottom. All 20 of our players who played varsity were very solid. With such a successful season, you can't just have one or two very good players.”
Overall, the Trojans won 23 of their 25 matches, with the only other setback coming against Class 4A Pine-Richland, 1-0. CW North Catholic outscored its section opponents 98-5 during the regular season, and earned the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. From there, the Trojans easily dispatched Quigley Catholic, Bentworth and Winchester Thurston to reach the title game for the second consecutive campaign.
Kelly made certain his players embraced the moment.
“It was a blast all around, and we had told our guys just to really enjoy every minute of everything leading up to it, because it's such a unique experience to get there,” he said.
The Class A championship match came against Springdale, which the Trojans defeated twice in the regular season. The third encounter was scoreless at the half, but North Catholic's Mike Dramble and Joe Kearney netted a pair of goals to claim gold.
Kelly credited the Dynamos for their approach, saying “they put a lot of numbers behind the ball, which makes it difficult to score and kind of slowed down our offense, but eventually we kind of chipped away at them and put two in in the second half.”
From there, the Trojans marched through the state bracket by defeating Port Allegany, Mercer and Brockway to reach the finals in Hershey. In cold and rainy conditions, the Trojans fell into a 2-0 deficit at the intermission against Camp Hill. North Catholic pulled even, however, thanks to two goals by Ryan Augustine. The Trojans, though, fell short in overtime.
“On any given day, either of those teams could've won,” Kelly noted. “It was just a very well-played game on both sides, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
That match marked the final high school contest for seven seniors, including many who were key components to the team's success.
Goalkeeper Keaton Jennings contributed to the Trojans' 18 shutouts this season. His coach highlighted his high IQ on the pitch, as well as his strong work ethic.
“He had great hands and great positioning in the goal,” Kelly said. “He's one of those keepers, even if the other team gets a fast break, you're comfortable that he's going to make that save every time.”
Other notable seniors were Nick Milas, who played center-mid; Luc Madonna and Danny Lynch, both of whom played center back; and Dramble, an outside-mid.
“This senior class, through their work ethic, their discipline and their character, really set the standards high for this program moving forward,” Kelly said.
The players who return next year and beyond should be able to meet those high standards, though. Kearney, who scored 55 goals this year, to go along with six assists, is just a sophomore. Likewise, Augustine compiled 21 goals and 22 assists, and still has two years remaining with the Trojans.
“It's nice to know that we also have a great group of returners and underclassmen that are ready to step up into those roles next year,” Kelly said.
With the talent coming back next year, the Trojans could have another opportunity to achieve all three of their preseason goals.
Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.