Seventeen times this season, the South Park boys soccer team has walked off a field at the end of a game.
The Eagles have yet to experience what it feels like to do so after anything but a win.
“More than anything,” said senior midfielder Ryan Eggert, “we like to say, ‘You hate to lose more than you want to win.' That's the reason we're undefeated.” South Park is 17-0 heading into its regular-season finale tonight at Central Catholic. The Eagles are at or close to the top on the short list of favorites for the WPIAL Class AA playoffs that begin this weekend.
That is not unusual for a South Park program that has made the WPIAL semifinals eight of the past nine seasons, winning consecutive WPIAL and PIAA championships in 2005-06.
But being perfect?
That's one trick the Eagles have yet to turn. There's a long way to go — Class AAA power Central Catholic will provide a stiff test Tuesday, and, of course, several other strong opponents await in the playoffs.
South Park's coach for 11 seasons, Jon Cantwell has had his share of highly talented and successful teams. The 2005 championship team did not lose a game, although it had three ties.
Cantwell said that in addition to being arguably “the best collection of technical skill on the ball” of any South Park team he has coached, the 2012 Eagles have a strong team chemistry that will rival any.
“This group seems to be winners,” Cantwell said. “They've tended to win whatever league they've play in and whatever level they've played in.
“It's not like any kids like to lose, but even in training sessions over the years, they don't accept losing in a training session. Those intangibles, you can't create that. That's something that's just in a player's DNA. We always talk about how we hate to lose more than we like to win. You can't just say that; you actually have to believe that.” Cantwell said the desire to remain undefeated — outside of the context of wanting to win every game when it takes the field, of course — didn't really become much of a rallying point until the past week or so.
“We've got this far ...” Cantwell said, rhetorically, of the Eagles' motivation.
Eggert joins Evan Augustine and Mike Pcholinsky in South Park's all-senior corps of captains — one at each position: Augustine is a defender and Pcholinsky a forward.
“You take notice of the fact you're undefeated, but that has no effect on the way we go about things,” Eggert said. “We still have to step on the field and bring our ‘A' game every game, whether you're undefeated or you're not undefeated. It's a motivating factor, of course, to stay that way. But other than that, we still have to take care of our business.”
It's far easier to navigate the one-and-done nature of the postseason when you have a three-year starter at goalkeeper, senior Zack Palamara.
Midfielder Brandon Walbert and forward Justin Minda are sophomores who have already developed into standouts.
“We've got the talent, and we're real excited to take this into the playoffs,” Eggert said.
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