Deer Lakes boys soccer ends lengthy postseason drought
Many details of Deer Lakes' almost decade-long absence from the WPIAL boys soccer playoffs aren't easily recalled or even known by the current Lancers. The near-miss in 2004, the winless season in 2008 — they're factoids to forget.
What matters to the 2013 Lancers is that they ended the postseason drought.
Deer Lakes will enter the Class AA playoffs, which begin later this week, with an 11-2-3 record and an 8-2-2 mark in Section 2-AA, which earned the Lancers a second-place finish. Their regular-season finale, a 2-1 win over Shady Side Academy that ruined the Indians' perfect section record, served as the latest sign that Deer Lakes has distanced itself from its period of struggle and might soon restore its reputation as one of Class AA's strongest programs.
“We're getting used to it more and more as we beat the big teams,” junior defensive midfielder Matt McCausland said of seeing Deer Lakes as a WPIAL contender.
A year ago, the Lancers finished 10-8 and 6-6 in Section 2-AA. Their winning season was Deer Lakes' first since 2004. Though they missed the playoffs, they dealt Mars, the eventual WPIAL Class AA runner-up, its first loss of the 2012 season.
That win, in the eyes of the players and third-year coach Jordan Wiegand, served as the tipping point for a team that had already improved from its 4-10-3 season in 2011.
“That (win) was kind of like, ‘Hey, we are able to take down the giants like that,' ” senior center back Justin Sutter said. “It kind of sparked the whole idea that Deer Lakes isn't just a team that can win the games it's supposed to win. It can come out and shock the world.”
The Lancers look at Mars, Shady Side Academy and Knoch as teams they've strived to resemble. This season, anchored by a stingy defense and junior goalie Austin Barneycastle, they finished behind the Indians and ahead of the Planets and Knights.
Barneycastle said hints of this season's success date as far back as eighth grade, when this group of Lancers had one of the middle school team's best seasons.
Before Deer Lakes went into a downward spiral nine years ago, it regularly kept up with or surpassed its section rivals.
In 2003, the last year Deer Lakes made the postseason, the team went 9-2-1 to win the Section 2-AA title. It finished with a 15-4-3 record after losing in the quarterfinals.
The Lancers also reached the quarterfinals in 2000 and 1997 — they finished 12-0-2 in section play against the likes of Shady Side Academy, Mars, Pine-Richland, Springdale and Vincentian in the earlier of the seasons.
By the time Sutter reached high school, Deer Lakes' soccer program lacked all luster. He recalled the dearth of offseason training. Soccer started in August and ended in October.
When Wiegand arrived in 2011, the expectations changed.
“It's very rare that we go a week without seeing each other during the year,” he said.
Dedication to training led to the development of better ball skills. While he once used practice to work on simple passing and dribbling drills, Wiegand now spends time refining set plays and defensive schemes.
Senior central midfielder Shane Mullin, who spent his freshman year at Class AAA Trinity and his sophomore year at Class A champion Seton-La Salle, moved in with his father before his junior year and joined Deer Lakes. A member of Beadling's Cup soccer organization at the time, Mullin marveled that many of his teammates possessed great skill despite their lack of Cup background.
“There are so many guys who are cup-caliber players on this team,” Mullin said. “I believe that we are capable of winning it all this year. … We haven't made the playoffs in 10 years, so I think we kind of fell off other teams' radars. But they should be worried.”