The 2018 Radnor Boys Soccer team will undoubtedly go down in Radnor sports history. Accomplished, yet ceaselessly hungry, this group drew lessons from its predecessors, while still managing to carve out its own identity. With members who were part of the Radnor team that captured a District 1 AAA title back in 2016, this group was familiar with what it took to achieve success in such a competitive region. The parallels between that 2016 team and this year’s squad are readily apparent. Both had a senior-heavy roster as well as anchors on defense and in the goal.
Despite these similarities, this current team is successful and completely unique, a result of the high level play of younger players mixed with the leadership and experience of the talented seniors. Led by senior captains Nate Congleton, Peter Miller, and Ben Verbofsky, this team has shown countless times that resilience is embedded in their DNA on their way to the Class 4A State Championship game. But to fully understand this run, you have to go back to last year’s playoff game against Harriton.
Coming off a District championship, the 2017 Radnor squad finished 3rd in the Central League and geared up for another run in the District tournament. The team, however, lost some momentum due to injuries to key players Peter Miller, whose season ended with an ACL tear, and Phil Gilbert. Gilbert returned from his injury in time for the quarterfinal playoff matchup with Harriton; however, his return was not enough to guarantee victory. The Gents and the Ruckus alike were left stunned after Harriton scored in double overtime and won the game. The heartbreaking defeat served to remind them that they would have to push themselves harder than ever in the offseason to be successful in the playoffs. The lessons from the Harriton game stuck with the team for months, as the boys came into preseason eager to begin their redemption tour.
The Raiders had a successful 2018 regular season, finishing 14-2-2 and earning 4th place in the Central League after going 7-2-2 in division play. Radnor came out aggressive in their first playoff game against West Chester Henderson, with goals from Ben Engstrom and Peter Miller leading the team to a 2-1 victory in front of the home fans on Prevost Field.
The team’s run in the district tournament quickly ended in the ensuing game against Springford, with Radnor on the losing end of an ugly 2-1 match. The Gents now had their backs up against the wall, as a loss in their next game would end their season. After the loss, Coach Joe Caruolo simply explained to the team that while they played good soccer, something was missing: an unwavering desire to win and a total belief in themselves.
The subsequent games for the Gents following the loss to Springford easily makes them comparable to a March Madness cinderella team. Facing elimination on the road both times, Radnor beat North Penn with a goal by Jackson Birtwistle with only seconds left and then beat Lower Merion 1-0 thanks to Seamus Kennedy’s goal late in the second half. The team’s grittiness was on full display in those two matchups, and with the victories Radnor earned a spot in the Class 4A State tournament.
With the added pressure of playing in the State tournament, the team stayed true to their gritty roots under the bright lights of the Hersheypark Stadium. Facing Cumberland Valley, the Gents quickly fell behind 2-0 in the first half. The team did not waver, however, as they entered half time only down 2-1; they kept their heads high and entered the second half poised to make their comeback. Eliot Hayes was the star of the night, as his two goals led the Raiders to score three more, beating Cumberland Valley 3-2.
Their next game against State College followed a similar pattern, as the opposing Lions jumped out to an early 1-0 lead. In their typical fashion, the Gents did not panic. Goals from Jake Lee and David Azzarano led Radnor to another come-from-behind victory.
Radnor’s next opponent was Seneca Valley High School with a trip to the Class 4A State Championship game on the line. Bobby Hydrisko, Ben Engstrom, and Bennett Mueller all scored to give the Raiders a commanding 3-0 victory and a return to Hershey for the state title game against Wilson High School.
The success of the Raiders can be attributed to all three levels of the team: lockdown defense from Evan Majercak, Bennett Mueller, Josh Savadove, Ben Verbofsky and goalies Nate Congleton and Henry Cooke, dominant play in the midfield from David Azzarano, Eliot Hayes, Bobby Kirsch (injured during the North Penn game), Jake Lee, and Peter Miller, and the aggressive offense from forwards Jackson Birtwistle, Ben Engstrom, Bobby Hydrisko, and Seamus Kennedy.
While it is easy to credit athleticism and natural talent for the victories, the leadership of the senior class deserves equal credit for the team’s success. Senior goalies Nate Congleton and Henry Cooke have emerged as the vocal leaders of the team, and their high level of play on the field sets the tone for the rest of the team. The other seniors have led by example and been teachers for the younger players, using their experience to help guide the underclassman through the season.
The Ruckus have also flooded this team with energy. They have traveled across much of rural Pennsylvania to cheer on the Gents, and they have serves as a big spark for the team, fueling them in critical moments. The bench mob, led by Ludwig Posauner, Cole Schwartz, and Ben Stueck, consistently provide an energy boost for the squad, with their passion invigorating the team throughout the season.
Most importantly, the humility of the team is a driving force behind their success. The team is loaded with extremely talented individual players, yet no one on the roster possesses a dominantly selfish attitude. The goalies, both extremely skilled, have accepted their time-sharing roles, and the forwards never complain about Coach Caruolo’s constant rotations up top. Everyone puts the team before themselves, and this selflessness nurtured the team chemistry, which made Radnor so dangerous during this playoff run.
November 17, 2018
Coach Caruolo firing up the Ruckus pre-game was an indicator of the team’s mindset: they were here to do damage and bring home the State Championship trophy. Wilson’s forwards took an early cheap shot at goalie Nate Congleton, setting the tempo for the slow, physical first half. Radnor’s defense and goalie were lockdown, and the ball was controlled in the midfield for much of the first half, however, the lack of scoring opportunities left the game tied 0-0 going into half time.
As the second half of the game began, Wilson quickly picked up momentum, as their defense, which had not given up a single goal in State tournament play, clamped down on Radnor’s fast-paced offense and aggressively pressured the Radnor defense. Radnor goalie Henry Cooke was lights out in the second half, making countless huge plays to keep the game tied. With less than a minute remaining, Wilson cut through the Radnor defense and got a shot past Henry Cooke. While defender Josh Savadove made a miraculous defensive play, he came up short after the referee from 25 yards out questionably ruled the play a goal with only 17 seconds remaining.
Final score: Wilson 1, Radnor 0
The Gents, who have tirelessly toiled since August to get to this moment, had their season ended in perhaps the most heartbreaking way possible. The entire team played their hearts out against Wilson, only to come up only inches short, literally. In the end, this game was just another example of the heart and hustle of the Gents. The boys gave it their all, leaving every ounce of energy on the field. Savadove symbolized the grit of this team, emptying his tanks to prevent Wilson from scoring. From most angles, he succeeded in doing so, as the ball after striking the crossbar bounced away from the goal, meaning the entire ball did not cross the goal line.
Despite the devastating loss, Coach Caruolo saw the glass half full, saying to Matthew De George, “The fact that they’ve gotten this far, they’re going to go down in history and have one of the most memorable experiences they’ve ever had in their lives. And not just how they’ve impacted each other, but the school and community and everybody around them. The fact that they had the power to do that and made the run, they’ll always remember that.”
In the hyper competitive environment of Radnor, the incredibly high standards will cause some to consider this Gents run not a total success due to them not capturing the State title. For those with that pessimistic view, you clearly have not been paying attention to this team. The Raiders overcame the odds at every step of their journey in a dominant fashion. On their way to the State title game as the fifth seed in District 1, the Gents defeated three district champions while playing in Class 4A, the “big school” division. For some perspective, all four of the schools the Raiders competed against in the State tournament had a student population of well over 2,000 students, compared to Radnor’s nearly 1,200.
The drive, hunger, and unity of this team will forever be enshrined in Radnor sports history, with a silver State Championship trophy to prove it. Although they could not end the season on a victory, the Gents, on the biggest stage, showed what it meant to be a Radnor Raider, and in doing so made the entire state of Pennsylvania aware of the Radnor Gents. The team will be losing a talented core of 14 seniors; however, the grit and determination of the Gents will remain, and this team is sure to be back in this position in the years to come.
On behalf of the entire Radnor community, a huge thank you to the players, Coach Caruolo and his staff, the parents, the booster club, and everyone else involved with making this State championship run possible.