The Cumberland Valley Eagles boys soccer team pushed itself back to the PIAA Class AAA Tournament for the first time in eight seasons Tuesday night, but it fell to the State College Little Lions by one score in a shootout.
"I think first and foremost, State College was and is a very good team, and we knew that," Cumberland Valley head coach Matt Billman said. "I was pleased with the level of play our guys had and the response we had to the things that happened and the goals that were scored against us."
Billman said his players were devastated after Tuesday's loss.
"It's an emotional way to end the season, an abrupt way to end the season," Billman said. "We're starting to view the season under a broader lense. We're starting to look at the bigger picture. We had plans to move on past that game. Our goal was to win that game and move on to the next round. I think any time you set a goal and don't reach it, the natural reaction is to get upset. I think our desire, after the Hempfield loss, was just to bring everything we had."
The Eagles fell to the Black Knights in a narrow 2-1 contest in the District 3 AAA quarterfinals last week.
The loss Tuesday night ended the careers of 10 Cumberland Valley seniors. Defenders Jake Herron, Logan Opalisky, Kyle Wakeen, midfielders Jared Martinelli, the two-time Mid-Penn Player of the Year, and Colin Phillips, forwards Ty Geesey and Mike Wenger, as well as goalies Mike Kirk and Matt Chilcote donned the Eagle red and white for the last time against the Little Lions.
"All those kids, we can't replace," Billman said. "We always view graduating seniors, not trying to replace them, but having other guys step up and fill the voids. What was great about this group of seniors, in terms of legacy, was they extended our season. We had a pretty good postseason. They set a great standard for what we should be doing. They were a great group of guys who had great leadership, so we had great team chemistry as well."
The chemistry showed as the Eagles got off to a quick start in 2011 by winning their first 11 games, six of which were shutouts. They nearly ended the month of September perfectly, until Central Dauphin notched a 1-0 win over them at Eagle View Middle School on Sept. 29. In that timeframe, Cumberland Valley allowed exactly one goal per game.
The Eagles bounced back from the Central Dauphin loss by reeling off five more wins and one tie to enter the Class AAA playoffs as the No. 1 seed at 16-1-1 overall. Cumberland Valley opened the playoffs in convincing fashion with a 7-0 win over Garden Spot in the first round, then followed it up with a close 2-1 win over the No. 9 Chambersburg Trojans.
Billman is pleased with how the season went.
"We always set goals to win league and districts and do something in states," Billman said. "When you set goals like that, you set out to achieve that. I think we did that. I was very pleased in the growth and development of our players this year. I think the journey and development, as well as achieving the goal that you set, are equally important. If you look at the one thing that you were supposed to do and didn't, then you fail, and we didn't fail."
Billman is also confident that his team will have similar success in 2012. The Eagles will bring back junior central defender Spencer Petersheim, a two-year starter, as well as junior outside midfielder Max Shedlosky, who scored once in the loss to State College. The squad will also bring back junior central midfielder Colt Storm and junior defender Peter Kemery. Billman said he started four juniors, and two saw significant time, as did one sophomore, in Tuesday's loss.
"We have a lot of kids coming back," Billman said. "We have five or six kids that played significant time. We do our best to give opportunities to kids who will play next year as well."