For the Abington Heights boys soccer program, 2013 represented an unusual situation.
The goals remained the same, but this time, the Comets did not have to defend a District 2 Class AAA title, nor repeat as the Lackawanna League’s top large-school team.
Delaware Valley beat the Comets three times last year, topping them in the league’s Big School title game and in the district final as well as beat them during the regular season.
Considering that the Comets lost roughly 70 percent of their goal production to graduation, head coach Steve Klingman knew his team had a major challenge ahead of it.
“We lost four all-league performers, with Kevin Elwell and Ryan Patrick scoring about 35 of our 50 goals,” Klingman said. “Losing two-thirds of our offense [to graduation], that was a concern coming into the year.”
But the one thing that has separated the Comets from the rest of the programs in the Lackawanna League over the years turned out to be an important factor once again as the team drove toward a Division I title.
With 17 seniors on the roster, Klingman had plenty of veterans on tap, ready and eager to play wherever the experienced coach saw fit. Having confidence in so many players, Klingman could use his team’s depth by rotating many players, knowing that, at some point, he would find a favorable match-up by either having the better player or the more rested player.
As a result, the Comets had plenty of ammunition to attack the rest of the league and returned to glory, capturing the division, big school and district titles to return to their rightful place atop the league’s hierarchy.
“We changed our plan a little bit,” Klingman said. “We were more of a control team, a possession team, and not bang the long ball up front to Kevin or Ryan.”
Playing keepaway from the opposition enabled the Comets to relieve pressure on a defense, knowing they were giving up fewer opportunities by simply possessing the ball a lot longer.
“I don’t think we gave up a corner kick all year,” Klingman said. “Knowing that about 65 percent of the goals are scored on restarts, we cut out a lot of goals, and made it difficult for the opposition.”
But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds as the rest of the league’s programs are improving and trimming the difference between the Comets and themselves. Right out of the chute, Abington Heights discovered they needed to be at their best at all times.
“We won at Scranton Prep, a big rival of ours in every sport,” Klingman said. “But our second game was a 2-2 tie with Valley View, a real wake-up call. They outplayed us badly in the first half and got down, but we came back and could have got the winner in overtime.”
After suffering a loss to Honesdale, the Comets traveled out to Delaware Valley and played well trying to avenge the three defeats to the Warriors last year, but could not find a way to win.
“We had the better of the play, but we hit the post three times,” Klingman said of the 3-2 loss. “That put us behind the eight-ball, knew that we had to win out, and because of a rainout, had a stretch of four games in five days.”
Ordinarily, facing tough non-league schools is one way Klingman likes to prepare for the playoffs, but in that stretch was a non-league tussle with Mountain View, which was the defending Class A state champion and would go on to finish second this year in the state. But Klingman opted to rest many of his players against the Eagles, knowing the Comets had three impact games that were more important.
“After losing up there [Delaware Valley] we won eight straight shutouts [in divisional and crossover games],” Klingman said. “Every game felt like a must-win.”
The Comets downed Wallenpaupack to win the league’s big-school title, and then rallied to beat Scranton to open district play, Delaware Valley in the semifinals and Wallenpaupack again in the district final to make the state tournament.
Despite a season-ending loss to Downingtown West in the first round of the state tournament, the Comets were back atop the league and district, the goals the team has every year, with a lot of players helping out to make the goal a reality.
Justin Porpiglia, a senior, was a two-time first-team all-star goalie who came up big during the late-season surge to get into the playoffs, so talented that backup Sam Kontz, a fine goalie himself, could not get off the bench but pushed the starter every day during practice.
The defense was led by first-team all-star Justin Levy and second-teamer Colin Klingman, a sophomore who will be the only returning starter for the Comets, at center back. The outside backs were Mike Thiel and Sante Romaldini, with reserves Caleb Green, Joe Fiorillo, Kyle Bormann and Matt Domenico adding depth.
“The defense really limited what Porpiglia had to do,” Klingman said. “With the injuries we had, we had kids we could put into the lineup and not miss a thing.”
At midfield, repeat first-team all-star Chris Ferrario and Tyler Julian were maestros controlling the center of the field, flanked by the likes of Sam Brock, Ian Schobel, Ricky Guditus, junior Spencer Houck and Kevin Suh.
Up front, first-team all-star Jeremy Cummings, who had two goals in the come-from behind district win over Scranton, and second-teamer Tarek Khalil led the Comets with support from Steve Pelaez and Patrick Beatty, the lone freshman to make the Abington Heights varsity team.
It all added up to a return to greatness for the Comets, where expectations are always the same, but this year were realized, like they usually are.