Western Reserve Academy boys soccer team overcomes rough stretch


Staff report

The Western Reserve Academy boys soccer team hit a rough stretch in the middle of the 2013 season.

But the Pioneers rebounded to finish the year on a four-match winning streak that included bringing home the Midwest Prep Classic championship.

Reserve started out the season strong, but a midseason run that saw WRA lose four of five games tested the character of a team that is not accustomed to losing.

A 2-2 draw against University School (Hunting Valley), in a game that WRA was losing 2-0, helped the team find its way.

That game propelled the Pioneers to a four-game winning streak to end the year.  

"This group of players, particularly our seniors and juniors, hadn't experienced a whole lot of failure during their time here," head coach Herb Haller said.

"Because of that, it took us a little longer to figure out our problems. To their credit, the players showed up every day, worked hard and competed and to finish the season the way we did was a real compliment to the team."

Several team members earned postseason honors, including Hudson resident David Ma, a senior who was an All-Ohio first team selection, All-District first team member, the Greater Akron Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association's Division III Player of the Year and the Tri-County Player of the Year as well as an all-league first-team selection.  

"Technically, David is one of the best players I have ever coached," Haller said. "He sees the field very well and he has a great center of gravity that allows him to be deceptive in his movements."

Joining Ma as a first team All-League selection were senior Alex Campana and junior Ryan Hassell, who led the Pioneers in scoring this season with 16 goals, giving him 72 in his high school career. Senior Jack McKenzie, a Hudson resident, and junior Hudson resident Kurt Haller were second-team selections, while junior Hudson resident Ryan Stifler and sophomore Matt Waldeck were honorable-mention selections.  

At the district level, Hassell was named to the first team, while Campana was a second-team selection.

Campana also earned the team's Most Valuable Player award.  

"Alex has played in the shadows of some wonderful attacking players during his time here at WRA," Herb Haller said. "However, his career totals are a very respectable -- 17 goals and 13 assists, including eight goals and three assists this year.

"Watching him slice through backlines from the right wing or left wing was a joy to watch as a coach and I am sure, for spectators in the stands.

"One never knew if Alex would cut the ball to his left, to his right, spin on it, or flick it over a defender's foot to zip past that player and continue on toward the goal."

Senior Hudson resident Jonathan Depew was named the team's Most Improved Player.  

"Jonathan played multiple positions for us, started some games, came off the bench in others and played his best soccer at the end of the season, when his coach finally found the best position for him," Herb Haller said.

"He understood his role within the framework of our team and waited for his opportunities to shine on the field. He played the game simply and was a physical presence for us in the midfield, especially at the end of the season when we played him in the midfield against CVCA [Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy], University School and Kiski [Pa.].

"I loved Jonathan's willingness to learn the game, eagerness to ask questions, commitment to his teammates and enthusiasm in playing the game."

 Senior Joe Blanda was the recipient of the J. Ashton Graham Spirit Award.  

"Joe and I spoke extensively throughout the summer to find a way for him to contribute to our soccer team this season," Herb Haller said. "We ultimately decided that he would try playing in goal, a position he had not played since his early soccer days.

"Here we are now celebrating Joe's contributions to another successful season and I couldn't be happier. He played in nine of our 18 games, had 3.5 shutouts and allowed eight goals. Joe was an inspiration to all of us when he was on the field.

"His battle has really made me reflect on what is important in life and I feel strongly that I have become a better coach, mentor, friend, father and husband."

The John Breuker Jr. Coaches Award was presented to McKenzie.  

"Jack is a senior who exemplifies what we, as coaches, look for from all of our players: Have a great attitude, work hard, listen to your coaches, be a good teammate and lead by example," Herb Haller said.

"After playing multiple positions last year off the bench and earning the Most Improved Player award, he was the backbone of our defense this year.

"Excellent in the air, Jack also managed to score two great goals with his head, one against CVCA and the game winner against Hawken [Gates Mills]."

Even though the Pioneers will lose 12 seniors to graduation, Herb Haller is confident his returning core of players, including juniors Gabe Skora, Samir Gangoli and Beni Lerner, freshman Justin Campana and Waldeck, along with next year's tri-captains, Stifler, Hassell and Kurt Haller, will help the team continue its winning ways.

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