North Xtra: Defense plays a major role in Quaker Valley's WPIAL title march
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Saturday's WPIAL boys soccer championship match came down to the final seconds of double overtime, but when Quaker Valley's Adam Richert netted the winner with 4.2 seconds remaining, there was an underlying sense of relief in addition to the excitement.
The way the Quakers had been playing, they were due.
The Quakers had been in control for the majority of overtime and had failed to score on four scoring opportunities while Mars Area struggled to mount sustained pressure in the Quaker Valley zone.
Time after time, the Quakers stifled forward advances, controlled the ball, and methodically moved the ball back to the midfield for yet another strike until they finally notched the winning goal.
Such has become the standard for the Quakers this season. Led by goalkeeper Winter Fondi and defenseman Nelson Westwood, the Quaker Valley defense has been what every coach idealizes: effective and consistent.
Quaker Valley coach Gene Klein said that it all starts with Fondi.
"He's been superb all year. Very steady and very solid," Klein said. "He commands the [goal] area and can always make the big saves when you need them."
That is, however, if the ball makes it to him in the first place, which is something that Westwood rarely allows. The senior co-captain has been the stalwart leader of the back four all season.
"He covers a lot of ground and is very dominant in the air, but he's good with the ball, too," Klein said. "[He has] all the qualities you need to be a dominant defender."
The numbers back up everything Klein says, too. Through the WPIAL playoffs, the Quakers (19-3-1) gave up just seven goals, including a streak of nine consecutive games without surrendering a goal. They have more shutouts than goals allowed.
They added another on Tuesday, defeating General McLane of District 10, 1-0, in two overtimes in the first round of the PIAA tournament.
But where the Quaker Valley defense really shines is in its ability not just to prevent goals, but also to quickly get the ball to the feet of the midfielders instead of simply clearing it downfield.
"I think we're able to build out of the back," said Klein. "Our defenders are able to find our guys in the midfield and if they can do that we're able to sustain good attacks."