2015 was not supposed to be a record-breaking season for Varsity Boys’ Soccer. As starting midfielder Andrea Berghella ‘16 says, “This year we weren’t expecting much; we didn’t even aim at making the playoffs at the beginning.” A few months prior to the start of preseason, GFS graduated six varsity players. The Tigers “thought this year would be a real down year or at least a rebuilding year,” says captain Ray Hill-Cristol ‘17, and a chance to get underclassman talent a chance to start and improve. Little did the team know before the start of the year, but both goals would prove to be attainable.
The adjustment from JV to Varsity had to be made quickly for some, as the team suddenly needed to fill the vacancies left by the class of 2015, including All-League twins Anand and Satya Butler ‘15. Steven Hamel ‘16 had been on JV the year prior and suddenly was thrust into a starting defenseman role. Isaac Myran ‘18 was on swing as a freshman, yet became an all-league forward and one of the team’s best offensive threats. Sam Webber ‘19 became the only freshman to hold a starting role this year, skipping JV entirely. These surprises were only one piece to the puzzle, however, for the team. The Tigers also had confidence.
On a typically hot Philadelphia morning in late summer, the team played their first opponent, Chestnut Hill Academy. Going into the game, GFS did not expect the game to be close. CHA was coming off a 15-7-3 season in which they were ranked 30th in the state of Pennsylvania. But this year was different. The GFS boys came away with a 0-0 tie, a testament to the hard nosed defense that carried GFS throughout the season. “After that we had to see how we showed up in the league, and this year we were able to come together and finish games off which was what we were lacking last year,” says Berghella. “Last year, we could never hold our 1-0 or 0-0, getting scored on usually towards the end. This year, our defense was top class and did a great job of holding on to those important points.” While the surprising tie must have been a boost of confidence to some of the young players on the team, senior leaders like Berghella knew that the team’s performance could only be tested against its toughest division rivals later in the year.
They weren’t quite sure their season was on the verge of success yet, though. They lost three of their first five league games, including a disappointing 1-0 overtime heartbreaker against Moorestown Friends.
Then came their big test against Friends Central. “It was an amazing game. We all played well. Pietro with the shut out and Isaac scoring off Andrea’s assist,” said Hill-Cristol. “To be honest, it was probably my goal,” lamented Berghella with a smile. “Definitely crossed the line. But Isaac stole it.” Regardless, it meant the Tigers knew they would move on to the league playoffs, as long as they could take care of Friends Select and the Academy of the New Church. They did, with blowout scores of 6-0 and 5-0, respectively. Their next task was the Shipley.
The game was at Shipley’s Farm Fields, far away from both their main campus and GFS. But the GFS fans didn’t care, showing up with Tiger spirit, ready to cheer on their classmates and eat free food courtesy of Shipley. The atmosphere was raucous; highlights included David Barr ‘16 attending the game with an unbelievably large cutout of Captain Silas Shah’s face and Spanish teacher Rosario Manion yelling, “¡Vamos Tigres!”
The game was just as exciting as the snacks and the fans. Goalie Pietro Berghella ‘18 was steady, making a couple of clutch saves. There were chances, including Felipe Sanz ‘16 receiving a pass, stopping on a dime at the top of the box, looking around for options for a few seconds, and letting one rip without any momentum. Despite this, it was a good strike. The Shipley goalie reached and missed… but the ball hit the crossbar and bounced out. The Tigers eventually lost another heartbreaker, 1-0.
They were disappointed, but they weren’t done yet. They had the state playoffs, facing feared opponent Episcopal Academy.
Earlier in the season, the Tigers had lost to EA to the tune of 4-2. That type of game was a rarity this season. In their 15 games this year, they gave up more than 2 goals in just that one. This time was different. With goals from Myran and Hill-Cristol in the early, they went into halftime up 2-0. But EA responded, tying the game and sending it to overtime. And then into penalty kicks. Then, one by one, Silas Shah, Ray Hill-Cristol, Andrea Berghella, Felipe Sanz, and junior AJ Mowafi all scored. The Tigers pulled off the upset. Next up was a trip to Malvern Prep, ranked 16th in the State.
The Tigers lost a hard fought game, 2-0. But their season was a success. “We shattered expectations,” said Hill-Cristol. The Tigers will look to build on this success next year.