Seeking Lions' share

After losing in the state semifinals two of the past three years, the Liberty boys soccer team is determined to take the next step.


The Liberty boys soccer team came close again last season, and that has made this group of Lions even hungrier.

For the second time in three years, Liberty earned a trip to the state final four only to lose in the semifinals. Seeking a happier ending this season, the players have been working overtime.

Several of them got together on a regular basis throughout the summer to lift weights and run in an effort to get into the best shape possible. The Lions knew that they had the core of another solid team, and they wanted to be ready right away.

The hard work seems to be paying off. No. 13 Liberty, which has made it to three consecutive regional finals, has jumped to a 4-0-3 start despite losing eight starters and 12 players from last year's Class 2A state semifinalists. The Lions also have battled through a number of early season injuries that have prohibited coach Ed DeVincent from putting his whole starting lineup on the field.

DeVincent said no one really worried about losing all the players from last year's 14-4 team because they just paid attention to the program's recent history.

"The kids, they're coming out hard, and they know they're part of a successful program," DeVincent said. "They don't want to let anybody down."

DeVincent doesn't make soccer complicated for his team. He preaches one concept over and over: the importance of working hard.

"You work hard and you have success," DeVincent said. "We've just got a lot of guys that are willing to work hard and are willing to work as a team, and I think they do that [well]."

Senior A.J. Cherenzia, one of the team captains, echoes his coach.

"No one will outwork us," Cherenzia said. "I will give more than 110 percent, and the whole team has that attitude. I feel that hard work is going to carry a team all the way to a victory, and if we keep working hard towards our goal, then it will happen."

DeVincent said tough defense will be another key this season. The offense has had some trouble finishing, hitting the post a number of times, but the defense hasn't bent.

Liberty has scored 13 goals in its first seven games. But the defense allowed only three goals through that stretch and posted four shutouts, giving the Lions' offense time to get things together.

"It all starts in the back - defense wins championships," DeVincent said. "If we're tight in the back, we'll find our opportunities. Right now, our defense is ahead of our offense, and we just haven't finished the way we need to."

One of the leaders on defense is senior goalie Robert Hollasch, who has stepped into his new role as a starter with gusto. Hollasch has the four shutouts, and DeVincent said his goalie and the defense might just be getting started.

"We just need to stay solid on defense," Hollasch said. "If we're playing strong defense, we're not going to lose. We might tie a few times, [but] no one wants to lose."

Also on defense, seniors Billy Lee, Dan Crutchfield and Paul Seegren and sophomore Tony Lee have been consistent. Senior Ryan Smith also played well when Crutchfield was sidelined.

Juniors Aaron Merchak and Jason Moczulski have led the offense. Merchak has a team-high three goals despite coming off the bench. Moczulski is the leader in points with six (two goals, four assists) for an offense that DeVincent said has mainly "been unlucky so far."

The team also has been unlucky with injuries. DeVincent hopes to finally get his full starting 11 on the field in the next few games.

Four-year starter Taylor VanBrackle has made it back after missing the first five games. He had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in April, but returned and scored a goal in the team's 1-1 tie with Middletown of Frederick County.

An ankle injury sidelined senior forward Graham Rigby for the past four games; Cherenzia missed a game with an injury; and others have been banged up. The Lions managed to get 10 of their starters on the field in their seventh game.

DeVincent said he just wants the offense to stay patient. They're still working on a lot of touches and skills along with set plays during practice.

"Most of the teams that we're playing now, they're very strong defensively," DeVincent said. "If you get those opportunities for set plays, you've got to make the most of them."

And if Liberty makes it back to the state semifinals, the players believe they will make the most of that opportunity as well.

"I'm willing to bet that we could win the states," Cherenzia said. "Everyone has the intensity and the pride and everyone wants it badly. I've been close two years, so I really do not want to let it slip out of my hands a third time."

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