Coughlin is making its third appearance in the PIAA boys soccer championships in four years.
There are many differences this time around, though.
For starters, the 2009 squad entered as district runner-up and the 2010 showing in the state tournament was when the Crusaders (16-2-1) were in Class 3A and were overpowered by state runner-up Central Bucks East in the first round. Now they are back in 2A.
The previous two seasons were also when the core of the players on the team were underclassmen. Tonight at 7 when they face District 4 champion Lewisburg at Loyalsock High School, those players are now seniors and ready for another shot.
Now, we still have state experience coming back. That's something we really never had because, even two years ago, we won the district title and we lost six starters that year, Coughlin coach Rob Havard said. Now, with six, seven, eight seniors, plus Tommy Sebia and Dave Marriggi, who were here as freshmen, we now have state experience with us, so that should help.
Winning tonight and becoming the first boys squad from the Wyoming Valley Conference to reach the state quarterfinals since Wyoming Valley West in 2006 won't be an easy task though.
Coughlin takes on a Green Dragons squad that has just two losses and one tie on the season – to Danville and Selinsgrove – but avenged those three blemishes in the district semifinals and finals to claim their third straight D4 title and sixth in seven years. Lewisburg (18-2-1) scored five goals in districts, coming from four players. Udoka Eze scored twice in a 2-0 shutout over Central Columbia in the opening round. From there, the third-seeded Green Dragons went on to beat second-seeded Danville 1-0 on a goal by Nikolas Janesch. Then they bested the No. 5 Seals for the district title after trailing 1-0 in the second half on goals by Max Reed and Kerry Shutt.
Lewisburg, which enters tonight's match winners of nine straight, has scored 65 goals this season, including the playoffs.
In their recent state appearances, the Dragons lost to Scranton Prep last year in the first round and defeated the Cavaliers in the first round of the 2010 tournament before bowing out in the quarters. During its seven-year run, Lewisburg has won in even-numbered years in the first round and lost in the odd-numbered years.
States is going to be hard, but we're going to have confidence, Coughlin senior Pat Malone said. We've been there a couple times before. We're going to know what to look for.
Lewisburg and Coughlin have striking similarities.
While the Dragons have been streaking of late, the Crusaders have also put together a run, winning three in a row after dropping a pair of matches in a week to Dallas before the playoffs started. Lewisburg had trouble with two teams this season and Coughlin's only losses and tie have come to the Mountaineers.
On offense, the trio of seniors Malone and Justin Okun and sophomore Travis Kiel – who accounted for 40 of the team's 48 goals in the regular season – have been hurting opponents in the postseason as well. Malone has three playoff goals, while Okun and Kiel have two apiece to make up the Crusaders' seven in the postseason.
The Coughlin defense has also been playing great of late. If you take out the nine goals scored by the Mountaineers in three games – including the WVC Division I tiebreaker – the team has allowed just eight scores in 16 games.
We had a little spell at the end with some injuries, but we really weren't executing the way we should, Havard said about his defense. Through playoffs we gave up two goals so the defense came back. They reformed themselves.