BY JEFF FALK
By its standards, 2011 was a pretty good campaign. It was also like no other season the New Covenant boys’ soccer squad had ever experienced before.
The recently completed fall season respresented the Flames’ first-ever competing as a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Assocation-sanctioned team – and the first by any of New Covenant’s athletic porgrams. And if that’s not historic enough, New Covenant also competed in its initial District Three Class A playoff contest.
On Oct. 22, the 16th-seeded Flames traveled to York Catholic and lost to the top-seed in the tournament 8-0. York Catholic would later go on to win the District Three championship.
And while 8-0 doesn’t sound all that competitive, it was a beginning – a launching pad if you will – for New Covenant. Because before you can run, walk or even crawl, you’ve got to take your lumps.
“Generally, they beat us soundly,” said Leslie Kok, New Covenant’s second-year head coach. “But a one versus a 16-seed, the outcome was expected. We wanted to get a goal on the board. Some members of our team stepped up, and some were intimidated. But it was a good experience for everyone. Losing is not fun. But we are graceful losers.”
York Catholic scored its first goal fairly early, and steadily continued to build upon its lead. It enjoyed a 4-0 margin at halftime and added four more in the second half of play.
“Their goals were fairly evenly spread out,” said Kok. “They scored their first goal five minutes into the match. They played very well as a team. They passed well. They controlled the speed of the game.
“We could’ve played better,” Kok continued. “If we would’ve played to our ability we could’ve been competitive. I tried to encourage the kids to enjoy everything leading up to the game. Their (her players’) goal was to get to districts. I don’t think my expectation was to win the game. It was to play to that ability.”
The fact that New Covenant conducted a pep rally to send its warriors off to battle should give one an indication of what making the district field meant to the small school. The Flames ended their initital season as a PIAA program 7-6-1.
“I think the boys had enough encouragement to feel like they could win,” said Kok. “They were excited and nervous, like they should be. Yes, it was a positive experience for every member of the team to play against competition that was well-organized.
“I think becoming a PIAA school will help the program,” Kok continued. “It’s New Covenant’s goal to provide programs which are excellent. Before playing some other schools it didn’t allow them to attain that excellence. My guys are tough and they are willing to play good soccer. And at the same time, they’re the type of young men everyone wishes their children could be.”
Kok claims that not only is New Covenant the smallest PIAA school in District Three, that it’s also the smallest school in the PIAA period.
“The season went fairly well,” said Kok. “There were certainly some ups and downs. It was probably our number one goal to make it to the district playoffs. Being our first year in the PIAA, there’s a lot of changes teams go through. We had a little more injuries than we usually do and we have a fairly shallow bench.
“We’re quite a small fish in a big pond,” she added.
New Covenant did not field a junior varsity team this season and dressed 16 players – 15 boys and one girl – whose grades ranged from ninth to 12th. All but one of the schools that the Flames played were PIAA schools.
I’d say we’re fairly satisfied,” said Kok. “But we’re very competitive so it’s tough to take one loss. Being our first year in the PIAA, we didn’t know what to expect from anyone. Most of the teams we played this year, we never played before. There were three teams we played before and they recently came into the PIAA.
“What’s happening is the PIAA is getting stricter with playing against non-PIAA opponents,” Kok added. “It negatively affects your power rating if you do. As the penalties have gotten stronger, more teams are coming to the PIAA.”
At the beginning of the season, New Covenant really didn’t know what to expect from 2011. But the Flames entered the campaign with open minds.
“Our first thought was, ‘Let’s have enough students playing’,” said Kok. “Then we got into prepare mode and said, ‘Let’s see what we can do with these kids.’ These kids developed a close bond.
“This year we worked on discipline and self-control,” continued Kok. “It’s very important for us to be disciplined because we had a shallow bench. It was a brand new chapter for the school. But we worked really hard, and there were only a couple of games that we were totally disappointed with the outcome.”
The day may come when New Covenant competes in the Lancaster-League, just like six of Lebanon County’s other seven soccer-playing schools. Next year, a contest with Northern Lebanon has already been scheduled, and the discussion to play other local teams – like Lebanon Catholic – is on-going.
“For me, I’m not an administrator,” said Kok, “but I did hear a lot of the discussion (before becoming a PIAA school). Generally, I supported the idea. Before we went into the PIAA, they gathered the coaches together and it was unanimous. It didn’t have to be all or nothing because you can pick and choose your sport (to play as a PIAA member). It’s nice to have something for the kids to play for.”