MEDFORD >> Ryan Franks - by his own admission - has come full circle.
Franks’ Shawnee Renegades capped a memorable season with a 2-0 victory over visiting Cherry Hill East in the NJSIAA South West E (Group 4) Boys Soccer Championship Nov. 21 on their home turf.
For the top-seeded Renegades, the sectional title is the 14th in school history and first since 2006.
The fact that the sixth-seeded Cougars (8-5-4) were the opponent in the finals had special significance for the nine-year Shawnee coach.
“The last time Cherry Hill East was in a sectional championship was 2001 when I was a senior captain on the field against them as a player for Shawnee,” said Franks, who has a career record of 87-55-18. “We beat them 2-1 that year in double overtime on a goal from my brother, Jamie, on our way to win the state championship against Kearny. Thought that was a cool thing how it all came full circle today now that I’m back coaching.”
Franks’ other brother, Brad, was on Shawnee’s last sectional championship team 14 years ago.
“It’s been a while,” Franks told NJ.com after the game. “It feels good because we’ve been knocking at the door the last few years and won three of the last four Olympic Conference American championships, and that’s the toughest division in South Jersey - so we’ve been there.”
Junior Andrew Johnston gave the Renegades the only goal they would need in the 25th minute.
“The first goal came off a through ball that junior Gavin Matesich slipped in behind the defense to Andrew Johnston,” said Franks. “A.J. made a great diagonal run in behind and slipped the ball just by the keeper once he was in one-v-one.”
Johnston’s tally came about seven minutes after Cherry Hill East almost took a 1-0 lead. The Renegades were called for a foul in the box and on the ensuing penalty kick, Shawnee junior keeper Daniel Ferrer dove to his left and scooped up a low shot by Luke Kuehrs, the leading scorer for the Cougars.
Senior Matthew Longshaw gave Shawnee an insurance goal when he notched his fifth of the season in the 43rd minute.
“The second goal started off a six kick when Andrew Kitch flicked a header on to Braden Short,” said Franks. “Braden found Matt making a good run into space, Longshaw made a little move to create some space and then connected on a great finish to the lower right corner from right outside the 18. Both goals were really well taken by Johnston and Longshaw.”
Franks couldn’t have been happier with who had the first goal in the sectional final.
“It was so rewarding to see A.J. score the game winner today,” said Franks. “He’s been a kid who has just worked his tail off the last few years trying to get better every day and to see him have a big performance in a big game like this as a role player for us was awesome. I’m so happy for him individually. But as a team I was very proud of the way our boys stuck together and worked as a team. We were calm in possession for long stretches of the game, and we were very disciplined defensively to limit their opportunities.”
Ferrier was instrumental in the win for the Renegades as he finished with a season-high 13 saves – highlighted by the penalty-kick stop in the game’s first 20 minutes.
The junior two-year starter finished the season with 46 saves and eight shutouts, including the final six contests with clean sheets.
“I think there are a lot of things to like about Dan as a goalkeeper,” said Franks. “I think it starts with his fundamentals and technique which are very good, but he’s also continued to develop a lot over the course of his three years here so far. He’s worked a ton in the weight room and away from the field to improve his athleticism and explosiveness which has definitely paid off, and he has also grown in his ability to read the game and snuff out opportunities before they become dangerous by coming out and grabbing crosses out of the air, punching away dangerous balls, and gobbling up through balls that he can get to before he even has to stop shots.”
Franks continued: “As a result he puts himself in good positions where he isn’t forced to make as many tough saves because he prevents them from developing earlier in the play. The combination of all of those things with his attention to detail and the confidence he approaches the position with really led to a special season for him this past year. Dan only allowed one goal in 11 games. That’s pretty darn good.”
Shawnee allowed only a combined five goals in three games this season. They outscored the opposition, 29-5, for the season – led by leading scorers, sophomore Andrew Kitch (9 goals, 5 assists) and senior Matthew Longshaw (5 goals).
Coincidentally, the top-seeded Renegades’ season began and ended against the same team. Shawnee beat Cherry Hill East, 2-1, in the season opener at home Oct. 2.
“We knew we wanted to stay compact defensively and make it difficult for them to play into some of their dangerous attacking players up front like (senior) Luke Luehrs and (sophomore) Jakub Samelko,” said Franks in game-planning against the Cougars, a team the Renegades are 3-2-1 against the last three seasons.
“One of the most difficult things about playing (Cherry Hill East) was their depth,” said Franks. “They’ve had a lot of different guys step up and win games for them this year, so we knew we were going to have to play a complete team game to shut them down.”
Shawnee was an impressive 10-1 this season, winning its final nine games. The Renegades’ only loss came on the road at the hands of Lenape-district rival Seneca, 3-1, in the second game of the season Oct. 8.
When asked if it was a ‘wake-up call’ for his team, Franks said:
“Yes, I think in some ways that the Seneca loss was a wakeup call,” he said. “Obviously, the boys didn’t like that feeling after a loss like that especially to a rival (Lenape Regional High School District) school. The next practice we definitely got after it a little bit and tried to work on fixing some of the things that we could have done better both defensively and in our possession offensively. I don’t know if there was anything special said other than that we had to get back to work and get better every day. To our boys’ credit, they did just that. We were very proud of their resilience after that game.”
Thanks to COVID-19 and the NJSIAA’s decision to cancel state championships this fall for safety and travel reasons, the season ends at the sectional level – win or lose.
“Well honestly there’s a part of us that is obviously disappointed not to be able to compete for a state championship this year when we would have normally been given the opportunity,” said Franks. “At the same time, I was talking to (Cherry Hill East) Coach (Michael) Melograna before the game reminding him about how we were talking with each other in the summer wondering if we’d even have a season at all. So given the circumstances, I’d say we’ve been lucky to have been able to have this experience this year and each game has been a gift. But I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that I can’t wait for all of this COVID pandemic stuff to be in the rear view mirror.”
Shawnee was on a COVID quarantine lockdown for two weeks after its 2-0 win at Bishop Eustace Nov. 13. There were no practices or games allowed during that time – a somewhat challenging scenario when the next game they would play would be win or go home.
“Grit,” Franks said when he was asked what his lasting memory would be of the 2020 team. “These guys worked their tail off all year long even through a pandemic and a quarantine and were still out grinding working out individually to get ready for this season going all the way back to March. They honestly didn't even know if there was going to be a season. None of us did. Personally, I was sincerely grateful for every game we were able to play. It was great to be able to end it like this.”
What are the prospects for Shawnee boys soccer in 2021?
“I mean we were already talking about this,” said Franks. We only lose four seniors off of this team, so while we will miss the leadership of Matt Longshaw, Owen Randall, Jake Borsky and Evan Hoover, we’re bringing a lot of experience back for next year. We always talk about having a growth mindset, and I know some of the boys will literally be back out on the fields tomorrow working to develop their games. That’s just the kind of kids they are. We’re certainly going to enjoy this one for a moment, but I can’t wait to start working with these guys again next year. They're a fun group, and we’ve got more work to do if we want to end next year feeling the same way.”
2020 Shawnee Boys Soccer
Staff: Ryan Franks, head coach; Casey Marshall, varsity assistant; Darren Welsh, junior varsity coach; Ben Aha, freshman coach.
Game-by-Game Results: Oct. 6, Cherry Hill East, W 2-1; Oct. 8, at Seneca, L 3-1; Oct. 13, at Lenape, W 2-0; Oct. 14, Cherry Hill West, W 4-0; Oct. 20, Paul VI, W 2-1; Oct. 22, Cherokee W 4-0; Oct. 26, Winslow Township, 6-0; Oct. 30, at St. Augustine Prep, W 2-0; Nov. 3, at Bishop Eustace, W 2-0; Nov. 19, Egg Harbor Township, W 2-0 (NJSIAA South West E Semifinals); Nov. 21, Cherry Hill East, W 2-0 (NJSIAA South West E Championship).
Player Statistics (Goals, Assists): Andrew Kitch, sophomore forward (9, 5); Matthew Longshaw, senior midfielder (5, 0); Braden Short, junior midfielder (4, 8); Matt McFadden, junior midfielder (3, 2); Gavin Matesich, junior midfielder (1, 3); Tyler Davidson, junior (1, 2); Patrick Sipera, junior midfielder (1, 1); Jacob Borsky, senior midfielder (1, 0); Vaughn Feudtner, sophomore (1, 0); Andrew Johnston, junior forward (1, 0); Owen Randall, senior defender (1, 0); Eli Uray, sophomore midfielder (1, 0); Evan Coursen, junior midfielder (0, 1); Owen Healy, junior defender (0, 1); Charlie Kitch, sophomore midfielder (0, 1); Ryan Sharpley, junior defender (0, 1).
Goalie Statistics: Daniel Ferrer, junior, 46 saves (8 shutouts); Evan Hoover, senior, 7 saves; Ryan Dellmyer, junior, 3 saves; Vaughn Feudtner, sophomore, 8 saves.