The Lions earned their first Coaches Tournament title since 1997 last Saturday with a 1–0 win over Williamstown High School.
The Cherry Hill High School West boys soccer team has been checking a lot of goals off its season to-do list in the past week.
One of the Lions’ goals this season was to win the conference. Cherry Hill West clinched the Olympic Conference National Division title last Friday, when it defeated Paul VI High School, 4–1.
The second goal was to win the program’s first South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association Tournament title since 1997. Cherry Hill West completed this goal last Saturday as it defeated Williamstown High School, 1–0, in the tournament’s championship game.
Cherry Hill West’s final goal is to win a title in the South Jersey Group III Tournament. Completing this goal is still a work in progress. The №4 seeded Lions defeated №13 seed Highland Regional High School, 5–1, on Monday and will host №12 Seneca High School this afternoon in the tournament’s quarterfinals.
Regardless of the sectional tournament outcome, Cherry Hill West has had a season to remember. The win over Highland improved the Lions’ record to 19–2, a large improvement over the team’s 10–8–1 mark in 2015.
“We worked really really hard in the preseason and during the season,” senior goalkeeper Andrew Robertson said. “I think our work ethic got us to this point.”
Head coach Dan Butler said this year’s team is very well rounded, with talent on both offense and defense.
“This year, at every position we’re playing with confidence and we have skill at every single position,” Butler said. “Last year, there was athletes and speed. This year, it’s a total combination of speed, skill and a lot of confidence.”
The Lions have benefited from outstanding offensive play from seniors Ishmael Bokai and Jason Kahan and junior Elliot Cumba. The trio has combined to score 44 goals this season.
“We stopped relying on just one guy, and we work as a team,” Kahan said about this year’s team.
Defensively, Cherry Hill West has been stout, shutting out opponents in 12 of its 21 games. Robertson has played well in net in all of those games, with the defense limiting the opposition’s number of opportunities.
Bokai said the coaching staff wanted this year’s team to have an infectious work ethic, and they looked at the senior class to set an example.
“We needed to step up,” Bokai said. “Being a captain is not something easy. The reason why they pick you to be captain is because they see you do more work and they want the team to follow you.”
The title in the Coaches’ Tournament has been a big momentum builder for the Lions. Butler described the tournament as the perfect preparation tool for the sectional tournament.
“The beauty of the Coaches’ Tournament is it provides two benefits,” Butler said. “One, you play teams that are out of the normal Olympic Conference grind. It’s also playing high-quality teams that is preparing you for the state tournament.”
Senior Max Bond, the Lions’ lone goal scorer in the tournament’s championship game, said the Coaches’ Tournament allowed Cherry Hill West to show it can compete with the best teams in the area.
“We’ve shown we have the ability to do great things in the (state tournament),” Bond said.
The Lions admit this season won’t be complete without at least a sectional title. Last season, the team lost to Ocean City High School, 1–0, in overtime. If it beats Seneca this afternoon, Cherry Hill West could have to visit Ocean City, the №1 seed in the South Jersey Group III tournament, in a rematch next Monday.