After Shawnee captured the South Jersey Group IV Championship last year with a 2-0 victory over Cherry Hill East — the soccer program’s first since 2006, when it won the South Jersey Group III title — coach Ryan Franks knew it would be difficult coming into the 2021 season to replace some key guys.
Guys like senior Matt McFadden have made the transition from a championship winning team, to what Shawnee hopes can be another just one year later, much easier.
Despite being a role player last year, McFadden still ended up as the team’s fourth-highest point scorer, with eight, after registering three goals and two assists in the COVID-shortened season. Now through the team’s first six games of his senior year, McFadden has already scored five goals, along with one assist, to lead the team in points early in the new season.
“He was definitely more of a role player last year, and we’ve talked a bunch early on this year about having a growth mindset and trying to constantly get better,” Franks said. “Matt has been the poster child for that over the course of his four years here; he’s grown by leaps and bounds as a player and he’s tireless in getting touches on the ball.
“He probably got more minutes than some of our starters last year, just with how our rotations went, but he definitely came into a bigger role this year with being a starter out there, and he’s been huge for us so far,” the coach added.
After registering goals in Shawnee’s first three games to start the season, which included two 1-0 victories that were followed by McFadden’s first multi-goal game of the season in a 5-1 win over rival Cherokee, the senior has certainly taken his game to the next level with the additional minutes he’s been given on the pitch.
Coming into the 2021 season, there was potential for the team’s talent level and chemistry to be noticeably different following the graduation of four seniors, as well as the departure of several other key players who joined the Medford based Real Jersey Football Club, part of MLS Next, a player development system run by Major League Soccer.
Last year’s nj.com Olympic Conference Player of the Year Andrew Kitch, Shawnee’s leading scorer last year in the championship run, left for Real Jersey, so he’s unable to play high-school soccer. Charlie Kitch, a top defenseman and Andrew’s younger brother, also joined the squad along with Braden Short, Shawnee’s second leading scorer last season.
The decision to join such a unique and competitive league is one that is hard to pass up for South Jersey players with the ability to do so. For those like McFadden who are left to fill the gaps on their respective teams, it was an opportunity to excel in his senior year for the Renegades.
“We lost a few really important guys last year, so when we found that out, my mindset was really just telling myself that I need to step up now,” McFadden said. “I took that as a challenge and really practiced as much as possible this past summer, going 110 percent.
“I really wanted to come into this season being able to take advantage of the moment I had, because last year I didn’t have the opportunities that I really do this year,” he added. “I wanted to be able to showcase this year what I can do.”
Despite the loss of some key players to Real Jersey, the senior said his team came together as a whole near the end of last year, which is why he believes they were able to post six consecutive shutouts toward the end of the 2020-’21 season. McFadden sees that same team chemistry and bonding with this year’s team as well.
“Towards the end of last year, we really became brothers and we bonded well, and that shows on the pitch this year,” he said. “I’m willing to fight for every teammate out there and I believe everyone else out there is as well.”