Rumors of Lenape decline exaggerated

Posted: October 21, 2012

Finally, this was supposed to be the year that one of the incredible sports runs was reduced to a crawl.

The Lenape girls' soccer team entered the season having won five consecutive state Group 4 titles, not to mention five straight South Jersey Coaches Tournament championships and five titles in a row in the black-and-blue division of South Jersey, the Olympic Conference American.

So when Eastern beat the Indians twice this year and eventually captured the American Division title, it appeared as if the mantle had been passed.

There's no shame in that, since Eastern is among the top teams in the state, a true powerhouse.

Lenape even lost a third game, to Cherokee, so the feeling around South Jersey was that maybe an Indians team that starts six sophomores was truly talented but a little too green to maintain its championship form.

Anybody who thought that might want to reevaluate the situation.

Those young players are gaining valuable experience, not to mention some impressive recent wins.

On Sunday, Lenape (13-3) will be in its accustomed position as semifinal participant in the Coaches Tournament. The Indians will face Shawnee at 4 p.m. at Eastern in a game that will be followed by the 6 p.m. semifinal between Eastern and Cherokee.

Those are four Olympic American teams in the final four, once again demonstrating the division's dominance.

It's not as if Lenape has faded from the soccer consciousness. The Indians are ranked No. 2 in South Jersey by The Inquirer, but that is one spot lower than they have been for five years running.

Yet teams that have played Lenape don't notice any decline.

"They don't have any weaknesses," said Rancocas Valley coach Jay Flanagan, whose vastly improved team lost a 1-0, Coaches Tournament quarterfinal to the Indians on Thursday.

Lenape's Kevin Meder is among the best coaches in the state, and one of his strengths has been to never succumb to pressure. Meder often says that each team has its own individual identity, and he never looks at it as defending five straight Coaches Tournament titles.

All he is trying to do is win the next game.

"I tell the girls that you don't get these games back, so each game you want to make the most of it," Meder said.

This might be his youngest team in the last six years, but as Flanagan suggested, there isn't a lack of talent.

Sophomore Lizzie Kinkler, who earned the assist against Rancocas Valley on a goal by classmate Kenie Wright, is among the young players who puts an awful lot of pressure on opponents with her ability to break down a defender.

And despite all the young players, Lenape always has key seniors as anchors. This year, Old Dominion recruit Rachel Johnson is among the top defenders in South Jersey and Tori Prager is a fourth-year starter at midfielder and among the area's best.

"I am truly blessed to be on this team," said Prager, a Rutgers recruit.

One could also say it's vice-versa.

Prager has a way of controlling the middle of the field, no small feat.

"When we step on the field, there is still such a great desire to win," she said.

Meder, as any coach does, is still looking for a more consistent effort. He said the team has played a full 80 minutes once this year, in a 7-1 rematch victory over Cherokee.

The Indians look as if they have a full 80 in them in future games. That is why even though the role has changed to (slight) underdog, they are playing with the deep understanding that this is the time to compete with the utmost urgency in games they will never be able to get back.


Contact Marc Narducci at mnarducci@phillynews.com or @sjnard on Twitter.

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