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Downs made most of Wildcats' youth

December 08, 2011|By DAN KAUFFMAN | kauffman@herald-mail.com

In some ways, Williamsport boys soccer coach Chris Downs was working with an optical illusion this season.

On one hand, Downs had some very talented seniors back — such as forward Cody Gardenhour, central defender Chad Ridenour and goalkeeper Alex Aleshire — from a squad that went 8-6-2 and finished second to North Hagerstown in the MVAL Antietam in 2010.

On the other hand, the Wildcats were very young across the board — with just six seniors, eight juniors, five sophomores and a freshman.

“We lost some key pieces and we were very young,” Downs said. “We had some good players and leadership in big spots, but what was behind them, it was essentially a rebuilding project.

“We got to teach a lot this year, which was great. It was challenging, but it may have been our most rewarding season because we didn’t have the level of talent we had in the past, but we got more out of what we have.”

Downs, The 2011 Herald-Mail All-County Boys Soccer Coach of the Year, did a masterful job constructing the Wildcats from the back up. Williamsport surrendered just 11 goals in 16 games en route to a 10-4-2 overall record. The Wildcats were the top Washington County team in the MVAL Antietam standings, finishing 4-1-2 and in second place behind Brunswick (7-0).

“I thought at the beginning of the season there would be a couple teams we just wouldn’t be able to play with, but that turned out not to be the case,” Downs said. “We could play with anyone and give anyone a game.

“I have to give a lot of credit to my three assistants (John Morris, Matt Oliver and Scott Mummert). They’re running a great program and it’s because of them that we’re able to do this. I have great parents, and that’s the bottom line, too. It’s a good situation and a good program. Ten wins, and we’re a little disappointed. That’s a good thing.”

Downs said the loss to North Hagerstown in a penalty shootout following a scoreless draw in the county public schools tournament final served as motivation for his squad, which later beat the Hubs 2-0 in an MVAL Antietam game.

“The first game, we just sat back and tried to absorb what North was doing and we didn’t have that go-forward mentality,” Downs said. “We hung on, but when we got to penalties, we walked up there without any confidence except Chad and Cody, who’ve been through it. It was just a lack of confidence and we told them they need to step up, and that was a turning point because then we got on a run and did some good things.”

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