By JEFF KERR
The 2014 season turned out to be a banner campaign for the Ches-Mont as the league arguably became one of the best in Pennsylvania.
Five Ches-Mont teams made the playoffs while two (Avon Grove and Bishop Shanahan) represented the league in the District 1 championship game.
As for Avon Grove, the District 1 champions brought the Ches-Mont to uncharted heights by finishing second in the state and becoming the first team from the league to reach the state championship game.
While accomplishing those feats, the Red Devils sent two players to the Under Armour All-American game in attackman Tanner Peck and goalie Will Schreiner. The Penn State-bound seniors will play in the game at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday, July 12, 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
In the final state rankings provided by LaxPower, league champion Bishop Shanahan finished fourth while Avon Grove ended sixth.
While 2014 arguably may be the best in Ches-Mont history, better seasons are on the horizon as the league continues to produce Division 1 recruits and highly talented teams. Mike Risser (Downingtown East), Jake Peden (Downingtown East), Ryan McNulty (Bishop Shanahan) and Beau Kush (Avon Grove) made the Under Armour All American Underclassmen tournament representing Team Philly. The tournament will be played the weekend of July 11-13 at Towson University.
With the Ches-Mont season completed, here are some highlights from the 2014 season.
Best game: Avon Grove vs. Bishop Shanahan II, May 22 (District 1 championship).
Despite the result, the first All Ches-Mont District 1 final did live up to the hype. Avon Grove and Shanahan fans filled J. Oscar Dicks Stadium in an historic game for the league, which was delayed twice due to hail and thunderstorms. Once the first storm cleared, the defending District 1 champs recovered from an early deficit with six unanswered goals en route to a dominating 9-3 win.
The Red Devils got revenge for a regular season loss to Shanahan, which won the Eagles the Ches-Mont title. Avon Grove would ride that momentum all the way to Hershey 16 days later.
Under consideration: Avon Grove vs. Bishop Shanahan I (May 1), Downingtown East vs. West Chester Rustin (April 10), Downingtown West vs. Downingtown East (April 22). Avon Grove vs. Hershey (May 28). Bishop Shanahan vs. Radnor (May 20).
Biggest upset: Downingtown West over Downingtown East, April 22.
The Whippets started off the season 1-6, but played their best game of the season against their crosstown rival. Hunter Lewis and Jake Barr each scored two goals as West took a shocking 6-2 lead after three quarters. As thunderstorms were on the horizon, East rallied back with three unanswered goals in the fourth that set up the save of the year.
With 14 seconds left, East's Will Umberger stole a pass at midfield and set himself up with a 1-on-1 attempt with West goalie Alex Ataaiifar. The senior deflected Umberger's shot and preserved the upset as the Whippets sprinted to the locker room in celebration."I just tried to put us in the best spot to keep the win,' Ataaiifar said after the game. "I'll consider it an upset. It's always great to beat East. I didn't know if we'd do it my senior year, but I'm just glad to be a part of it.'
Under consideration: Kennett over Unionville (April 29). West Chester Rustin over Central Bucks South (May 10). West Chester East over Interboro (March 27).
Play of the year: Tanner Peck goal vs. Hershey, May 28.
If it wasn't for Peck's game-winner against Hershey in the first round of the PIAA tournament, Avon Grove's season could have ended far sooner than the Red Devils expected.
With 34.1 seconds left in regulation in an 8-8 game, Avon Grove had possession and Peck called for the ball. The senior took a bounce pass from Eric Russo and left himself wide open 9-yards out for the game winner with less than 10 seconds to play as Avon Grove survived an upset bid by the Trojans with a dramatic 9-8 win.
As he did all season, Peck deferred credit to his teammates immediately after the win."For me to come through in the final seconds is pretty big, but it's a testament to the whole team,' Peck said.' "It's not just me that made this happen. We played a little sloppy, but everybody showed a lot of heart tonight. It was huge.'
Under consideration: Peck behind-the back goal vs. Springfield (Delco), May 20. Dylan Alderman (Bishop Shanahan) goal vs. Avon Grove, May 1. Nolan Little (Downingtown East) game-winner vs. Rustin, April 10. Alex Ataaiifar (Downingtown West) save vs. Downingtown East, April 22. Nick Cardile save vs. Bishop Shanahan (District title game), May 22.
Moment of the year: Bishop Shanahan clinching Ches-Mont title, May 8.
The Eagles clinched their first outright Ches-Mont championship with a 20-5 win over West Chester East at Immaculata University on senior night. Shanahan also clinched an unbeaten season in the league with the win. Once the game ended, the Shanahan student section stood up and applauded what their team just accomplished.
On that night Ches-Mont MVP Dylan Alderman soaked in the moment on what his team just accomplished."It's a lot of work,'Alderman said.' "I played with these guys for four years and it just has been a lot of fun. Our seniors were determined to win this year and no one was going to stop us.'
No Ches-Mont team did in league play.
Most improved team of the year: West Chester Rustin
The Golden Knights won just three games in 2013. In head coach Tommy Hannum's first year, they reached that total in just six games en route to a 9-win season. Their final win was an 11-6 upset for Central Bucks South, capping a surprising season. Rustin just missed qualifying for the District 1 playoffs, but look to be headed there in 2015. The Golden Knights also have one of the league's breakout players in R.J. Zoba, who had 41 goals in earning All Ches-Mont first team honors.