It’s been no secret the kind of success the Elco soccer program has seen this season – two section championships, and a perfect regular season from the girls team.
This isn’t anything unusual though – in fact, it’s what’s expected.
But yearly success - let alone this particular season’s accomplishments - start from the top.
And that foundation includes two former student-athletes giving back to their school – and who also happen to be good friends - in Raiders girls coach Derek Fulk and boys coach Kirk Keppley.
Fulk says learning from Keppley has helped a great deal with his own approach to coaching the game.
“I learned a lot from Kirk as a coach after working together on the girls staff when I was an assistant and he was the head coach,” Fulk said.
And Keppley was proud to see his long-time friend's success culminate into what unfolded in the regular season.
“To be able to do that at any level is just very difficult to do. Being Elco soccer, whether its boys or girls, it’s very exciting. Everyone supports each other,” Keppley said. “To see the program from when Paul Kline had it and got things on its feet, and growing it from mine being there to what Derek’s done now is awesome to see. Soccer is second nature to him between his dad and brother being wonderful resources.”
Fulk, who was also the kicker for the football team during his high school days along with his passion for soccer, expressed similar sentiments for Keppley.
“I have a ton of respect for Kirk and to see them win their first section championship in 13 years is fantastic. I’m very happy for them and for our kids,” Fulk said.
Keppley, who played for the Raiders from 1983-86 as a defender, says the biggest keys are having former players like himself being involved in coaching – and having that teaching start at a young age.
“It’s a lot to do with our youth program. We have a lot of former Elco or soccer players and they want to give back to the kids. They know the tradition and the push the kids at a young age,” Keppley said, who was also part of the 1984 L-L Championship team and the 1986 State Championship team.
“The kids know coming in what Elco soccer is about. It drives them. The girls strive to try and achieve things that haven’t been done before. The boys program has been around for so long that very few things haven’t been done, but you don’t want to be the team that hasn’t done well.”
In the end however, both Keppley and Fulk say they can only put in so much, knowing it’s the players that have to finish the job and execute.
But both coaches have still been fortunate enough to have the kind of players where they can do things characterized as “unteachable.”
And again, those capabilities come from the early development – but also learning to play the Raider way.
“That’s the exciting part. It makes our job easy knowing those players that have a little more talent or that drive to the next level. It’s a matter of plugging them into the right position,” Keppley said.
“One thing we’ve always thrived on is being a blue-collar team. We don’t always have those exceptional players, so those are the values we implement, and the kids buy into that. It’s the vocal part of our success,” Fulk added.
Even though Fulk and Keppley have remained close over the years, there’s actually not a whole lot of conversation during the season.
“It’s tough for us during the season since we’re mostly playing at the same time. But we definitely talk about things,” Fulk said.
“We graduated together. We share the locker room in the stadium. We talk about a lot of different things as far as playing, but more about talking about issues,” Keppley said. “We bounce ideas off each other, and always there to bend each other’s ear if things aren’t going the right way.”
And the same goes for the players, but the feelings between the players are just like their coaches.
“The girls follow the boys and obviously want them to be successful. They definitely keep track of each other and there’s the vested interest between the two teams,” Fulk said.
But in the midst of trying to fulfill high expectations, seeing it all come together is something everyone involved in the program will never take for granted.
“It’s a new experience every year. It’s expected but always exciting and great to be a part of. What would get old is if we weren’t there,” Keppley said. “It’s like second nature. My wife always says, ‘and so it goes on,’ because now we go into the second season.”
Now it’s on to the next set of high expectations for Raiders soccer, as the boys host Oley Valley Saturday in the District 3 Class 2A quarterfinals, and the girls host Twin Valley Monday in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.
“Were not expecting an easy game. We scrimmaged them early in the year and know they’re doing well in the Berks League playoffs,” Keppley said. “We were pretty lax last week and having fun. But this week it’s time to get refocused and ready to go.”
“The biggest thing was I don’t think we played our best game. Things aren’t going to go your way and you know those days will come, just hopefully not at the right time. But we have another chance,” Fulk said in response to his team’s early exit in the L-L Tournament. “Being in Class 3A this year will be a challenge, now that we’re the smaller school. It’s something they thrive on though and they take head on.”