UPPER DARBY – The atmosphere at Bonner-Prendergast Friday afternoon told you it was a big game. The air filled with the high-pitched cheers of the student body and the low rumble of vuvuzelas told of something more than just the customary end-of-week joyousness as Archbishop Carroll came calling for a Catholic League playoff game.
The dejectedness on the face of 17 seniors after the game – a heart wrenching, 2-1 setback in which the Friars had led 1-0 as late as the 70th minute – told a different story.
“I’m shocked,” said senior stopper Bliss Harris, who like many of his teammates lingered on the field long after Carroll’s bus had departed. “I thought we should’ve won. That’s that.”
The disappointment took many forms, from the release of frustration on some unfortunately placed signage on the sidelines to a brief melee between the teams at midfield following the final whistle to several players who were noticeably emotional at game’s end.
The reactions were understandable given what this group of seniors has been through, not least of which is the school’s protracted fight for survival last year. As the first graduating class to go through the program under coach Jim Strandberg’s tutelage, the abrupt end in upset fashion – Carroll entered as the No. 10 seed to Bonner-Prendie’s No. 7 – was difficult to cope with.
With Strandberg, the Friars have taken concrete steps forward. The 7-8-2 overall mark which they posted is the closest they’ve been to the .500 mark in over a decade. They’ve improved their standing in a Catholic League still dominated by the schools in the northern reaches of the area, one of the major goals this year’s team set.
“We’ve been working to build this. And this was one of our goals,” Strandberg said. “This was one of the things that we wanted to do, to host a playoff game. We had other goals with this team – obviously we’re not going to get to that point – but this is part of the process. And it’s been a long process.”
Bonner-Prendie’s nonleague accomplishments have also been noteworthy, including a narrow 4-3 loss to perennial power Lower Merion, the Central League’s second-placed team, and a 1-0 win over Upper Darby, the No. 2 ranked team in last week’s Super 7 and fourth-place finisher in the Central League.
The departures from the team will leave a massive void, with players responsible for 31 of the 37 goals scored this season graduating.
Some pieces return, such as heady midfielder Seamus Moran, creative attackers Jimmy Welischek and Malcolm Burton, defender Alex Turner, and perhaps most crucially to Strandberg, goalkeeper Jon Mathis, who single-handedly kept the Friars in the game with Carroll Friday.
The convergence of those factors makes it a bittersweet day for Strandberg to look back on – a bitter final 10 minutes on what was otherwise a sweet and successful season.
“Where we came from as a program to where we are now is night and day,” he said. “… We’re getting there. We’ve got a lot more work to do, and that starts today.”