Bears Defense is the Main Contributor for Team’s Success, WPIAL Title Expectations


Mr. Daboo

Goalkeeper Otto Graham makes a key save early in the regular season

Any true sports fan knows around halfway through the regular season if the team they’re rooting for is a legitimate championship contender, and when it comes to Winchester Thurston soccer, you can say they have a pretty clear path to win their first WPIAL title since 2014. On paper, the first thing one most likely observes about the Bears’ almost flawless 9-0-1 record is that they put up a lot of goals on the season, scoring 54 goals in the 10 games they have played, but I thought the saying was “Defense wins championships”, right? That is correct. This Bears’ team, which is off to its best start since they won their last WPIAL title, is riding high on the teams’ lockdown defense, which has suffocated higher classified and high power offensive teams. 

“I don’t think the defense gets enough credit, but at the same time, we know that we don’t need our credit because it’s a team game,” said captain Massi Memoli. “If we win and don’t let any goals in, we’ll get our credit once the season has come to an end.”

“If we win and don’t let any goals in, we’ll get our credit once the season has come to an end.””

— Massi Memoli

Led by the goalie Otto Graham, and defenders Massi Memoli, Thomas Votruba-Drzal, and Harry Leibovich, the Bears’ have been producing arguably one of the best defenses in the WPIAL, regardless of classification. In their first two matchups, WT had two challenges which featured Erie McDowell and Pine Richland, both in Class 4A, and coming off of decent seasons respectively. Erie McDowell was ranked the 13th best team in the state the season prior and headed into the home opener, and that didn’t really mean anything to the Bears. The defense shutout Erie McDowell on their way to a 1-0 victory. In their next game, they played Pine Richland and tied 2-2, but the Bears’ ended on a high note by winning the shootout 6-4. Over their next 2 games, they would win by a combined total of 20-0, meaning at that point they had shut out their opponents in 3 out of their first 4 games. 

“Skill-wise, and mentally, we’ve been fine without the seniors. We just lost depth.”

Up next came their first big section game, against the Springdale Dynamos. Springdale and WT have a dated history, on and off the field, making this anticipated game a lot to look forward to. Springdale’s All-WPIAL 1A player, Chris Mitchell was the only one who could score for the Dynamos off of a scramble that left the goal open. With that being said, Winchester Thurston was still able to win with ease, 4-1. In their very next game came another big section opponent, Eden Christian Academy, who was ranked the second best team in the WPIAL for 1A, behind WT. They also have one of the leading scorers in the WPIAL in Jack Jones. This was a road game as well, so this was the biggest test they could get all year from teams inside of their classification. They rose to the challenge, and not allowing a single goal on their way to a 1-0 victory. Since this win, they have won by a combined total of 22-0 over their last 4 games. Now let’s head to the present. The Bears’ have shut out their opponents in 8 out of the 10 games they have played so far, allowing 3 goals in 10 games, and those who have scored are among the top players in their respective classifications. This defense that WT has is something special to watch, and the season is still young.

“I’m confident that this team can bring home a WPIAL title,” added captain Oliver Daboo.

There is a lot to expect from the Bears’ this far in the season, as they have beaten every threat in the early portion of the season. You couldn’t give me any explanation on why I should not have Winchester Thurston as the clear WPIAL title favorites right now. This defense has gone up against some pretty good tests that include All-WPIAL players who are top of the line offensively and a top 200 nationally ranked team. I think it is safe to say that this defense will bring WT a WPIAL title when it is all said and done.

“Once we get into our rhythm at states, 0 goals for our opponents. None of them. Expect that.””

— Massi Memoli