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Leader of the pack

Winning championships is nothing new for Kevin Pohl.

He helped the Father Judge High School soccer team claim Catholic League, city and state titles in 2009. And over the summer he competed for the Yardley-Makefield Soccer national championship squad.

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Now he’s back for more.

A senior midfielder for the Crusaders, Pohl is on a mission to recapture that Catholic League title. And if last week’s comeback victory over defending champion St. Joseph Prep is any indication, the Crusaders are on their way.

Father Judge rallied from a 4–1 deficit to overcome the Prep, 5–4, on Oct. 6, and then downed Lansdale Catholic, 2–1, the following afternoon. The Crusaders are now 7–1 in Catholic League play (8–3 overall).

“It was a hard battle. We came out really flat in the first half, but we were able to come out strong in the second half,” Pohl said after the comeback over Prep. “I think we were just underprepared. We were having trouble moving the ball. I guess in the second half, being down three goals, we got fired up.”

The Hawks mounted a hefty lead early, thanks to two goals from Tolu Ibikunle and goals from Jeff Caskey and Colin McGlynn. Father Judge forward Justin Hiltwine netted the Crusaders’ only goal in the first half of game action.

After halftime, though, it was all Crusaders, all the way.

Father Judge staged an incredible comeback ignited by a Pohl penalty kick in the opening minutes of the second half.

“He put us back in with a PK, making it 4–2,” said Father Judge coach John Dunlop. “That got us there. If you miss that, it could be a different game. That was an important one. He did it on a beautiful shot. He got us going, and everybody else followed.”

Senior midfielder Rich Mychack struck next, followed by sophomore forward Joey Hansen’s tying goal 16 minutes into the half.

With the score locked at four apiece, it looked like a shootout might have to determine the winner. But the game-winning goal — Mychack’s second of the afternoon — came in the 78th minute and sealed a remarkable win for the Crusaders.

“Today was kind of a unique game. That’s why we play two halves,” Dunlop said. “They (Prep) came out strong and kind of took it to us in the first half. We didn’t panic. We changed our lineup and caused some confusion with the backs. The guys dug in and fought for it. Now they’re rewarded for their hard work.

“That’s a huge character lift, especially in this league, playing a good team like St. Joe’s,” he continued. “It didn’t look pretty in the first half, but the final score says 5–4. We’ll take it. We’ll go back to the drawing board, work on our mistakes. We had some mistakes that they took advantage of — which good teams do — and we have to make sure that doesn’t happen the next time.”

Next up on the schedule was Archbishop Ryan on Tuesday. The game was played after the Times went to press this week.

“The season is going well. We’ve been overlooked by a lot of teams,” said Pohl. “We weren’t really expected to be good, and we know that. So we try to use that to get fired up for the next game.”

Pohl has been on the Crusaders’ varsity squad for three years, contributing to the 2009 Catholic League and state champion team as a sophomore. Father Judge went 22–2–2 that season en route to its first state championship in school history. It also was the first time a team from Philadelphia brought home the state title.

“When I was a sophomore, the seniors were really good,” Pohl recalled. “We ended up tying for the state championship. It set high expectations. Not a lot of players get to play in a state final, especially as a sophomore. Now I know what it took to get to the state finals, so I try to emulate that in my play.”

In the classroom, Pohl is an honor student ranked 24th in his class. He classes include advanced-placement calculus and physics.

On the field, he’s a team co-captain — along with Mychack, Hiltwine and Nick Battaglia — and also has played for the Yardley-Makefield Thunder travel soccer team. Over the summer, the squad captured the U.S. Youth Soccer national championship in the U18 Division during the tournament in Phoenix Ariz.

ldquo;Kevin is a great leader. He’s fortunate to play on a national championship team, so he’s experienced,” said Dunlop. “We rely on him. We let him move, and everybody else kind of follows. He’s our team captain. He’s ranked in the top of his class. He’s a great example of a student athlete.” ••

Editor Melissa Yerkov can be reached at myerkov@bsmphilly.com

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