Little came easy for the Moorestown boys' soccer team this season. But as it turned out, facing the Quakers proved to be a difficult chore for most opponents.
To win the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Tournament, Moorestown had to beat South Jersey's No. 1 team, Rancocas Valley.
The Quakers faced another difficult task in capturing the South Jersey Group 3 title - winning one game that took two days to complete on a soggy field about 65 miles from home.
Moorestown didn't let playing the best team for one title or competing in inclement weather for another get in the way of another banner season under coach Mike Sutcliffe.
The Quakers were 22-4-1; beat Rancocas Valley, 4-3, to win the Coaches Tournament; and defeated top-seeded Ocean City, 2-1 in the South Jersey Group 3 championship game. Moorestown finished as The Inquirer's second-ranked team.
For guiding Moorestown to a season of accomplishment, Sutcliffe has been named The Inquirer's South Jersey boys' soccer coach of the year.
This was a veteran team, and Sutcliffe had high expectations although the Quakers shared a division, the Burlco Liberty, with two eventual state champions, Rancocas Valley and Delran.
Rancocas Valley beat Moorestown in two out of three games this season. But in the championship of the Coaches Tournament, which pairs 16 of South Jersey's top teams in a single-elimination competition, it was Moorestown that sprung the upset. The loss would be the only one of the season for Rancocas Valley.
"It was a huge upset," Sutcliffe said, echoing the sentiments of many South Jersey soccer fans who felt the Red Devils were on another level. "They had beaten us once, but we really played a great game that night."
Rancocas Valley did beat Moorestown a few days later in a division game. But after that, the Quakers enjoyed a memorable South Jersey Group 3 tournament.
After beating Clearview, 2-1, and West Deptford, 4-1, the second-seeded Quakers had to visit Ocean City in the sectional final.
The teams played in miserable conditions, and when Moorestown sophomore Alex Croft tied the score with less than five minutes remaining, the game was called and had to be replayed in its entirety the next day.
Moorestown won that game, 2-1, on goals by Jake Miller and Kevin Kirsch, earning the Quakers their fifth sectional title under Sutcliffe in 19 seasons.
"That was not easy, playing two games in two days on the road, and the fact we came out of it winning was pretty big-time," Sutcliffe said.
That game, against a team that would finish No. 3 in South Jersey, showed the resiliency of Moorestown. The players and Sutcliffe weren't thrilled about taking a 130-mile round-trip two straight days. Moreover, Moorestown had to summon enough energy to compete.
The Quakers then beat West Windsor-Plainsboro North, 2-1, in the state semifinals, on a game-winning goal by John Taglienti with 1 minute, 8 seconds left.
Again, nothing was easy, but the Quakers found a way - until the state final, where talented Millburn won the Group 3 title, 3-0.
Still, it was a highly successful season, one in which Moorestown doubled its win total after going 11-6-2 in 2007.
"I never make predictions, and you never know how high school kids will react, but I really thought this type of season was possible," said Sutcliffe, whose record is 252-99-12 at Moorestown, with two state titles. "I had a history with the seniors and used to train them in middle school, and this was a confident team."
It was one that took its lead from the coach, no matter how difficult the obstacles were.