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Otto deserves credit in Delran's turnaround

The players looked in the mirror after a two-game skid, but the coach held the mirror.

For some teams, a two-game losing streak isn't cause for concern, but the Delran boys' soccer program faced one of those look-in-the-mirror moments after suffering a 4-2 loss Sept. 29 to Rancocas Valley and a 3-0 defeat to Cinnaminson on Oct. 1.

"We were at rock-bottom after that Cinnaminson loss," said Delran coach Mike Otto. "I have to put it on the kids for turning it around from there."

And the coach deserves some credit, too. After that loss, the Bears did not experience defeat the rest of the season, which culminated with a 2-0 win over Cliffside Park in the Group 2 state championship game.

For guiding Delran to its second straight state title, Otto has been named The Inquirer's South Jersey boys' soccer coach of the year.

Otto has been a big part of the rich tradition at Delran, having led the Bears to four state championships as a coach while also earning one as a player. He has a 206-54-23 career record, including a 174-40-17 mark at Delran.

Otto took a negative - losing to a heated rival, Cinnaminson - and turned it into a positive.

"When we lost to Cinnaminson in the Bears' den by that number of goals, it was devastating for people involved who know about this rivalry," Otto said. "You leave the field with a lot of question marks in your head."

Yet there was no panic. Otto went to a formation change - changing to a flat back four - with four defenders in the back.

"It helped us get our fullbacks up in the attack more," Otto said.

The improvement was shown in the postseason when Delran had to meet Cinnaminson again. This time, the Bears overcame a 1-0 deficit to beat the Pirates, 2-1, in overtime in a Central Jersey Group 2 quarterfinal.

The Central Jersey tournament was anything but easy for the Bears, who beat Delaware Valley, 2-0, in the opener. Delran also defeated North Plainfield, 2-1, in the semifinal and advanced with a penalty-kick shootout win over Raritan after the teams had played to a scoreless tie. Delran won, 5-4, in the shootout.

In addition to the strategic changes that Otto made after the Cinnaminson loss, the motivational impact he has on the team can't be downplayed. He is known to raise his voice a few decibels to get his team's attention but is also a true motivator.

"After being here so many years, you know that the team builds off Coach Otto's enthusiasm and hard work," said Delran defender Garrett Erny. "All the energy we get comes from him."

So, after that modest losing streak, Delran went out in its next game and defeated a talented Cherokee team, 4-0. The Bears kept clicking up until the state final, in which they beat a Cliffside Park team that was not only nationally ranked by ESPN at the time but had shared the state title last year with the Bears.

Otto, ever the realist, credits those two midseason losses for helping set the foundation for another state title.

"As bad as the losses were, there is no way we go to the state championship without those losses," Otto said. "We learned a ton from those losses."

And the team learned as much from their coach.