East plays West in highly-anticipated soccer night in Cherry Hill


Courtesy of Tyler Leomporra and Lin Asari

East and West boys teams lineup for the national anthem.

You could feel the emotion in the air as both the girls and boys teams played under the lights on a cold November night at West. This rivalry is cemented as one of the best in South Jersey, and since the late 1960s there has been an unmatched intensity every time a Cherry Hill East team faces their crosstown opponents.

But this year was different. Last season saw a 1-1 tie during a sunset that casted down on Decou Sports Complex, East’s home turf. The sidelines were packed with students, numbering over 300, and you could hear the screams of the crowd from each of the local neighborhoods. Flash forward to this November, there’s a limit on students allowed into the game and the looming pandemic providing an atmosphere inferior to those previous.

But the games were as action-packed as ever.

Music was blasting from the speakers as both girls teams warmed up on the Lions football field. The girls entered the game with each team coming off big wins earlier in the week as West took down Cherokee and East dominated Winslow. The 5:30 kickoff saw the lights turn on, and the fans get their sweatshirts ready for a night filled with soccer.

The game began slowly as both back lines were able to fend off any sort of momentum. East’s defense was led by Lauren Ballay (‘21) and Jill Drumm (‘21) while West had Sophia Graffeo (‘21) and Michaela Auguadro (‘21) in net.

Things would pick up halfway into the first half with pressure from Lizzy Sommeling (‘23) and Olivia Reganata (‘22) of East. Alyssa Bui (‘21) and Katie Quarry (‘22) would be the key facilitators for most of the match in the midfield, facing a West team that have a similar record to the Cougars.

The first goal would be scored by West attacker Reilly McGlinn (‘23) as she expanded her scoring total to 10 on the year. Kayla Thompson (‘21) would be given the assist. East’s defense would rebound, finishing off the half with several key stops to prevent any more West attacks heading into halftime.

Coach Connor McVeigh would inject some life into the offense during halftime, as the Cougars came out with vigor. Briana Viscount (‘22) and Carly Drumm (‘22) began to dominate the wings, dishing several crosses that were barely missed in the box.

West would strike again, though, as McGlinn scored her second on the night with a speedy break through the defense. East would regain most of the possession, but the deficit proved to be insurmountable, leading to a 2-0 final.

The boys game began right after with a 7:40 kickoff.

West entered the game with a record of 4-5-1, while East was sitting at 6-3-2. Both teams have played rigorous schedules as of late, but all of that went out the window as the bleachers began to fill. Although the capacity was limited, there were enough people to add to an already tense aura.

The game would begin with a jolt of energy from the Cougars. Jakub Semelko (‘23) would take a touch onto his right foot inside, and fire a shot that took a deflection and ended up in the bottom corner of West’s net. Three minutes in and the East bleachers were already on their feet and cheering. Semelko would be electric all night, and from here on out the crowd would watch him with the ball.

Goalkeeper Matt Mueller (‘21) of East would make several key saves throughout the game with his first coming five minutes into the game. His defense would play very well against West’s Ethan Steinbiss (‘22) who already had 9 goals this season. Jordan Grossman (‘21), Drew Luehrs (‘21), Rei O’brien (‘21) and Evan Pfeiffenberger (‘23) were the anchors that prevented many Lions attacks from start to finish.

Luke Luehrs (‘21) would have a chance saved right before a costly West counter. Peter Graffeo (‘24) broke free down the middle and slotted one past Mueller, tying the game up at one-apiece. West fans began to go wild, but were quieted by East pressure with ten minutes left.

Yet, with nine minutes remaining in the first half, Steinbiss would get past the Cougars center backs and hit one outside of Mueller’s reach. West gained all of the momentum in a span of ten minutes.

The first half would end with several crosses by O’brien leading to near misses in the box, and a big yellow card to Adam Blumenthal (‘23), the key midfielder for East. Mike Melograna would inject some more passion into his boys at halftime, and the Cougars entered the second half with a rush of adrenaline.

Blumenthal and Semelko led the charge early on. The former was able to get some space in the middle, while the latter would begin to get triple-teamed, beating the defense with a barrage of skill moves and speed every time.

Eight minutes into the half, Blumenthal would take the ball at the top of the box and dance through six players, striking the ball past goalkeeper Jason Coburn. The second half would remain relatively slow after this goal, but very chippy.

There were three more yellow cards given this half, and East would attempt to take advantage as two went to West defenders. Semelko and Hugo Campoverde (‘21) began to work the ball down the left wing, while Hank Feudtner (‘21) possessed the ball well on the other flank.

East pressure from Semelko was too late with five minutes remaining, and the game entered overtime tied 2-2.

The two overtime periods would not only be filled with controversy, but some of the most intense soccer all season. The referees would call many fouls throughout the periods, but this was overcome by pure brilliance on the field.

Matt Mueller made two insane saves early on, giving East the opportunity to take over. Semelko would have three chances down the left wing that would each come up short as the shots skimmed the post wide.

The second overtime period began with two more saves by Mueller, amounting to 8 total. Mueller kept the Cougars in this game, and stopped several big attacks.

The duo of Blumenthal and Semelko continued to dominate, while each would record one more shot that went wide. The game finished off with Blumenthal receiving another yellow card for a foul that was blatantly a legal tackle, leading to many boos from the crowd. He was sent off, and it took a defensive effort from Pierce Atkins (‘22) and Jordan Grossman to fend off West’s attacks. The game would finish 2-2.

The rivalry lives on between both of these teams, and the soccer matches on November 5th are just two more examples of the power of sports during a pandemic. Congratulations to both of the girls and boys teams for their hard-fought performances, and hopefully next year’s crowd will see a couple hundred more people.