MOUNT HOLLY – John Strohlein has spent his senior season as a marked man for the Delran High School boys soccer team.
Since earning high school All-American status after his sensational junior season last year, Strohlein has faced all sorts of double and triple teams and other forms of exotic defenses.
He has responded by taking on all comers and he continues on toward what figures to be a fine finish to his scholastic career.
The senior midfielder was at his best on Monday night. He scored the first two goals of the game to propel the No. 1-ranked Bears to a 4-2 victory over Burlington County League Liberty Division rival No. 8 Rancocas Valley.
Strohlein set the tone for Monday’s win when he scored both of his goals in the first half. Chris Hunt and Sean McLaughlin added second-half goals for the Bears.
For his part, Strohlein says he’s been prepared to face the challenge of living up to his All-American status.
“The title bears a lot of pressure,” he said. “I’m pressed to do well and score a lot of goals. A lot of teams have been putting two or three guys on me, trying to shut me down.”
However he credits his teammates with helping him break down defenses and for picking up for him when he does sputter.
“My team has been putting the ball away,” he said. “It’s not always my job. I’ve been in a little funk, but I feel like I’m coming out of it now.”
Coach Mike Otto has done whatever he can to help ease the pressure on Strohlein, knowing most teams are going to do they can to make him ineffective.
“It’s tough being him,” Otto said. “He’s had an All-American tag on him since the beginning of the year, and everybody we play keys on him.”
One of the things Otto did to help Strohlein along was moving to the outside of the formation where he has more room to maneuver.
“By moving him, teams can mark him out all they want,” Otto said, “I thing he’s adjusted to that and it’s freed him up a lot, so he’s playing great.”
The win avenged an earlier 2-0 loss to the No. 8 Red Devils and paved the way for Delran to clinch the division title.
After that the Bears hope to make a strong tournament run, something Otto believes is possible.
“The one thing I’m worried about is injuries,” he said. “We’re a little banged up right now. We’re still putting the pieces together, but we feel like we finally have things where we want them.
“We’ve got our formation, we’re battled tested every single day, so we’re ready to roll. Hopefully we can peak right at the right time when the playoffs start in a couple of weeks.”
Rancocas Valley’s hopes of recording a season sweep were dashed early when Strohlein scored his first goal less than 11 minutes into the game on a direct kick from about 20 yards out.
Rancocas goalie Dylan Hollander got his hands on the hard shot, but could not hold onto the ball or deflect it away.
Strohlein struck again 16 minutes later, this time finding a clear shot after being set up with a nice pass by Jayson Vandermark, the first of his two assists for the game.
Rancocas fought its way briefly back into the game seven minutes into the second half when Tyler Martin scored with an assist from Dan Arone.
But 10 minute later, Hunt found the goal with another assist from Vandermark. That goal seemed to boost the Bears and take a toll on the Red Devils.
“It was definitely a big goal,” Hunt said. “It was kind of a downer because we went into halftime up 2-0 and then they scored one real quick. I think it was big momentum changer.”
Delran iced the game moments later with McLaughlin aimed a high shot coming from left to right that cleared the goalies’ head and caught the top corner of the goal.
“We were able to take a breath after that,” McLaughlin said. “But they were our one loss at home this season, so we really wanted to keep the pressure on.”
Rancocas made the score a little closer late in the game on a goal by John O’Keefe.
Rancocas Valley 0-2-2
Goals: Delran - John Strohlein 2, Chris Hunt, Sean McLaughlin, RV - Tyler Martin, John O'Keefe. Goalies: Berkant Haliloglu and Phillipe Alves, D (5 saves), Cole Hollander, RV, (6 saves).