CRANBERRY TWP — A landmark turnaround capped by a landmark win.
So it goes with the North Catholic High School boys soccer program.
The Trojans' 2020 season recently ended with a 2-1 loss to Mount Pleasant in the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals. It marked the program's fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs.
North Catholic was 13-2-1 this year, including a late-season 3-2 win over Quaker Valley that ended the Quakers' 55-game section unbeaten streak and handed the Trojans the section championship.
But things weren't always that prosperous.
North Catholic was 2-15 overall — winless in section play — in 2013, the year the new high school opened in Cranberry Township. The program was a combined 13-81 over its last seven years in Pittsburgh.
“It was down for a long time,” current Trojans coach Aaron Kelly said of the program. “But I took over a pretty good situation when I came in.
“That was due to the hard work and diligence of Jordan Wiegand.”
Wiegand was North Catholic's coach when the new school opened. The Trojans' first three years in Cranberry resulted in a combined 11-38-1 record, including 4-28 in section play.
The fourth year — Wiegand's last as head coach — produced a 19-4-1 record and a section championship. Kelly took over the following year.
The program's been a winning one since.
“We got an influx of talented soccer players dedicated to getting better,” Kelly said. “It just took off.”
Kelly's first year as head coach resulted in a WPIAL championship and a trip to the state title game, where the Trojans dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to Camp Hill.
Ben Esser, a senior midfielder from Adams Township, was a freshman on that championship team and played a lot due to a teammate going down.
Esser was a co-captain on this year's team.
“I learned a lot about what it took to be a leader that year,” he said of his freshman season. “We had a strong junior class on that team that came back to lead us as seniors the following year.
“Even though we weren't able to get back to the WPIAL championship, the program hasn't really slowed down since.”
North Catholic is 80-16-6 over the past five seasons — despite not pulling in many players from public school soccer programs.
“Almost every public school in this area has an excellent soccer program,” Kelly said. “We're just not going to get those kids.”
Dylan Greggs, a junior midfielder, led the Trojans with 15 goals this year. Dom DeZort, a stellar hockey player, came out for the soccer team as a senior this fall and netted 13 goals.
Esser attended St. Kilian in Cranberry Township and played youth soccer there. Fellow co-captain Brendan Shantz, a senior defender, attended elementary and middle school in the Avonworth School District and played soccer there.
“We have a pretty diverse team,” Esser said. “I played soccer with some of our guys at St. Kilian and a lot of the others were my competitors on other teams in the Diocese. We have a few public school kids, too.”
Shantz believed the success of North Catholic's team his freshman year helped set the program up for future success.
“That run we had my freshman year, it helped facilitate the team bonding, for sure,” he said. “The seniors we have now, we're inseparable in school.
“We've always had a good core group that makes sure everything and everyone meshes well.”
While the Trojans did not realize championship gold this year, they did realize a monumental win.
“Beating Quaker Valley was huge for us,” Shantz said. “They were state champions last year and are such a revered program. We tied them earlier in the year, so we felt like we could beat them.”
“Tying and beating such a storied program ... it kind of shows where we're at right now,” he said.