His coach, Chris Melograna, traces Luke Leach's rise to the end of last season at Seneca.

"Something just clicked," Melograna said. "You could actually see him gaining the confidence to take guys on one-on-one."

Leach points to this summer as a time when he could see his team taking strides. "Every single day, it seemed like we got better," he said. "Every single day, we were grinding."

The evolution of Leach and his Seneca boys' soccer team did not happen overnight. But the team — a group of many returning players — has transformed into one of the top squads in South Jersey. And Leach, a junior striker, is one of the area's most dangerous scorers.

"We're here to win," Leach said. "We're here to show everyone that we're not to be played with."

Leach has become a team leader after working hard all summer.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Leach has become a team leader after working hard all summer.

Leach already has 15 goals for the 11-0-3 Golden Eagles. He has scored in all but two games, one of which was a 7-0 trouncing of Camden Catholic that was more a product of unselfish play than Leach's inability to find the back of the net.

And, as consistent as Leach has been personally, his team as a whole has been equally steady. Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 9, Seneca had an eight game-stretch during which it did not allow a goal. The team is outscoring opponents, 42-9.

“Winning the division is a huge goal of ours, and we want even more than that.” — Luke Leach

And for its efforts, Seneca was the No. 3 team in the recent South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association poll. It is also poised to make a big splash in both the Coaches and South Jersey Group 3 tournaments.

"We just come into every game like it's the same," Leach said. "We have a deep bench this year. Everyone is playing amazing. When the starters are tired and we call for a break, we know the skill level isn't going to go down."

"For me, knowing that I can trust my teammates is huge, and I think it's a big reason I've had success this season."

Leach scored nine goals last year, but six of those came after Oct. 2. He echoed his coach when he said he felt his confidence rising throughout the season. It has helped him fill in where all-time leading scorer Zach Malcolm, now graduated, left off.

"I got out of my shell with the team," said Leach, who is regarded as a pure scorer and a player who can lull defenses to sleep before striking. "We were coming together last year. I was realizing that, yes, we have potential."

His coach calls Leach a pure scorer who can lull defenses to sleep, then strike.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
His coach calls Leach a pure scorer who can lull defenses to sleep, then strike.

The same kind of transformation happened on the Golden Eagles defense, where returners — including Justin Patton, Drew Gallagher, and Owen Lovett — have taken a step forward.

"They're just cohesive," Melograna said. "And they've been showing that all season."

Seneca has quality wins over rivals such as Cherokee, Shawnee, and Lenape. But one of its ultimate goals is always the Olympic Conference National Division title.

In that pursuit, the team has edged ahead of Cherry Hill West in a dogfight for the division title. The teams tied in both meetings, and at 8-0-2 the Golden Eagles have a game lead over a 7-1-2 Cherry Hill West team.

"We're just coming out here and trying to be better every game," Leach said. "Winning the division is a huge goal of ours, and we want even more than that. We just have to keep playing as a unit and keep playing confident soccer."