Eleanor Bailey | The Almanac
Bobby Dyer has a hot tip for the gambler. Bet on Section 5-AAA in boys’ soccer. “the top three teams in the WPIAL are right here in this section,” explained the Peters Township skipper.
Indeed, Upper St. Clair enters the 2013 fall campaign not only as defending state champion but as a top 10 team in the nation as well. Meanwhile, Canon-McMillan is the reigning district winner while Peters placed third in the league.
“Canon-Mac and USC are both capable of winning the WPIAL and state championships again,” explained Dyer, who has been part of PT’s proud program as both a player and coach. The Indians themselves have accrued seven District 7 crowns and played in five PIAA finals, winning three.
“It’s unheard of,” said Dyer of the school’s soccer heritage. “It’s not easy. We keep our history in the forefront. We remind our players that to get to the place the program has gotten, you have to accomplish things.”
According to Dyer, the players have a better appreciation of the program after their annual alumni scrimmage, even though this year’s varsity suffered a 3-0 loss. Plus, the Indians have a genuine admiration, though no love, for their rival opponents on the pitch. Last November, Canon-Mac eliminated Peters in the WPIAL semifinals. Yet, the Indians claimed the Section 5 title with a 10-0-2 slate. USC followed in second with a 10-1-1 mark and the Big Macs eked out the third and final playoff spot with an 8-4 record. This fall, the section foes again will battle each other in a home-and-away series.
USC travels to C-M for a 7:30 p.m. start Sept. 9 and hosts Peters at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 21. In the second half of league action, the Panthers host C-M Sept. 28 at 2:30 and visit Peters at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10. Meanwhile, C-M visits Peters Sept. 19 and swap sites Oct. 8 for the second fray. Hence, just surviving the section is the primary focus of the three favorites.
“In this conference just making the playoffs is special,” explained C-M skipper Larry Fingers. “The entire conference is talented and can win on any night.”
Thus even defending titles as the Big Macs and the Panthers are trying to do is difficult. Downplaying his team’s lofty pre-season rating, USC head coach Uwe Schneider said that the ranking is not important. “We haven’t even played a game yet,” he stressed, “It will be very hard to repeat last year’s success since everybody is gunning for us even more than they already do.”
With as many as nine veterans, seven of them starters, from last year’s 22-2-1 championship club, it hard not to see why the Panthers are the favorites this soccer season. USC returns Hayden Bernhardt, Garrett Black, Doug Hapeman and Anthony Pezzone from a defensive unit that allowed 11 goals in 25 games. All are juniors except for Pezzone, who is a senior. Troye Kiernan anchors the midfield. The senior captain scored 13 goals last year. A junior, Robbie Mertz also captains the squad. Veteran Joel Hart and Dom Caruso, both seniors, solidify the forward line while senior Pat Miller contributes his talents to the midfield once again. Schneider also expects big contributions this season from senior defenders Sam Russell (a captain) and Matt McKenzie; junior forwards Joseph Bell and Shane Sibley and sophomore midfielder Adam Heil.
“We are a very balanced team with good skills, speed and athletic ability,” Schneider said. “We have a very good bench and guys competing for starting positions.”
While that spells success in most circles, Schneider simply stated standard objectives for his team. “Our goals are always the same. Make the play-offs and go as far as we can,” he said. “But we focus on one game at a time and try to improve as the season goes on.”
C-M aims high
That, too, is the aim for the division’s other winner, Canon-McMillan. Although a challenging task, being there in the end is the motivator. “Defending our title will be extremely hard,” Fingers said. “The best and worst part about being at Canon-Mcmillan is our section. If you make it through the section, into the playoffs, and remain healthy, you have proven yourself and are very prepared for playoffs. We play some of the best teams in the WPIAL and it certainly prepares us for success in the playoffs, but it can also be a downfall in terms of actually qualifying for the playoffs and keeping the boys sharp and energetic.”
During last year’s 19-5 Cinderella season, pep kept the Big Macs alive. Enthusiasm, once again, will factor into C-M’s success.
“Last year the team was upbeat, energetic, and worked hard all the way into the state playoffs,” Fingers said. “Keeping that energy level and excitement high is key because it was a large contributor in our success last year.”
Though the Big Macs lost a good group to graduation, including Alec Brumbaugh, who is now playing at Robert Morris, they return a “large, talented core” of players. Corey McCurdy is one of those players. He racked up 14 goals and 11 assists last season. Additionally, Nick Sodini, Josh Kruczek and Jake Wilcox provide fire power as each recorded 10+ goals in 2012. “We return a lot of experienced attackers and hope that they can continue where they left off last year,” explained Fingers. Fingers also hopes that returning starters Alex Hannigan, Bryan Sontag, Jake Trainor and Ivan Viveros continue to contribute as they have in the past.
While the Big Macs had spirited competition for positions during camp, they expect Christian Snatchko to battle for minutes in the goal along with Alex Hannigan. Goalkeeping is an especially critical position as James Hathaway graduated. The all-league performer excelled in the playoffs, particularly when he stopped two penalty kicks. “The goalkeeping has been strong and we are confident that we have two varsity-ready keepers that are both very talented,” Fingers said. Down the roster, the talent continues. Alex Ablak, Luke Maher, Chris Gladden, Joe Chirumbolo, Ian Brumbaugh, Connor Davis and Ryan Burke are also fighting for starting spots and minutes among a large returning core. In addition to Jake Cole, Hunter Vermilya, Mike Sadlek, Zach Tessyier and Zach Sodini, the Big Macs feature plenty of newcomers to the programs. The freshman list includes: Andrew Balog, Ross Barber, Jonah DeCortie, Nick Frediani, Noah French, Mackeyan Martin, Glenn McGee, Tyler Rothka and Zach Russo.
“As a whole, the team is very, very close,” Fingers stressed. “We hope that will pay dividends on the field. We hope to compete each night and put our best effort into our training and matches. Hopefully at the end of the season we are able to continue into the playoffs.”
Injuries a key
With four returning starters from last year’s 15-3-2 team, Peters Township expects to defend its hold on the section crown. The Indians handed USC one of its league losses, 2-0, and also tied the Panthers, 2-2, to clinch the division with an undefeated record. Canon-Mac accounted for USC’s other loss, 1-0, in the WPIAL although the Panthers avenged that defeat, 3-1, in the state semifinals, earning their second straight appearance in Hershey for the PIAA finals.
In the nets, Max O’Hare returns. Joshua Deyarmin is pushing the senior. Nicco Mastrangelo returns to the forward line while Max Lindsay anchors the defense and Rylen Faloni is back in the midfield.
Additionally, Mario Mastrangelo joins his twin brother, Nicco, on the forward line. The junior led PT last season in scoring. Junior Dylan Weyers and Ryan Ponchione were contributors last fall and will be looked upon to anchor the midfield with Faloni. The Indians will also rely upon Wes Ward, Troy Eskew and Connor Kovacs to fill spots in the middle. Matt Dekman and Sean Harrison are two defensemen that should help the team.
While the Indians work through some early-season injuries, they plan to be competitive. The team’s 19-player roster also features Matt Massucci, Tom O’Hare, Bennett Faloni, Kelson Marisa, Brady Pike, Sam Lindsay, Riley Crane, Johnathan Sion and Matthew Graham.
“We had six players injured in the pre-season, one a concussion. Mainly muscle tweaks but no broken bones,” said a relieved Dyer. “That’s an area of concern. We need to get healthy and we need to develop our depth.”
Dyer is not worried about his team’s camaraderie. That’s present as is the ability to play together. “Our strength, we are hoping, is that we will be more of a unit and better balanced with our forwards and our defense,” Dyer explained.
“On the attack and on defense we want to work more as a unit. Our goals are always to qualify for the playoffs,” he continued. “Win the section. Win the WPIAL and the state. Those are our objectives all years.”
WPIAL site set
This year, the WPIAL playoffs will be held at the Highmark Stadium. The home of the Riverhounds is a 4,000-seat outdoor facility, located on the western bank of the Monongahela River near Station Square in Pittsburgh.The stadium was the site for the East-West Classic held over the weekend. Many WPIAL teams have scheduled games at the site in the expectations of playing there the first weekend of November in the championships. In addition to the East-West Classic, USC plays Bethel Park (5 p.m. Sept. 14) and Mt. Lebanon (12:30 p.m. Oct. 5) at Highmark Stadium while PT has scheduled an exhibition against South Park at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 12.
“We really don’t want to give up a home game, particularly against our rivals,” explained Dyer. “I can see the advantage of playing there once to get used to our surroundings. It’s a great place. The best venue for a championship,” he added. “I commend the soccer committee for doing this.”