Welcome to the new world of Pennsylvania girls' high school soccer.
Instead of the usual format that saw the eight TIMES NEWS area teams split up between the fall and spring seasons, now all PIAA soccer teams will compete in the fall.
The girls' soccer teams that compete in the Schuylkill League like Jim Thorpe, Tamaqua, and Weatherly have always competed in the fall so the change is minimal for them as far as numbers go.
However, for the Colonial League teams in the TIMES NEWS area like Northern Lehigh, Northwestern, and Palmerton the change could hurt their rosters. Mountain Valley Conference teams Pleasant Valley and Lehighton could also take a hit as they have always competed in the spring as well.
The teams that have competed in the spring could lose players due to field hockey, cross country, and volleyball. Obviously, if an athlete is more skilled in say volleyball than girls soccer then odds are that individual will play volleyball instead of soccer. That individual could still be a good soccer player, but if her better sport is volleyball, then obviously she would choose the sport she is better at.
On the other side of things this could also make the sport more competitive in the fact that most if not all of the girls on their respective teams are going to be strictly soccer players. Girls that once may have come out for the team just to stay in shape for another sport we'll be weeded out and those whose main sport is soccer will be left.
"I think you're going to see the sport become more competitive due to the switch to the fall," said Lehighton coach Amanda Dietz. "You're going to have more skilled girls at all the positions because I feel like all the girls who come out for the team now we'll be coming out with a competitive attitude."
With the addition of so many new teams into the fold for the fall and with all the teams now competing at the same time many TIMES NEWS squads will be affected in different ways.
Northwestern is expected to once again field a strong team in 2012. In the spring season the Tigers had a remarkable year and qualified for the state tournament where they lost to Red Lion in a shootout by a score of 6-5. They competed in AAA which was grouped in a way where AAA and AAAA schools were all in the classification of AAA, meaning Northwestern had to compete against bigger opponents on a regular basis in district and state play.
This season the classes have been changed to A, AA, and AAA with Northwestern being moved into the AA class. This means that they will be able to compete with teams with a similar enrollment size to themselves. Northwestern coach Kelly Bleam noted after their lost to Red Lion in the spring that she was excited about the class changes for fall 2012.
"We're looking forward to see what we can do against school's that are our size," said Bleam. "We have a lot of talent coming back next season so we have to get back to work and be ready to play in the fall."
Tamaqua is another team in the TIMES NEWS area that expects to be good this season. Raider head coach Clem McCarroll is also excited to play against more teams this season, but noted district play will be a lot tougher than in the past.
"It really expands the AA field in District 11," said McCarroll. "I mean it's kind-of a good thing and a bad thing because in some years only a couple teams would qualify, so you only had to play two games to make it to states. However, I remember in 2008, we were 20-0 and had a bad game and we were upset and that was it, because they would only take one team to states. Now, with all the teams they could take two or three so the road will be tough, but at least if you win a game or two you're still not out of it."
The new format for fall 2012 will no doubt take some getting used to for coaches and players alike. One thing that seems to be the consensus with area coaches is that the move to the fall can only do good things for the sport.
There will be no arguments about who is the top team in the area any longer with all the teams competing together this season. At the end of the year we will truly know who had the best team in the TIMES NEWS area.