Bears clawing their way back to the top
Since its six-year Mountain Valley Conference reign came to an end in 2007, the Pleasant Valley boys' soccer team has been unable to reclaim the throne.
For the last three years the Bears have fallen to the Mounties from Stroudsburg in the conference playoffs - once in the finals and twice in the semi-finals. Fortunately for head coach Chris Pachuta and his senior-laden team, that was then and this is now.
The fact that this year's senior class is the only group to not win a conference title since 2001 serves as motivation every day.
"We talked about it before the summer started," said Pachuta. "I asked the kids what they wanted to make of this team and they said that they wanted to win the MVC title. I said that was great, but do they realize that they are the first senior class to have never won a title.
"I think it kind of hit them when I said that. They realized it was true and that there was no reason they shouldn't have won one. They have really come together as a team since that talk."
This year's quest actually began in late June in the Lehigh Valley Summer Soccer League. The "Bears United" put together a great summer and finished their schedule with an 8-1 record. They then went on to win three playoff games, including the championship (3-0 in penalty kicks).
The next thing on Pachuta's 'to-do' list was to play well out of conference. Pleasant Valley has put a check-mark next to that as well. Although the Bears' only loss has come out of conference to State College, they are a perfect 4-0 against the Lehigh Valley Conference. So far Pleasant Valley has knocked off Allen, Liberty, Nazareth and Northampton by a combined score of 9-2 with three shutouts.
"Coming from the Lehigh area myself, doing well against the LVC has been a big emphasis of mine," said Pachuta, who played at Notre Dame of Green Pond and later coached at Dieruff. "In order to be taken seriously you have to make statements. You have to win to gain respect. I told the kids that not only are they playing for themselves, their families and Pleasant Valley, but they are playing for the MVC as well."
Last, but certainly not least, comes the conference games.
The Bears' 5-0 victory over Pocono Mountain West this past Monday capped their first run through the MVC. Through six conference games, Pleasant Valley is 6-0 and has outscored its opponents 25-3 with three shutouts.
Perhaps the two biggest wins came over rivals Pocono Mountain East and Stroudsburg. The Mounties have ended the Bears' conference run each of the past three years, while the Cardinals have played for the crown two of the last three seasons.
"It is always nice to beat those guys," admitted Pachuta. "It's a rivalry. The kids get fired up for those two teams. Most of the kids know each other, so they have their own personal rivalries going.
"It's a lot of fun playing against Stroudsburg. I get along well with (Stroudsburg coach James) Ellison, so it is always enjoyable to joke back and forth during the game."
However, when it comes to being the best in the conference, it is no joking matter. Despite losing Emiliano Furtado (tied Ricky Forte for team lead in scoring in '09) and goalie Mike Cimino to graduation, Pleasant Valley has somehow been able to step it up.
Pachuta credits Malik Krcic's movement from center-back to center-midfield as the key change. Krcic is an 'absolute phenom' according to Pachuta who can both score and distribute. It is evident in his team-leading 18 points (8 goals, 2 assists). He, along with Alex Mansour (4 goals, 8 assists) and Forte (7 goals, 2 assists), spear-head the Bears' attack.
"We don't just have one scorer," said Pachuta. "They all want each other to score. They are all about the team and that is all that matters."
The Bears' defense has been just as strong. Goalie A.J. Werkheiser, who is a senior starting for the first time in his career, has made 46 saves in 11 games. Pachuta said his defensive rotation of Chris Skutnik, Jack Wathen, Adam Werkheiser, Jordan Walters and Jadon Plant has been even more impressive and is responsible for the majority of their shutouts..
While Pleasant Valley is sitting pretty at the moment, Pachuta is quick to keep his team in check.
"I tell the kids every day that they haven't won anything yet," said Pachuta. "Until Stroudsburg loses in late October, they are still the champs. I know we have a chance to do some big things this year, but I want the kids to think that they have something to prove every time they take the field."
COACHING MILESTONES ..... Both Pleasant Valley girls' volleyball coach John Gesiskie and Tamaqua girls' soccer coach Clem McCarroll reached milestones over the last week.
Last Thursday, the Lady Bears knocked off Pocono Mountain East to award Gesiskie, who is in his 17th year coaching the program, with his 300th career coaching win.
The day before the Lady Blue Raiders earned a 7-1 Schuylkill League victory over Pine Grove giving McCarroll, who is in his seventh year with the program, career win No. 100.
TEEING OFF FOR A TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP ..... Both Marian and Panther Valley's golf teams have earned a chance to take part in this year's Schuylkill League Team Championships. The Colts secured their spot by clinching the Western title with an unblemished 14-0 record, while the Panthers (12-2) were invited as the division's wild card team. Central Division champion Blue Mountain (14-0) and wild card Pottsville (10-2) will also participate. The team tournament was originally schedule for today, but the was changed to do the impending weather forecast moving the boys' individual championships to this afternoon at Hidden Valley. The date for the team championships will be announced at a later date.
GOOOOAAAALLLLLL! ..... Pleasant Valley's Felecia Domenici and Malik Krcic, Lehighton's Jordyn Homyak and Northern Lehigh's Tyler Hoppes recently sparked their teams to victories with hat-tricks.
Last Wednesday, Domenici completed the feat during PV's 4-1 win over Pocono Mountain East. Homyak scored her hat trick in a 10-0 over PM West.
On Thursday, Krcic accounted for all of the Bears' scores in a 3-0 win over PM East. Hoppes was the last to do so in the Bulldogs' 7-1 victory over Pen Argyl on Monday afternoon.