Olympians look to change culture
Since the program's inception, the Jim Thorpe boys' soccer team has never been able to post a .500 record and qualify for the District 11 playoffs.
Head coach Anthony Dixon believes that this year's team can make that tidbit of information a thing of the past.
Despite subpar records during each of his first two seasons at the helm, Dixon thinks that his team's time has finally arrived. Thanks to a loaded group of seniors who have been through the trenches together, and have progressed greatly over that time, the Olympians believe that they will still be playing meaningful games in late October.
"These boys have been together for over three years and I really think that this is their time," said Dixon. "We went to some camps over the summer and they played very well and were able to brush up on their skills. They have a better understanding of the game and are doing all the right things. They have really come together as a team."
Dixon's first two years in Jim Thorpe weren't easy to say the least. The team was 0-18 his first year before progressing to 6-12 last season. The Schuylkill League wasn't necessarily easy either, as the league produced the District 11 A champ each of the last two years (Tri-Valley and Schuylkill Haven) and had Blue Mountain reach the AA semis in 2011.
It was an experience that Dixon will never forget.
"It was my first year at the high school level up here and it was an eye-opening experience," Dixon said. "The league and the rules were different than what I was used to over in England and I had inherited a squad that hadn't ever won much - if at all.
"It has been a work in progress since then. When I got here their skill level wasn't up to par with what I had been used to in England. Since then they have improved by leaps and bounds."
Jim Thorpe's progress was never been as evident as it was this summer. The team participated in two camps, one at Bloomsburg and one at its own high school with UK Elite players, and competed in two tournaments. The Olympians placed third in both tournaments. They won four out of six games in the Line Mountain tournament. They then lost to host Schuylkill Haven in the semifinals of another tournament before rebounding to win the consolation game.
Dixon believes the camps helped dramatically for two reasons. One: the boys accepted that thinking was a big part of the game and seemed to incorporate the aspect without any drawbacks. Secondly, the team gained confidence and realized that it could compete with and beat some of the best teams in the area.
Senior forwards Corey Ligenza and Matt Rich, along with midfielders Matt and Steven Principe (junior), figure to lead Jim Thorpe's offensive attack. Ligenza has played all three years under Dixon and finished in the top ten in the league in scoring last year. He and Rich have the speed to beat anyone and will look to push the pace.
The Olympians will welcome back midfielders Dalton Becker and Anthony Pavia. Becker missed all of last year recovering from an ACL injury, while Pavia was forced to sit out with a brain injury. They, along with senior Kyle Lawrence, will help provide the offense in Dixon's finely-tuned 4-4-2 system.
Jim Thorpe also possesses experienced seniors on defense. Shane Bliecher-Otto, Mike Kalage and Caleb Heller all return for their final seasons and will anchor the defense in front of senior keeper Justin Kaminski. Ian Sterling will be the lone junior in the backfield, but is in no way short on talent.
Kaminski had to deal with a lot of shots last year and got a little disheartened according to Dixon. However, after a great summer, Kaminski has the renewed confidence needed to turn away the opposition.
David Castro, Jose Macareno, Jian Gentile, Andrew Rich, Mike Schwartz, Nick Montanaro and Matt Miller figure to see time as substitutions as well.
Dixon is very optimistic that this year's group, equipped with refined talent and renewed confidence, will end the program's playoff drought. Regardless of whether or not it happens, Dixon said it wouldn't even be a possibility without the help of the parents.
"Before I came here, the program didn't have a lot of parental help," said Dixon. "Since the squad has grown and evolved, the parents have really gotten involved. We were able to go to camps with shirts and shorts thanks to the parents' fundraisers. Our progression wouldn't be possible without them and I think that bodes well for the future of soccer at Jim Thorpe."