JT's Ligenza stars in team turnaround
As a sophomore, Corey Ligenza's dream of starring on a championship soccer team while playing for Jim Thorpe would have been a bit unrealistic.
He scored only two goals and registered no assists for the Olympians who finished their season with no wins and 18 losses.
Now, just two seasons later, Ligenza scored 27 goals with virtually the same teammates to spearhead the Olympians to the Schuylkill League Division 1 championship, the first in Jim Thorpe history.
For his efforts to make his dream come true, Corey Ligenza has been named the 2012 TIMES NEWS Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Ligenza was also selected MVP by his team for his dominating offensive play during an extraordinary turnaround that saw his team improve to 14-4 this season. The remarkable jump from last to first place was not immediate, however, as Corey and his team's progress continued in between these two seasons when he scored 18 goals during his junior year for the 7-13 Olympians.
"We had a 100 percent commitment to improving our team this year," said Ligenza, who was second in the league in scoring. "Our team was loaded with seniors and we played together in the Iron Lakes winter and summer sessions. That's when we came together."
In 2010, coach Tony Dixon saw potential in Corey and his young Olympians despite going winless.
"As sophomores, all that Corey and his teammates lacked was experience and confidence, which they then gained in the camps and off season sessions," said Dixon.
Actually, Ligenza's experience began to build when he was just 4 years old and he credits his then coach, Darryl Otto, for teaching him the basics of the game during his three years in the Jim Thorpe recreational program.
"Coach Otto instilled in me the proper mindset to be a successful soccer player," he said.
Ligenza's "mindset" led to a storybook finish.
He came from off the charts to place second in the league in goals and in total points (76) this season.
Coach Dixon claims that Ligenza's assist production is the most impressive part of the improvement in his game. This number increased from seven assists in 2011 to 22 assists, best in the league in 2012.
"Corey is a great goal scorer, but this season he unselfishly benefited his teammates, Mike and Shane Principe, along with Dalton Becker with his passing," Dixon said. "We got much better because we were more balanced offensively."
Ligenza's games were marked by individual highlights and dramatic performances. He was a five-time Max Preps Player of the Week with hat tricks in three of those contests, in addition to his four goal barrage against Catasauqua in September.
He recalls two games in particular.
"We never played Lehighton until this season," he remarked. "It was an intense build up before the game with a lot of cross town talk. The game was undecided until I scored with about 12 minutes to go in the second half and we won, 1-0."
The most important game for Jim Thorpe, which would decide the league championship, was against Blue Mountain.
The Olympians were looking to avenge a loss in their first match up and they did so in convincing fashion. Ligenza scored two goals and assisted on another in a dominating 5-1 victory over the Eagles.
"We beat them at their school. It was a great feeling. Everyone rushed the field after the game," he said.
Dixon will remember that big win too and for an added special reason.
"When the clock ran out and everyone rushed to the middle of the field, Corey ran through them all to our sideline to give me a big hug. I will never forget that," Dixon said.
Dixon attributes Ligenza's outstanding achievements this season to overall athletic ability and instinct.
"He has a knack for scoring goals by being in the right place at the right time inside the penalty area," he said. "Corey also has breakaway speed to run past defenders. And he has excellent ball control."
Ligenza's future plans are ambitious and a reflection of what he has already accomplished as an athlete on the field and an honors student in the classroom. Several Penn State campuses and the University of Pittsburgh have expressed interest in furthering his education and continuing his athletic career.
"In my wildest of dreams, I want to play professional soccer," he said. "I can also see myself coaching at the high school level someday."
In the meantime, Ligenza will concentrate on learning to become a computer hardware engineer, yet he hopes a future career will not take him too far away from his home.
"I am proud to be born and raised in Jim Thorpe and as long as my family stays here, this is where I want to be."
No matter where he goes, Ligenza's amazing turnaround story will remain with his family and within the record books of Jim Thorpe soccer.