Boys Soccer Preview: NW, Thorpe look for more success
Lehighton’s Connor Hanley (11) tries to get around Palmerton’s Jonathan Perloni during a game last season. Both players return this year. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Northwestern advanced to the PIAA State championship game a year ago. (NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Northwestern’s soccer program has been to consecutive state title games.
Whether the Tigers can overcome the loss of key players and return to the PIAA playoffs remains to be seen.
But Northwestern isn’t the only area squad looking to make noise in the upcoming season. Jim Thorpe, who played for a Schuylkill League title a year ago, returns a wealth of experience and is hoping to make some noise in the postseason.
Below are capsules on all the Times News area boys soccer teams:
A LONG-STANDING TRADITION … The Tigers have played in the PIAA State Championship game the past two seasons, falling to Lower Dauphin both times. Prior to last year’s trip to Hershey, the Tigers captured the Colonial League title and the District 11 3A championship. The Tigers currently have a 45-game league unbeaten streak intact. Northwestern had a tie against Salisbury in 2016, but haven’t lost a Colonial League contest since 2014.
NEXT IN NET? … Even with several key players graduating, the Tigers return six starters from last year’s memorable season. The biggest question mark coming into this season is, Who will be in goal? Seasoned head coach Nate Hunsicker, who was a keeper himself, is without last year’s starting goalie Taylor Wanamaker and his understudy Brian Garbacik, who graduated. “Right now, we’ve got four guys who all have a shot at being the starting goalie for us this season,” Hunsicker said. “We’ve had a lot of good competition, and it’s probably going to go right down to the wire to decide who starts.”
PLENTY OF EXPERIENCE BACK … Jeff Garcia, a sophomore, will look to take over where he left off offensively a season ago. Senior Zach Creighton will be there to assist Garcia on the attack. Defensemen Luke Taylor and Caleb Danner, both seniors, return for their final hurrah, while junior Michael Rebert looks to add more strength on the defensive front. Newcomers Ryan Baker and Collin Coffield add some depth to the defensive game.
ON THE PRAWL AS WELL … Hunsicker believes Saucon Valley and Southern Lehigh will again be his team’s top challengers in the league. Notre Dame, which posted the first 20-win season in school history last year and won the district 2A crown, could also be in the mix. “It’s always good competition out there and you never know,” Hunsicker said. “It seems like there’s always one team that surprises a lot of people and you never know who it’s going to be, so you have to come out tough every game.”
GREAT EXPECTATIONS ... While 2017 proved to be the most successful year in the history of the Jim Thorpe soccer program, coach Michael Dudak thinks this year’s team will be even better. Dudak, the 2017 PSCA 2A Coach of the Year, said the team has one clear-cut goal in 2018, “bring home that title.” The Olympians finished with an overall record of 16-7 last season, 13-5 in league play. They came within two kicks of the Schuylkill League title last season, losing to Pottsville in the title match, 2-1.
HAT TRICK ... Dudak’s optimism is understandable. Three Olympians who earned all-league honors in 2017 return. Midfielder Ryder Wallace, striker Preston Lawrence and defenseman Coyote Acevedo give Jim Thorpe a formidable trio of all-stars.What’s scary for the rest of the league is that Dudak expects them to be even better this season. “The Olympian boys worked hard in the offseason to add skill and stamina,” Dudak said.
CORE STRENGTH ... An even scarier thought for opponents is the idea that this year’s squad will be much deeper than 2017. “The core of the team will be even deeper than it was last season. We started with four standout players last year. Now we have 18 standout players. We have depth and experience,” Dudak said. “We have four juniors whose games have been elevated 50 percent from last season. Now they are legitimate threats.” Alex Putt, Thor Huth, Leandro Ramirez and Ray O’Neil are the four juniors who’ll be inserted into the starting lineup. Dudak expects sophomores Jack Morris and Chris Condly to see more varsity action this season.
THE NET KING ... Goalkeeper Kingsley Ehling looks to improve upon a season that was stellar by anyone’s definition. The senior recorded eight shutouts in 2017 and is looking for an even more dominant 2018.
CHINK IN THE ARMOR? ... Having lost Ian Montelius and Thomas Dein to graduation, there is a potential hole in the Jim Thorpe defense. “We need someone to step up on defense,” Dudak said. Dudak mentioned senior Robby Renode and sophomore Andrea Mazzella as likely candidates to shore up the defense.
EXCITEMENT ... There’s a sense of energy surrounding the Jim Thorpe soccer program. Dudak didn’t hesitate when asked about his expectations for the 2018 season. “Anything short of a run into states would be a disappointment. We have grown as a team. I have grown as a coach. We couldn’t be more ready to get this season underway. I’m excited to watch these boys play soccer this year,” Dudak said.
THE BOYS AREA BACK ... It’s hard not to be optimistic about your team’s prospects for the upcoming season when you return two first team, all-league performers. Leading scorers Derian Stianche (15 goals, 10 assists) and Jacob Rudy (9 goals, 5 assists) were named to the Schuylkill League first team last season.
DON’T LET THE RECORD FOOL YOU ... Despite last season’s 6-12 record, head coach Greg Sheeler predicts an abrupt turnaround for the Blue Raiders this season. “This year Tamaqua is going to be a very strong team,” Sheeler said. “We are returning every varsity starter and adding a few more skilled varsity players.”
THE DEFENSE DOES NOT REST ... “Our defense has size, speed and great control of the ball,” Sheeler said. Tamaqua’s starting defenders will be Khalid Holland, Greg Davis, Wyatt Ziegler, and Justin Lewis.Alexander Barron will be the first Raider defenseman off the bench.
ATHLETES EVERYWHERE ... Sheeler sees the same type of exceptional athletic talent all over the field. “Our midfield has great vision, passing, communication and ball movement. The forwards are some of the best finishers I’ve seen to date,” Sheeler said. In addition to Stianche and Rudy, some of the other key players at these positions include Michael Shanta, Mason Dolinsky and Brian Milot.
JUMP BALL ... Raider fans will find another of those talented athletes in goal. Luke Verta is applying his basketball skills around the soccer goal this season. “Our goalkeeper is tall, agile and is a basketball player,” Sheeler said.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS ... “The Raiders have a roster of 33 this year, Sheeler said. “A great turnout which is going to help our JV squad have strong performances as well.” Among those numbers are eight players who’ll rotate in and out as starters at the forward and midfield positions. Five of the eight will start each game. The seniors who have been with Sheeler all four years are Dolinsky, Stianche and Rudy, and they’ll join juniors Milot and Nathaniel Noftz in the rotation of starters with sophomores Ian Davis, Tyler Steigerwalt and Schlanta.
SKY’S THE LIMIT ... “We have the talent to compete in every game,” Sheeler said. “Our goal is to win the Schuylkill League. Our main roadblocks will be Blue Mountain and Jim Thorpe. How we play against them will decide our season.”
STARS LEAD THE WAY ... The Weatherly Wreckers return two Schuylkill League 2nd Team All-Stars this season in Elijah Derr and Josh Andreuzzi. Second-year coach Kevin Kennedy expects the pair of juniors to lead the team during the 2018 campaign. “Naturally, we’ll look for those two players to lead the team,” Kennedy said. “Logically, when you have all-stars, you expect them to provide leadership.” Derr led the team in scoring last season with 26 total points and Andreuzzi led the team in goals scored.
FAMILIAR FACES ... Derr and Andreuzzi aren’t the only returning starters on the team. Four others return — Nic Pleban, Chad Obert, Antonio Colecio and Luke Derr. Kennedy feels that any of those players could join Derr and Andreuzzi and earn some type of league recognition at the end of the season. “Our returning starters are significant. Any of them could contend for postseason honors,” Kennedy said.
NEW MAN IN NET ... The team no longer has the benefit of A.J. Knepper’s defensive skills in goal. Ryan Fairchild will replace the graduated goalkeeper. Along with Fairchild, Kevin Osifat is another senior who is new to the team this season. Other newcomers to watch include Mason Gerhart and Tyler Veasie.
NEITHER SUN NOR SNOW ... Kennedy thinks that one of the keys to improving on last year’s record — 6-13 overall, 3-9-1 in Schuylkill League play — will be the amount of work the players put in during the offseason. Many of the Wrecker players competed during the winter at the Wyoming Valley Sports Dome and followed that experience up by competing in the Weatherly Summer League.
STRETCHING IT OUT ... “Our expectation is that we’ll be better than last year. We expect to see incremental improvement overall and in league play. Our stretch goal is to get to .500,” Kennedy said.
LOOKING FOR NUMERO UNO … A year ago, the Bulldogs were winless in 18 tries. This year, Northern Lehigh wants nothing more than to earn that first victory early and put that 0-18 overall (0-14 Colonial League) mark from last season behind them.
GUESS WHO’S BACK? … Senior goalkeeper Wesley Delans, junior defender Hunter Brown, along with sophomores Evan Horninger (midfielder), Logan Dyer (defender) and Aidan Williams (midfielder), return to their starting roles for the Bulldogs. Northern Lehigh didn’t lose any players due to graduation.
LOOK TO CONTRIBUTE AGAIN … Senior defenders Quintin Mack and Chris Fine, and sophomores Chuck Wilk (forward), Josh Sollars (midfielder) and Grant Olewine (midfielder) are also back and should see time, or even make their way into the starting lineup. “We gained a lot of experience last year,” Ruch said. “Last year’s freshmen are a year older and progressing well this season.”
FRESHMAN TALENT … Parker Musselman enters Northern Lehigh High School as a freshman and will look to make his mark with the soccer program.
IT’S THERE … Ruch believes his players can take the next step. “With our senior leadership, and some hard work, we hope to be more competitive this year,” Ruch said. “We will keep moving in an upward trend as we gain more experience.”
SIMPLY AN HONOR … Rich Roselli used to man the net for the Blue Bombers in high school. Now, the Palmerton graduate is back as their head coach. “I don’t think words can really describe how good it is to be back coaching where you played at,” Roselli said. “I don’t know if there are any comparisons really.”
TOO MANY TO FORGET … The Bombers’ roster took a big hit due to graduation. Included among those players are Bryce Beahm, Brody Boehler, Jesse Dekorte, Jonathan Hillanbrand, Jarrett Long, Marc Roselli, Noah Schaffer, Nate Taylor and keeper Ryan Yacone.
FROM ONE SIBLING TO ANOTHER … Yacone held the job of goalie last season. This season, the Bombers’ net minder will bare the same last name. Ryan’s brother, Bryce Yacone, will handle the keeper duties. “It’s a perfect hand-in-hand exchange,” said Roselli, knowing the brothers undoubtedly trained together. “Bryce has all the strengths that Ryan had. I fully trust him in goal.”
SOLID NUCLEUS BACK … The Bombers may have lost a number of players to graduation, but Roselli and his assistant, Tyler Michlik, have a nice core of returnees coming back. Seniors Teegan Green (forward), Zachary Thompson (defender) and Chase Dailey (defender) are back for their final year. Juniors Josh Long (mid), Connor Russo (mid), Tokota Terruga (defender), Nick Papay (mid) and Shawn Gardner (mid), along with sophomores Jonathan Perloni (the Bombers leading scorer from last season), Corlan Wood (mid) and Zachary Brotzman (defender), bring back some added experience.
READY TO MAKE AN IMPACT … Senior Kory Marlatt and freshman Ethan Page are ready to make their mark on Palmerton’s team.
PREPARING FOR HISTORY … “Our biggest goal this year is to make Districts and win the first game in school history,” Roselli said. “They never won a District playoff game before. And, that’s our goal.”
CHANGING OF THE GUARD … Alex Wunder takes over the reigns after the recent passing of veteran head coach Chris Pachuta. Wunder entered the program, along with Pachuta, 10 years ago when Pachuta got the head coaching position. “I’m just looking forward to my first year as head coach here. I just wish it was under different circumstances. It’s tough.”
BACK WITH THE PACK … Seniors Logan Meckes (defender), Timmy Covart (midfielder) and Zion Moore (forward) return to lead the team, while junior Connor Covart (midfielder) and sophomore Jake Alles (defender) are back to contribute.
SOLID ON DEFENSE … Meckes and Alles have made their mark as solid defenders. Both will look to continue their success at a position that Wunder stated will be a strength this season. “Our defense is going to be a strength for us,” Wunder said. “We have a solid core in the back. We have a lot of veterans that have been playing back there.” Meckes will be a four-year starter. He has played every position on the field, but specializes on defense. Alles is back after earning a starting spot as a freshman.
CONCERNED … The recent circumstances have been tough on the entire Pleasant Valley community. And, as others send thoughts and prayers to the school and athletic programs, Wunder is concerned about his Bears moving on from this. “Just being able to get moving forward is a good thing,” Wunder said. “I think right now that’s a concern we’re working on ...”
EYES SET … Wunder wants to continue the tradition that the team had under Pachuta — and that’s to win. He would like to claim the Mountain Division again, as well as take it one step further and have a good run at the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and District titles.
EXPERIENCE COUNTS ... The Indians return nine varsity letter winners from a squad that finished 6-11-1 last season (4-8 in the Schuylkill League). Senior forward Isaiah Everett is one of the standout returnees. Everett booted seven goals last season and set up five other scores with assists. Senior midfielder Luke Hoffner tallied two goals and three assists and will be expected to contribute even more this season. Sophomore midfielder/defenseman Logan Lucas and junior midfielder Connor Hanley each had three goals last season and will see more playing time this year. “We feel our starting group will be competitive,” Lehighton Coach Dave Yob said. Other returning letter winners include Drew Lorenz (JR/D), Carter Strauss (SO/M), Dan Sharp (SR/M), Josh Anthony (SR/M) and Zach Andrews (SR/GK).
STEPPING UP ... In addition to the host of returning letter winners, the Indians have a group of experienced players who will be vying for more playing time in 2018. Ben Mathisen, Victor McCandless, Christian Rodgriguez, Jordan Cook, Chris Fisher and Kaleb May will push the starters to see more game action this season. “The coaches are pleased with the progress of the group as a whole,” Yob said.
NEW KIDS IN TOWN ... There are four freshmen among the players who are new to the team this season. Zander Bauer, Mitchell Nailor, Ryan Graver, and Dylan Galgoci are all first-year players. Other newcomers include Alex Ziegenfuss, Zach Kemp, Randy Bongiorno, and Eldin Cokrlija.
GOALS AND THE GOALIE ... Senior goalkeeper Zach Andrews recorded three shutouts while making 81 saves last season.He’ll need to keep up the stalwart work in goal if the Indians are to improve upon last year’s mark ... Yob, in his ninth-year as the Indian’s head coach, will be assisted by Joe Zarelli and Dylan Smith. Yob feels that his squad will have a successful season — providing the team is not beset with injuries. “Our low numbers (23 total) will factor into the team’s success. We must remain injury free to be competitive. The team chemistry is good right now. As long as it continues, it will help us get over any rough patches this year.”