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Pine-Richland boys soccer ready to ‘buckle down’ in challenging Section 1-4A

September 16, 2018

For the last couple of weeks, the Pine-Richland boys soccer team has been waking up at nearly the crack of dawn to train for the upcoming season.

For the 16 seniors and the other members of the Rams returning from last season’s team, the 7 a.m. practice sessions have been anything but forgiving. But for coach Jon Conner, it’s just the logical warm-up for what will be a brutal battle for supremacy in the realigned Section 1-4A.

“I think they’re all prepared for that; they’re ready to buckle down,” Conner said.

“Our goals are always the same; to compete for a playoff spot. This year, in our section, we added three teams. So, I think every night you can come out to Section 1 and watch a playoff-level soccer team.”

Section 1 added Allderdice, Central Catholic and Fox Chapel while subtracting North Hills. The end result of that equation is that Pine-Richland will now be in a highly competitive section that houses eight teams, seven of which made the Class 4A playoffs last season.

The Rams finished last season as the third-place team in the WPIAL playoffs after defeating Canon-McMillan, 2-1, in the consolation game. While his team does possess plenty of experienced talent on its roster, Conner said it will take a slow and steady approach to return to that stage of the postseason.

“There’s 14 of those section games, so there’s a lot of games, but, even so, a team may end up 7-7 in our section and make the playoffs. And they might do well in the playoffs, too. One thing is for sure, you’re going to be battle-tested going through this section,” he said.

“I was telling the boys that there’s 18 rungs on the ladder. Rung one is Fox Chapel in our first game of the year. You go into that game, prepare for it and once it’s over, you live with the result. But no matter what, you take it one rung at a time.”

At this stage of the preseason, the Pine-Richland coach has declined to name any starters. Still, the Rams have seniors with experience heading up every position group.

Goalkeeper Tom Fest returns after starting last season. Greg Shulkosky returns to the team as a defender. In the midfield, Brian McCarthy provides the group with experience and depth.

Forward Niko Marsh provides punch to Rams scoring attack after leading his team in goals last season. Though, one of the strongest aspects of the team, according to Conner, is its overall depth.

“I think we have some great depth just because we have that many seniors. They’re pushing each other every day in training,” Conner said.

“It pays to be opportunistic on the field, and we like to be well-rounded. By committee is probably the best way to be successful as a team. These guys are all ready to go, because they know if someone gets nicked up, it’s going to be a next-man-up philosophy.”

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