BOYS HS SOCCER: Buckhorns, Comets, Cavs Top Contenders
Wallenpaupack Area boys soccer coach Scott Bonagura likes what he sees — and not just from his Buckhorns.
“I think it’s going to be great soccer,” Bonagura said on the eve of Tuesday’s season openers.
“All the teams put in a lot of time in the offseason. Soccer is coming up and growing in our area. Each team has a few kids going on to play at the next level, and that’s a credit to the coaches and the opportunities we have here in Northeast Pennsylvania.”
It shows in the Lackawanna League’s Division I, where upsets will be few given the balance of the entire league, with skilled athletes on every side.
Wallenpaupack, Abington Heights and Scranton Prep are top contenders for the title, and in Division II, Lakeland looks like it has much more experience and firepower to be challenged in another revamped division, one without Scranton Prep. But the division still features state quarterfinalist Mountain View, always-tough Blue Ridge and a very good Montrose squad. And Western Wayne hopes to be more than competitive.
Forest City is riding the wave of success from last season as it takes the favorite’s role over Elk Lake in Division III, which now includes West Scranton, which dropped from Division I.
A year ago, Bonagura surprised a lot of teams as his youthful Buckhorns challenged Abington Heights for the division.
In what is expected to be a three-team race this year, the Buckhorns are favored to unseat Abington Heights and hold off Scranton Prep, which returns from dominating Division II.
“Our kids are flattered with being the favorite,” Bonagura said. “It’s a nice boost of confidence for our kids, but realistically, the way the league has changed, Delaware Valley and Valley View can really put everyone to the test. Honesdale and North Pocono have a lot of young players. This year is going to be very, very competitive. Especially with Scranton Prep coming back.”
Wallenpaupack will have Derrick Vosburg returning to mind the net for his senior season, and one of the strongest players in the league up front in Kaspar Zaba-Poplawski, who scored 12 and had eight assists in league play.
Midfielders Anthony Araguso and Isaiah Santiago have speed and size, and are part of the core of seven returning starters.
But you can’t be the champ until you beat the champ, and Abington Heights is a tough nut, despite returning only five starters.
“If there is another team that immediately becomes a contender for the league title, to me, that means navigating through the regular season is a lot trickier,” Abington Heights coach Frank Dyska said. “You are a lot more likely to have back-to-back games against two really tough opponents.
“The league title is about consistency. You have a lot less room to have an off day or an off game.”
Four of the Comets’ starters are seniors — Luke Abdalla, Cole Madera, Antonio Maletta and Jimmy Lefchak, with Lefchak making the biggest move, going from midfield to shore up the defense with Madera.
On the front line, Abdalla is a force. Maletta gives the team a solid one-two punch.
Scranton Prep will be a different team without graduated Player of the Year Cullen Myers, but that doesn’t scare head coach Sean Curry.
The Cavaliers were gutted through the middle by graduation, but seniors Kenny Kincel, Greg Fisher, Mario Rotell, Corbin White and Alec Buttner give the team plenty of experience and leadership.
“We’ve got good guys and we’ve got guys who are used to winning,” Scranton Prep coach Sean Curry said.
Delaware Valley lost 13 seniors, but head coach Aaron Stark is excited by his nucleus, led by Dan Bradley, the leading returning scorer who has moved to keeper.
Honesdale has nine returning starters, including top returning scorers Jake VanDeLinde and Dominic Amato, and seniors Liam Carmody and Nick Bochnovich.
North Pocono sophomores Kohl Kincel and Taggert Loescher combined for 25 goals and eight assists.
Scranton will look to Daniel Aguilar to help fill the void left by graduation as only five starters are back.
Valley View’s Aaron Harrison and Ryan Cesarini will anchor a core of six returning players as the Cougars try to replace 90 percent of its scoring lost to graduation.
Lakeland utilized so many lineups that this year’s edition returns 17 players who started or saw significant time in last year’s championship season.
“With having that many guys back, we were able to play a lot of different starting lineups last year, and have a lot of guys back with experience,” Chiefs coach Tom Kane said. “Twenty-three on the roster, 14 are seniors. You don’t get lucky enough to bring back that experience very often.”
Ethan Cortes leads a stallwart offense that saw its top four returners, including Jerry Borosky, Mason Erdmann and Zachary Diehl combine for 45 goals and 20 assists.
“As a team we’ve put the ball in the net a lot the last few years,” Kane said. “We’re fortunate to have all that back.”
Mountain View lost its top three scorers, but Mike DeWolfe was effective up front last season and Jason Seamans is a three-year starter who can play multiple positions for the Eagles, who are chasing a third straight District 2 Class 1A title.
Western Wayne returns almost its entire starting lineup and its top four scorers — seniors Jamie Ashby, Cameron Johnson, Leonard Johnson and junior Connor Laity as it looks to challenge.
Blue Ridge will be led by Tommy Gudykunst, who scored 16 goals last season. Helping him make the team a contender in its new division will be his twin brother, Ben Gudykunst, Ben Bleck, Kaleb Folk and Cameron Franks.
Montrose has just three starters back, seniors Brennan Gilhool, Nick Wariner and Ethan Hitchcock, but they will anchor the defense as the offense looks to gel.
Dunmore has seven starters back, including three sophomores, Killian Palmer, who accounted for 11 points (3 goals, 5 assists), Peyton Badyrka and Jonathan Riggall.
Holy Cross will start five sophomores and three juniors, led by top returning scorer Connor Tone.
Forest City coach Carmine Gigliotti III can circle one game from last year as he looks to this year.
That was a 3-1 win over Blue Ridge for the division title.
“We’re the No. 1 team from last year and it’s hard to repeat, but we want to do that,” Gigliotti said. “We want to play every game this year like it was that Blue Ridge game last year.
“Do your best to win it.”
While the Foresters return good firepower up front in senior Tyler Clift (14G, 3A) and junior Jay Lipko (17G, 7A), that’s not where last year’s title was built.
“We’ve always had a good defense,” Gigliotti said. “We only lost one guy on defense and we had seven shutouts. These guys don’t like giving up goals.”
Alex Bradish and Kevin Valvano will be asked to spearhead Elk Lake’s effort to unseat the Foresters.
“I have a strong, offensively minded team,” Elk Lake coach Craig Sprout said. “I need some of these young kids who will step up and play some defense.”
Mid Valley’s Larry Risner and Craig Mercanti lead the Spartans’ offense, but head coach Lorne Elliott thinks if his team can score two per game, they have a chance to surprise some opponents.
Mike Zazzera is Carbondale’s top returning offensive threat and joins Dave Gonzales, Noah Mauro and Bailey Grizzanti as returning starters.
Old Forge’s Nina Zimmerman and Noah McDonald are among eight starters back from the team that posted its first playoff win.
Francisco Grande, Brandon Soto and newcomer Bryce Collins will lead Riverside into battle.
Seniors Michael Gowarty and Joseph Valencia bring West Scranton into a new division.
Gregory the Great has
10 players back as it makes its return to the Lackawanna League.
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