Signal Item boys soccer preview: Trio of playoff hopefuls
Chartiers Valley was the only team among the three Carnegie area boys soccer teams to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs last season. Bishop Canevin, with new coach Al Gestiehr, and Carlynton will be looking to join the postseason party in 2018.
A look at each team:
After serving four years as an assistant, including two seasons as the junior varsity head coach, Gestiehr steps in as coach of the Crusaders varsity. He inherits a team that went 5-8-1 and missed the playoffs in Section 4-A.
“I think these guys, if nothing else, are in the mindset that not making the playoffs was unacceptable,” he said. “I think that’s enough motivation that the guys are really buying in.”
The Crusaders have a number of returning players who were key contributors, including goalie Jared Kindle, defensemen Jarod Witwicki and Connor Jacobs, midfielders Andrew Bochicchio, Jack Staley and Nate Kirsch and forwards Nick Maust and Coulton Gaitens.
The loss of leading goal scorer Jack Shorthouse must be overcome. He was far and away the team’s leader in goals, but Gestiehr said the team should be more balanced.
“Our defense probably is our strongest area of the field, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have good players up top,” he said. “Instead of it being one guy to carry the load, it could be two, three or four guys who could have a share of the pie.”
Nick Showman enters his second season as the Cougars’ coach. Carlynton went 6-11-1 after winning only one match the year before Showman’s arrival, and he is expecting another big step forward.
“I think it was kind of a culture change,” he said. “It was not that they were OK with losing, but they seemed like they were in a comfort zone and I had to get them out of that.”
Many of the Cougars’ regulars are back, led by senior captains Gabe Prepelka and Dan Schultz. Showman said he has been impressed by their initiative in becoming on-field leaders.
Prepelka led the team in goals last season with only five. Generating offense was the Cougars’ biggest problem, but Showman expects that to be a strength this season.
“The way I had them play was more possession-based,” he said. “They just wanted to play over the top. They are realizing they can string passes then go over the top.”
Freshman center midfielder Lucas Prepelka is expected to make an immediate impact, and goalie Matt Hilarzewski returns hoping to be a steadying force after an injury-slowed 2017.
Now two years removed from a WPIAL title, Char Valley has few players remaining who were significant contributors to that team. That leaves coach Garrett Mackenzie relying on a group of unproven players to step in and keep the program rolling.
Anthony Shiurazzi, Anthony Molinaro and Josh Butina are the only remaining players with significant starting experience. J.R. Sigura, Tre Khembo, David Belasco and Harry Eckenrode are among the players who Mackenzie expects to take on larger roles.
“I don’t think it’s a chip on their shoulder,” Mackenzie said, “but I think that they have something to prove, and they’ve worked pretty hard.”
Despite the Colts’ collective inexperience, Mackenzie still expects them to make the playoffs. He recognizes it might take some time for the team to jell, but the goal remains the same.
“Every year, I preach to just get better every day,” he said. “I think with this group, more than any other year, these guys just have to know they need game experience, which you can’t match at practice. They just have to stick with it.”