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Alle-Kiski Valley H.S. notebook: Leechburg feels ‘incredible’ after snapping skid

September 18, 2018

Leechburg’s locker room had, in coach Mark George’s words, a bit more “hooting and hollering” than usual after Friday’s 28-13 victory over Apollo-Ridge at Owens Field.

The Blue Devils had good reason for exuberance. For one, they beat their rivals from Apollo-Ridge for the first time since 2003. The victory also snapped an 11-game losing streak that dated to the penultimate game of the 2016 season.

“The feeling of ending the losing streak was an incredible feeling,” senior Tanner Dudek said. “This team builds itself off confidence, and that night against Apollo, we had a good amount of confidence. Losing was not an option. That whole week we worked hard during practice and were extremely focused on our goals and set our mind.”

Despite a winless season in 2017, George said he saw signs of progress in the final three games of the season, culminating with a hard-fought loss to eventual WPIAL Class A runner-up Imani Christian in the season finale.

That improvement, plus a number of returning starters and an offseason of hard work, finally showed itself on the scoreboard.

“They scored on us first, and I think maturity had a lot to do with (our response),” George said. “Last year, being younger, we might have hung our heads, and that would have been the game then and there. But just the maturity, confidence in themselves and being a little older, they didn’t give up. They came back and played better, and they progressively got better as the game went on. And it was a lot of fun.”

While George said the win validated Leechburg’s offseason hard work, the hard work of the season begins this week when defending WPIAL and PIAA state champion Jeannette visits in the teams’ Eastern Conference opener. The Jayhawks won last season’s meeting 49-6.

″(Friday) was a great confidence booster for us,” Dudek said. “We know our potential in close games. However, we need to improve to become better to face teams such as Jeannette.”

Plum perfect

Plum coach Matt Morgan spoke confidently in the weeks leading up to the season of his team’s potential to surprise opponents despite a 3-7 record in 2017 and the graduation of two dozen seniors.

The Mustangs backed up their coach’s words in their first game, rolling to a 32-14 Week Zero win over Highlands.

“To start off this year with a win after a tough year last year is big,” senior Hunter Linhart said. “It gives our team an attitude change and big boost of confidence to help us going into the following weeks.”

Linhart passed for 299 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score, but he received plenty of help from his underclassman teammates. Sophomore Max Matolscy caught seven balls for 193 yards and two scores, and junior Nic Sluka had two interceptions.

Linhart said Plum sees its underdog status as a “good motivator.” The Mustangs open conference play Friday at Franklin Regional.

“I honestly think that this win is going to help everyone on the team in a huge way,” he said. “Now that we know what we are capable of, and that we know we can do even better than what we did against Highlands, it’s a confidence booster and it’s gonna show that everyone is ready to go for the season.”

Ross is boss

In the moments after Valley secured the Battle of the Bypass rivalry game for the sixth consecutive season, Vikings senior Deonte Ross took a moment to think about the one that got away.

On the first play after Burrell turned the ball over on downs inside the Valley red zone early in the fourth quarter, Ross took a handoff and rumbled 67 yards to the 15-yard line before getting brought down from behind.

“I should have scored right there,” said Ross, who rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns in Valley’s 26-21 victory.

Ross scored two plays later, from 10 yards, for Valley’s final touchdown. The 225-pounder carried the Vikings offense on his broad shoulders throughout the night.

Henderson’s immaculate moment

Burrell receiver Jack Henderson channeled his inner Franco Harris in the third quarter of Burrell’s loss to Valley.

Bucs quarterback Logan Phillips lofted a deep ball on a third-and-long late in the third quarter, with a pair of Valley defenders converging on the intended receiver. The ball deflected in the air downfield to Henderson, who made a sliding catch at the Valley 15 for a 25-yard gain. Burrell scored three plays later to make it a 20-14 game.

Mike up

Despite his All-WPIAL goalkeeper status, Mike Zolnierczyk had no desire to stop Harvard from presenting him his first Division I soccer offer.

Zolnierczyk, the senior keeper for Springdale, received the offer earlier this month, although it won’t become fully official until he passes through the Ivy League school’s admissions process.

The 6-foot-3 Zolnierczyk spent much of his summer visiting D-I schools and competing in camps. He plans to take official visits to Robert Morris and Pitt in the coming weeks. He also spent time training with the D.C. United Academy in Washington.

A four-year starter at Springdale, Zolnierczyk posted 12 shutouts in 2017 to backstop the Dynamos to the WPIAL Class A championship game at Highmark Stadium and the second round of the PIAA playoffs. He was a Valley News Dispatch All-Star in soccer and basketball.

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