PS New Kensington men’s soccer eyes trip to conference title match
First-year Penn State New Kensington men’s soccer coach Mark Duffield was visiting friends near Penn State’s main campus in mid-September, and it just so happened the Nittany Lions men’s soccer team was playing Big Ten rival Ohio State.
Duffield couldn’t refuse the opportunity to take in the big-time Division I matchup. But during the 90-minute match, Duffield couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to lead his team to Jeffrey Field for the Penn State University Athletic Conference men’s soccer championship game.
“I was up there with my girlfriend, and her sister goes there, and I went to watch a men’s game to get a feel and all of that,” said Duffield, who is just a few years removed from leading the Highlands girls soccer team to its first WPIAL postseason win. “I was like, ‘Gee, I’d like to be (here) at the end of the season. It would be great to get to State College.’ ”
After finishing third in the PSUAC regular-season standings, Duffield and his Lions are on track to make the trip up Route 22 to State College. The journey for PSNK (7-5, 6-3) begins Wednesday at 1 p.m when the No. 3-seeded Lions will host No. 6 Penn State Lehigh Valley (4-7, 4-5) to open the first round of the PSUAC postseason.
Because of field conditions, the game was moved to Valley’s football field in favor of an artificial surface.
The winner will move on to Saturday’s semifinals and will travel to No. 2 Penn State Beaver. The finals are scheduled for Oct. 31.
″(Lehigh Valley’s a) good team. (They) looked organized and have pace up top,” Duffield said.
Duffield’s memory of his team’s 3-1 win over Lehigh Valley should be fresh. PSNK closed the PSUAC regular-season schedule against Lehigh Valley. After playing as a club team last season, Lehigh Valley is in its first season as a full-fledged member of the PSUAC and is making its first postseason appearance. This is PSNK’s second consecutive trip to the playoffs.
“It was a good game last time, and, hopefully, it’s the same, with us coming out on top again,” Duffield said. “It will be a tough game for sure.”
All four goals were scored in the first half in the first matchup, which was played at Lehigh Valley. PSNK got a pair of goals from sophomore midfielder Andrew Perenic (Pine-Richland), and a goal from junior midfielder, Paul Kozuch (Armstrong), to open the scoring.
While the win over Lehigh Valley was big, Duffield said his team left some goals on the pitch.
“We just got to learn to put that ball into the back of net. There was a couple of times against Lehigh Valley where we had a couple of chances, and we missed a few,” Duffield said.
PSNK is led by Perenic’s nine goals, five assists and 23 points. He ranks seventh in the PSUAC in goals. Freshman duo Nolan Johngarlo (Kiski Area) and Brady Braun (Penn-Trafford) are tied for second on the team in goals with six.
“A lot of us on the team have been to championships before, and they have all gone very far in the WPIALs every year,” said Johngarlo, who reached the postseason in three out of his four seasons with Kiski Area. “It’s been pretty fun knowing that we can do this knowing that we’re a team made up of mostly underclassmen.”
PSNK is loaded with young talent, and regardless of whether Duffield leads his Lions to Penn State on Halloween, PSNK will not only have the talent but also the experience to make postseason runs for the foreseeable future.
“Bring your ‘A-game’ every single game and believe in yourself,” Duffield said. “We have a good bunch of lads who push hard and want to learn.”