A-K Valley boys soccer preview: New coach leading Deer Lakes

Saturday, August 28, 2021 | 7:39 PM

Aaron Smith felt some nerves heading into training camp, and at the first practice he could sense his Deer Lakes boys soccer players had some, too.

It’s natural to have anxiousness in a new environment, but as the practices went on the nerves have started to subside.

After coaching the Valley girls soccer team for 11 years, Smith took over a Lancers team that is the defending WPIAL Class 2A champion but will look much different this fall.

Former coach Dan Yates moved on to an assistant coaching role with Robert Morris, and several key players, including dynamic midfielder Michael Sullivan, who paved the way to a title last year have graduated.

“It’s a definite change,” Smith said. “I was nervous, to be honest, coming into what they’ve done the last few years with the peak last year of winning a championship. This year, we’re going to have a smaller squad. We have 17 players in camp. We have only one senior, but we have a nice junior class. Everyone has been very accommodating to me. The boys have been great to work with, and the parents and boosters have been great, as well.”

Smith has several returning starters who will help ease the transition.

Ryan Hanes, Ruger Beer, Mason Metzler, Michael Butler, Nate Litrun and Nick Braun all started a season ago. Braun earned all-section and first-team Valley News Dispatch honors in net.

“Nick is really stepping up,” Smith said. “He’s not only leading by example, but he’s a vocal leader to keep the younger players focused. He’s showing me he’s wise beyond his years. Michael Butler is very solid in the middle of the field. He’s the voice of reason on the team. He has a good knowledge of the game. He’ll come to me and ask questions, and I ask him questions because he sees the game well. It’s nice to have captains that understand the game and know how to work with you at the same time. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here at Deer Lakes. What they’ve been doing has been working.”

Deer Lakes shared the Section 2-2A title with Shady Side Academy.

Finishing behind them in third was Burrell, which returns five starters in Ethan Croushore, Dom Ferra, Kayden Ireland, Noah Kleckner, and Tajean DeGore. The Bucs are hopeful to challenge Deer Lakes and Shady Side for a section title but will need to replace leading goal scorer Jake Guerrini among the dozen seniors who graduated.

Leechburg placed fourth in Section 2-2A for its first playoff appearance in its second year as a program. The Blue Devils return 10 starters, which includes leading scorer Gavin Cole and All-WPIAL keeper Owen McDermott.

Valley was slated to be in the section but will not field a team this year because of lack of numbers.

Fox Chapel is the Alle-Kiski Valley’s lone Class 4A team. The Foxes placed second in Section 1 behind Seneca Valley and figure to be section title contenders once again.

In Class 3A, Plum split the Section 4 title with Franklin Regional. The Mustangs need to replace the goal scoring of Darius Flowers, who graduated.

Kiski Area finished in third in Section 4 and returns forward Campbell Curry, who is also a golfer for the Cavaliers.

Knoch placed fourth in Section 1-3A a season ago and qualified for the playoffs.

Finishing just behind it were Freeport and Highlands, which have new coaches. Tahlon Kirkland takes over the Yellowjackets from long-time coach Dave Teorsky, who resigned after last season. Jakub Kasprzyk is the new coach of the Golden Rams. He is a native of Poland and is the director of the Highlands Area Soccer Club youth program.

Freeport returns seven starters, including standout midfielder Isaac Wetzel.

Springdale went undefeated in Section 3-A and made the WPIAL semifinals, where it fell to Greensburg Central Catholic.

The Dynamos return four starters in goalkeeper Andrew Haus, midfielders August Tabacheck and Chris Mitchell and forward Billy Lawrence.

“This is probably the least amount of guys we’ve ever had coming back, but having those four guys is a good start,” Springdale coach Cesaero Sanchez said. “We probably have four or five other guys that didn’t start but had playing time with the varsity team last year.”

Winchester Thurston has moved into Section 3 after splitting the Section 2 title with Greensburg Central Catholic last year, making Springdale’s road to a repeat of a section title a little more challenging.

Winchester Thurston is going to be very strong,” Sanchez said. “I think the competition in our section is going to be really tough because we also have Eden Christian and Aquinas Academy, which has a lot of players coming back with a lot of experience.”

Springdale welcomes back its rival from the other side of the Hulton Bridge as Riverview returns to Section 3 after taking last year off during the pandemic.

St. Joseph is not in the same section as its A-K Valley rivals. The Spartans are in Section 2 and will look to rebound after a 3-8-1 campaign last year.

A-K Valley players to watch

Sean Ahia, Sr., F, Fox Chapel

Michael Butler, Jr., MF, Deer Lakes

Nick Braun, Jr., GK, Deer Lakes

Gavin Cole, Sr., F, Leechburg

Campbell Curry, Sr., F, Kiski Area

Tajean DeGore Sr., MF, Burrell

Dom Ferra, Sr., GK, Burrell

Andrew Haus, Sr., GK, Springdale

Luke Kolankowski, Sr., MF, Plum

Billy Lawrence, So., F, Springdale

Owen McDermott, Jr., GK, Leechburg

Chris Mitchell, Jr., MF, Springdale

Ashton Schutzman, Sr., D, Fox Chapel

Isaac Wetzel, Jr, F, Freeport

Preseason rankings

Class 4A

1. Peters Township (13-2-1)

2. Seneca Valley (17-1-1)

3. Norwin (11-1-2)

4. Butler (11-6-1)

5. Fox Chapel (11-4)

Class 3A

1. West Allegheny (15-2)

2. Franklin Regional (13-2)

3. Mars (21-0)

4. Moon (12-4)

5. Plum (13-2)

Class 2A

1. Shady Side Academy (14-3)

2. Quaker Valley (11-1-1)

3. Deer Lakes (17-2)

4. Elizabeth Forward (12-3-2)

5. Charleroi (14-2)

Class A

1. Greensburg C.C. (17-2)

2. Seton La Salle (12-3)

3. OLSH (11-1-1)

4. Winchester Thurston (14-2)

5. Springdale (12-2)

*2020 records listed

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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