A-K Valley boys soccer teams in transition gain early footing

Monday, September 11, 2017 | 11:33 PM

The St. Joseph varsity boys soccer team tested its mettle Monday afternoon against an undefeated Freeport squad ranked third in the Tribune-Review's WPIAL Class AA rankings.

Senior defender and co-captain Nate Sullivan said it was a good early-season challenge as the Spartans, who graduated several starters from last year's team, continue to round into form in and out of Section 2-A.

“It's good to learn and play our hardest against a really talented team,” Sullivan said. “We made some mistakes, but we also made some good plays. We want to grow from games like these and move forward.”

Each year, soccer teams lose strong veteran players. Hardly any team is immune. It's when a large group is lost, preseason workouts, scrimmages and early-season contests are magnified and coaches hope to see a steady pattern of improvement.

St. Joseph was 10-2 in section play last year as it earned a WPIAL playoff spot. Two-time Valley News Dispatch Player of the Year Vincenzo Schiano di Cola, among others, moved on.

“The freshmen and other younger players got experience playing with everyone else in indoor,” Spartans coach Matt Skoda said. “The speed of the outdoor game is different, but they were ready. We've had moments where you could say we didn't play our best as a team, but we've been able to turn it around.”

St. Joseph rallied from a 4-1 deficit to Serra Catholic in its section opener last week. The Spartans forced overtime, but the Eagles prevailed in the extra session.

“It was a tough game against Serra,” said junior midfielder Daniel Fábregas, who had two goals and an assist in the game.

“We needed to get that one in section.”

St. Joseph, 2-3-1 overall and 1-1 in section, returns to section competition Tuesday against Winchester Thurston and plays three section games this week. The Spartans' section win last week came at Jeannette.

“We're not off to the start we had hoped, but we're building off of each other's strengths and helping each other work on our weaknesses,” Fábregas said.

At Deer Lakes, several new starters got going last week against Section 2-AA rival Mt. Pleasant.

Not only did eight starters have to be replaced from last year's WPIAL playoff qualifier, but a new system was put into place as Jordan Wiegand returned as coach after four years away from the program.

“You could tell early on they were ready and motivated,” Wiegand said. “Coming back, I knew what the scenario was going to be. But they caught up to all the expectations I had for them.”

Senior defender Eric Franciscus sees the growth in the youthful Lancers.

“We should keep improving as the season progresses with chemistry and communication,” he said. “A lot of younger guys have stepped up and realize what we have to do to get back to the playoffs.”

Wiegand said the 3-2 loss to Mt. Pleasant was tough as Deer Lakes gave up a 2-1 lead in the second half.

“That game could've gone either way,” Wiegand said. “We put a lot of pressure on them at the end, but it just wasn't enough to get the equalizer.”

The Lancers responded two days later and evened their section record with a 7-0 triumph at Derry.

“It was definitely a confidence booster,” Franciscus said.

Deer Lakes starts a three-game week Tuesday with a nonsection home contest against Knoch.

“We're excited for these upcoming games,” junior defender Nick Caro said. “Knoch will be one of the better teams we'll play. It will nice to measure ourselves against them.”

Knoch is 2-1 overall and 1-0 in Section 1-AAA.

Kiski Area also continues to adjust to a new season after six seniors — all starters who went to play soccer and other sports in college — moved on.

The Cavaliers took one on the chin, 8-0 against North Allegheny in their opener Sept. 1 and fell to Connellsville, 2-1, in a Section 4-AAAA game last week.

But Kiski bounced back with a nonsection win Saturday against Albert Gallatin, 3-1, and tied section stalwart Penn-Trafford, 0-0, in overtime Monday.

“We showed a lot of heart and dedication (against Penn-Trafford),” Cavaliers coach Sean Arnold said. “We knew Penn-Trafford was a good team. We wanted to get a result, a win or a tie, and make a positive step in section after losing to Connellsville. They battled hard for 100 minutes.”

Arnold said at the beginning of the season he hoped his players, the five returning starters, the six new starters and the collection of top reserves, could make a quick progression from individuals, to a group, to a team and then to a family.

Kiski continues section play Tuesday and Saturday with home games against Latrobe and Norwin, respectively.

“The five starters back were good role models for the rest of the team as we got started,” Arnold said. “The new starters knew the system and what we expected. When it was their turn, they were prepared. The experience is starting to show through. They are becoming more of a team and playing well together.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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