Baldwin boys soccer facing challenges, staying in playoff contention

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Sunday, October 11, 2020 | 11:01 AM


The Baldwin boys soccer team has had its share of issues to contend with the past two years.

Last season, due to the late-summer stadium renovation project, the Highlanders played all of their games in September on the road. Then Baldwin, like all teams, has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The Highlanders clinched a WPIAL playoff berth last year for the first time since 2011. And with nine returning senior starters, Baldwin, after a slow start, is hoping to build off that success.

When healthy, the Highlanders are a formidable opponent. As of Oct. 15, they were 3-3 in Section 2-4A and the race for playoff berths was wide open.

Peters Township was undefeated at 6-0-1, followed by a cluster of teams fighting for second place — Canon-McMillan, Upper St. Clair, Baldwin, Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon.

“So far, the season has been very up and down,” Baldwin coach Dave Zinski said. “We have been hit with injuries and covid precautions, so we have not been able to play an entire game with our full complement of players.

“We’ve played a variety of players that we did not originally expect to play many varsity minutes. We’ve also had to ask kids to step up and play positions they did not typically play. Given these issues, having a 3-3 record in a highly competitive section is a positive for our team.”

The Highlanders’ leading scorers are Joey Moeller, a senior forward who knocked in eight goals in seven games, and Zach Stewart, a senior midfielder. Moeller had a hat trick Oct. 3 in a 3-2 win at home against USC.

“Everyone on the team this year has been playing to their full potential,” said Moeller, a third-year starter. “Although there were small mistakes that led to some losses, we worked through it as a team and learned from those mistakes.

“As we go into the second half of the season, we hope to continue our success. Our confidence is high going into the rest of our season.”

Moeller has a 3.7 GPA and is aiming to score 20 goals this season. Off the field, he is taking classes on a hybrid basis.

“The pandemic limited us from having any preseason,” Moeller said. “We usually would get together for captain’s practices in early summer, but that was not the case this year.

“We’re still learning who our best players are at which positions on the field. We usually find this out in preseason games, which we were not able to have this year.”

Baldwin’s defensive corps is anchored by seniors Tai Guzzi and Joey Kosslow in front of senior goalkeeper Michael Sabo.

“We consider Michael to be one of the best goalies in the section,” Zinski said. “Kurt Schemm also is a strong presence on defense (but) has been missing due to an injury sustained in the first game of the season.

“We are a senior-laden team with nine senior starters, when healthy. We are starting to get healthy … so we have high expectations for our remaining section games.”

Baldwin’s regular lineup typically has included Moeller, seniors Ricky Bandola and Bibas Rai and junior Niraj Thapa at forward; Stewart, senior John Mainarich, junior Cole Thomas and freshmen Connor Brenneman and Collin Belan at midfield; with Guzzi, Kosslow, Schemm, senior Anthony Williams, junior Josh Vargo and freshman Jake Kunzman on defense.

The Highlanders have been dealing with covid-19 related issues daily since the preseason.

“The pandemic took most of our offseason away, which hurts at a school like Baldwin,” Zinski said. “Many of our student-athletes do not play cup soccer or do offseason training with other teams, so we rely a lot on the offseason to improve. That was probably the biggest impact of covid on our team.

“Outside the offseason, everyone has been going through the same protocols and dealing with the same things on a day-to-day basis. A few of the other teams at Baldwin have had covid-related problems that has brought a heightened sense of concern and awareness, which has resulted in us taking extra precautions.”

Moeller, Schemm and Guzzi are team captains. Moeller and Schemm also were captains a year ago.

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