Belle Vernon boys soccer focusing on defense first

Thursday, August 15, 2019 | 3:23 PM

Belle Vernon’s boys soccer team graduated only five starters from a year ago, but two of them accounted for most of the Leopards’ offense.

Markello Apodiakos led the team with 27 goals and rewrote most of the program’s scoring records before departing for Duquesne. Aaron Brown (14 goals, 15 assists) is gone, too.

Until Belle Vernon can find some players to replace that production, the team plans on focusing on the defensive end.

“Our defensive shape is getting really good. Our offense is going to be mostly counterattacks,” Belle Vernon senior Niko Apodiakos said. “Already, I can see we’re passing the ball and moving the ball a lot. Our chemistry is coming along.”

Added head coach Rob Miele, “Right now, we’re focusing more on the defensive aspect of things. We’ll probably play a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 formation, depending on the matchup. We have a really young team, and I think the 4-5-1 lends itself to more defensive responsibilities. That can transform into a 4-3-3 if we need it to.”

Up top, the Leopards will turn to Niko Apodiakos and Daniel Sassak, who had eight goals last year, to lead the way.

“Daniel Sassak will be huge for us this year,” Niko Apodiakos said. “He will be one of our top goal scorers.”

Maverick Selvoski returns to anchor the team’s midfield. Hunter Meade, Tyler Kovatch, Daniel Gordon, Dylan Timko, Nathaniel Kikel and Aiden Keller will see time in the midfield or on the attack.

“A lot of the guys in those spots all bring something different,” Miele said. “There will be flexibility, depending on who we are playing.”

On defense, Austin Martin and Tyler Mocello bring experience at center back. Preston Hunt, Sam Desai, Dimitri Apodiakos and Logan Kolodychak will see time at outside back. Goalkeeper T.J.Watson returns.

“We’ll rely heavily on him. As a sophomore, he had to make the saves he was expected to make. We were an older team and stronger, though. This year, being a younger team, we need him to do that and more in certain games,” Miele said. “I think his maturation and growth this offseason has been really good. I am excited to see him take that next step in his development this fall.”

Miele has been impressed with the team’s chemistry.

“I would say this team is the closest we’ve been as a group. I don’t know how much that translates into wins and losses. I think this group will play for each other when we get in tough situations,” he said. “They have been sponges and are soaking up everything we put at them. I am excited to see what these younger guys do. They’ll be thrown into the fire right away. It’ll be exciting to see what these guys can do on a field against players other than their teammates.”

The Leopards finished tied for second in Section 3-3A at 8-3-1. They finished the year 12-6-1 with a 1-0 shootout loss to Kiski Area in the first round of the WPIAL tournament. They hope to get back to the postseason this year.

“Other teams in our section lost some good players, too, but it’s still going to be a battle,” Niko Apodiakos said. “We lost a lot of guys, and we only have two seniors. We’ll see what we can do. I am ready for the games to begin.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.


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