Belle Vernon soccer emerges as WPIAL contender ahead of schedule

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019 | 6:57 PM


A team this young is not supposed to be this good, this soon. Its best years should lie ahead.

Tell that to the Belle Vernon soccer team.

The Leopards start six sophomores. Of the 29 players on the roster, 22 are underclassmen.

Yet here are the Leopards, off to their best start in program history, sitting pretty at 8-0 heading into Wednesday’s game at Albert Gallatin, and ranked No. 4 in WPIAL Class 3A.

“We’re getting contributions from everyone, whether it be in a game or just at practice pushing another guy,” coach Rob Miele said. “I think that has really helped us jell quickly through the first part of the season.”

Belle Vernon has scored 34 goals and allowed nine, posting a trio of shutouts and winning a pair of one-goal games, 2-1 over Ringgold and 3-2 against Elizabeth Forward.

Sophomore forward Daniel Sassak leads the team with 15 goals, while senior midfielder Niko Apodiakos has 10 goals and five assists.

“Our team is playing so well together because we have a ‘we’ instead of ‘me’ mentality,” Apodiakos said. “It has been working for us thus far. Also we have been fighting and competing every game like it is our last game we will play. “We’re young and we’ve got a lot of players who want to grow and become better every game.”

Each game, the Leopards have produced an early goal to give their defenders something with which to work.

Offense has gone hand-in-glove with defense as the young group continues to mold and nurture its chemistry — while increasing its down-the-bench depth.

The Leopards are already off to a benchmark start to the season, dusting the 2002 squad that went 5-0 before its first loss. But don’t expect the team to assume a the-rest-is-gravy school of thought as the season moves ahead.

The Leopards want early season momentum to carry them a long way.

Youth can be an excuse for some teams, the ones lamenting, “We’re a year or two away.” At Belle Vernon, youth is a reason why the team is succeeding.

“I can’t say that I expected us to be 8-0 at this point,” Miele said. “We had a lot of question marks coming into this season with a lot of inexperience. I don’t put a lot of stock into predictions because there are so many variables when you are talking about high school athletics, but I couldn’t be more proud of what these guys have done to this point.

“As this team matures and we get deeper into the season, the focus turns to how we finish and when we hit that peak level as we inch closer to late October soccer.”

When Miele says this run has been a group effort, he means it.

“We are getting significant contributions from a lot of different guys,” Miele said. “The stats may not indicate that, but I see it every day I am around these guys. We aren’t a team built on just one player and their attitude and their selflessness has been a tremendous part of that. All 29 players are impacting the results.”

Miele said senior Maverick Selvoski has played an important role as a ball-winning midfielder, while junior Austin Martin and sophomore Tyler Mocello have been mainstays on defense in front of junior goalkeeper T.J. Watson.

Apodiakos and Selvoski are the only seniors on the roster.

“T.J. has played lights out to this point,” Miele said. “He has made numerous saves that have been huge turning points in games for us.”

As for the six-pack of 10th graders helping to make the assembly line run, Miele said they have been solid despite very little playing time last season.

“They’ve done a tremendous job getting acclimated to the varsity game,” Miele said. “But overall our team’s ability to play as a unit and back each other and be a real team is something I’m not sure can be calculated.”

Apodiakos said the Leopards’ strengths are counter attacks and finishing corner kicks.

“Also, our defense has been the best it’s ever been since I’ve been playing high school soccer,” he said.

And that’s a long time compared to the playing careers of many of his teammates.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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