Belle Vernon’s Sassak igniting boys soccer team

Sunday, September 26, 2021 | 5:43 PM

In the fall, Daniel Sassak likes to add some noise and school spirit to the Belle Vernon student section at football, girls soccer and girls volleyball games.

The rest of the time, the senior gives that same student section something to cheer about at boys soccer games.

Like that memorable game against Trinity earlier this season when he scored the winner in a 2-1 game that lasted long into a Saturday night at James Weir Stadium.

His thrilling score was like the turf: golden.

“There was a corner kick, far ball to the back post,” Sassak said. “I got it to the top 18 and settled, I (nut)megged the kid and hit the shot and watched it go bar down. I ran to the sideline and celebrated with the student section.

“It was one of the top three I ever scored.”

A starter since his freshman season, Sassak has developed into a formidable threat from the midfield or the top of the formation. The gifted scorer, who has 11 goals this season and 81 for his career, will go down as one of the program’s best.

He is on the high school All-American watch list and is a nominee for a national all-star game.

“I live near him, and I can see the goal in his backyard,” Belle Vernon coach Al Yeschenko said. “I have two freshmen boys, so I started following Daniel from middle school to high school. The thing about him is that I don’t think he has reached his peak yet.”

Yeschenko was an assistant last year before taking over after the resignation of Rob Miele. He knew he was inheriting Sassak, the centerpiece of another talented team.

“He is just a really quality kid to coach,” Yeschenko said. “He is soft spoken and so polite to the staff and wants to learn. You don’t see some of the bigger goal scorers act like that.”

Sassak, who has multiple two-goal games and a hat trick this year, had eight scores as a freshman, 29 as a sophomore and 33 as a junior.

Markello Apodiakos, now at Duquesne, has the school record for career goals with 89.

“Markello was someone I looked up to,” Sassak said.

“He was all-state his junior year, which was my freshmen year. I want to do what he did.”

That, with a caveat: “I want to be the school’s first 100-goal scorer,” Sassak said.

Belle Vernon, which has nine seniors, started 7-0 before a 3-0 loss to Elizabeth Forward in nonsection play. The No. 5-ranked Leopards were 5-0 and leading Section 3-3A before they fell to Thomas Jefferson, 3-0, last Thursday.

They had only yielded four goals before the shutouts against Elizabeth Forward.

“I want to lead our guys, even if they’re in my same class,” Sassak said. “I want them to take after me a little bit.”

After a quarantined 2020 and touch-and-go soccer season that followed, Sassak said he is glad to be back in the classroom.

He doesn’t miss the remote learning.

“It’s great to be back and to see everyone again,” he said. “I enjoy school. Most of my friends are in the beginning of the alphabet so it was a rough year.”

Yeschenko said the winner against Trinity was the gem of the bunch in terms of goals for Sassak.

“We saw how the game was going, so we wanted to work him into 10-minute shifts,” Yeschenko said. “We rested him so he would be ready later in the game.”

The charged-up battery lit up the scoreboard and the crowd.

“You could see on his face that was a special moment for him,” Yeschenko said.

Sassak also is glad the Leopards have a clean slate after a gut-wrenching, 2-1 loss to Indiana in the WPIAL Class 3A first round. Another playoff run is high on his priority list.

“I want the boys to be happy again,” he said. “This is the last year we have. There is no more season if we lose (in the playoffs). No more, ‘one more game.’ ”

One thing Yeschenko said Sassak has become proficient at is drawing a crowd of defenders, which has allowed teammates to find scoring opportunities.

Through eight games, the Leopards had 12 players score goals.

“Say,” as they call him, began playing soccer when he was 10. His uncle, Jimmy O’Toole, and O’Toole’s sons, Ryan and Matt, are from Germany, where the game is all the craze. They now live in York.

Another family connection keeps Sassak motivated. His grandfather, Albert “Sonny” Forgas, died in 2016 after a six-month battle with ALS.

“He was always at my games,” Sassak said.

Surprisingly, Sassak does not have colleges lining up to land him. While boys soccer players often commit later in their senior seasons, Sassak only has Division III interest, including from Pitt-Greensburg.

Sassak has been playing cup soccer for Century, but the team broke up. The team made the national semifinals in the spring.

The word “dynamic” has been used to describe Sassak, like another Belle Vernon senior two-sport star in Devin Whitlock.

If the soccer team has a Whitlock-like player, it’s Sassak.

“Devin is just amazing to watch,” Sassak said. “Some things he does, it just blows your mind. He makes guys look silly.”

When he isn’t playing the game, Sassak is sharpening his fundamentals as a youth soccer referee.

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


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