Derry boys, girls soccer squads combine forces

Friday, August 23, 2019 | 9:23 PM

It definitely is a rebuilding season — in more ways than one — for the Derry boys soccer program.

First-year coach Austin Main has a new group of players to work with as there were 12 seniors on last year’s squad with many filling integral positions.

But last week, the rebuilding process reached another level.

The new group of athletes that will be incorporated includes players from the girls team. The girls will not field a squad because there were not enough players.

“I am hoping that everything will mesh well, but we will be playing a varsity boys schedule and the team will have to be adjusted accordingly,” Main said. “I am very blessed to take over the position as head coach.”

A total of 12 candidates came out for the girls team in the preseason. Tawni Lynch is in her third season as girls coach. Lynch and Main were four-year soccer players for the Trojans.

They are sharing coaching duties at Derry this season.

“I believe the merger is a positive thing for the girls soccer program,” Lynch said. “As you know, taking injuries and other school activities into consideration, 12 is not a comfortable number for a full-field soccer team.

“This (merger) will give those who are serious about soccer a chance to participate. I would much rather see the programs merge than fold altogether. As I’ve told my girls, this is not a death sentence. A merger is a temporary two-year agreement with the WPIAL, from my understanding, so there is hope of a girls soccer team in the future.

“I see the merger as a positive thing for the boys program, as well. We will be able to combine the best athletes from both teams into one strong team.”

Lynch, a 2010 graduate, has hopes a girls team will re-emerge at Derry in the near future.

“I hope to keep girls soccer going for the Derry area,” she said. “I have plans to have an indoor team in the fall, and I coach or manage several competitive traveling teams during the spring and summer that I plan to open to my high school girls.”

Olexei Nuttall is a senior midfielder and defender. She was a two-year captain and fourth-year varsity player for the girls team. And she is a three-year letterwinner in both soccer and basketball.

“I’m all in and committed,” Nuttall said. “I expect myself and the other girls to work five times harder. My expectations are steep for the season for both the guys and girls.”

Nuttall, who plans to continue her career at Pitt-Greensburg and major in pre-med or biology, was a driving force in attempting to reel in players into the girls soccer program.

“I started the recruiting process back in June,” she said. “I had Derry Middle School’s soccer coach, Elizabeth Brownlee, help me throughout the process until the last minute. We browsed through yearbooks, and we used social media including Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter. Myself, Elizabeth and the soccer boosters arranged a pizza social to recruit more girls.

“I’m thankful for the girls, the former players, and the community for sharing my social media posts,” Nuttall said. “It was a long, all-summer process to recruit potential players. I would like to thank everyone who supported and helped me throughout the way. I have no doubt coach Lynch and coach Main are directing our team forward into the 2019 season. I’m glad to be a part of this new family.”

Derry athletic director Brett Miller applauded the efforts of Lynch and Nuttall.

“Prior to the start of the season, our head coach and Olexei Nuttall worked very hard to recruit girls into the program,” Miller said. “At one point we had 16 registered as a result of their efforts, but several girls quit at the beginning of camp. Moving forward, we are considering many options to rebuild the program by partnering with our youth sports programs. Our goal is to rebuild the girls soccer program into a respectable program next season. We are fortunate to have great parents and students that are being supportive of moving this program forward in a positive direction.

“We have approximately 279 female students in grades 9 to 12. Our district provides seven athletic extracurriculars plus marching band, color guard and majorettes. If we have 100 percent participation from our girls, that is about 28 girls per program. Typically, our athletic program operates at 30 to 40 percent participation by the student body. Our district enrollment has trickled down over time, making it more difficult to field teams for all the programs we offer. In July, we learned that we may face a challenge with participation in our (girls) soccer program.”

Main, a 2016 Derry graduate, was an assistant coach with the Trojans last season, so he is familiar with the players.

“I have high hopes with this year’s team,” Main said. “We are a young team, so I am hoping that the seniors we have will step up and lead the team.”

Four of the Scotties “team leaders” include seniors Austin Siko (D), Damian Morales and Anthony Ditonto, as well as junior (attacking) midfielder Chance White, who also may serve as goalkeeper this season.

“These four seem to be taking it upon themselves to bring the team up as much as possible,” Main said. “Positions are going to vary this year. We are adjusting almost everything compared to last year.

“I really am trying to be competitive with the bigger schools. We have to work hard to be able to last 80 minutes. My main focus is to try and show these students that when you work together as a unit we can make things happen.”

Along with Nuttall, some girls who have committed to joining the boys team are senior Bethany Allen (striker), and juniors Emily Bolish (midfielder), Abbie Bolen (striker/goalkeeper) and Faith Heckathorne (striker).

Morales, 18, is the oldest player on the boys squad. He is a four-year starter. He primarily is an attacking midfielder but has played other positions ranging from striker to defensive midfield to winger.

“I think the addition of the girls is huge for us because it’ll allow us to potentially make a JV team,” Morales said, “which will allow the younger and more inexperienced players get more playing time.

“Derry has never made a big impact in soccer, especially in recent years. However, since it is my last year and I am the oldest player on the team, I want to help (us) achieve great things this season and lead by example to the younger players. I want this to be the year of the underdog.”

Ditonto is a three-year letterman who manned the center back position for the Trojans last year. He also has seen action at midfield.

“We are by far the underdogs this year,” Ditonto said, “but we’re a different team than in the last few years. We might not have as much talent with so many young guys, but we have the chemistry. We hope to make this a year to remember.”

With the merger in place, it undoubtedly already is.


More High School Soccer Boys

Division I players from A-K Valley come together for high-level summer soccer
Fox Chapel junior signs with Riverhounds
Norwin soccer standout Owen Christopher makes dream come true with Pitt commitment
Championship WPIAL soccer coach to follow father into A-K Valley Sports Hall of Fame
Nick White approved as Franklin Regional boys soccer coach