Leechburg boys soccer making major strides in program’s 2nd year

Tuesday, October 13, 2020 | 5:50 PM

In the program’s second year, the Leechburg boys soccer team has put itself in position to make its first playoff appearance.

That’s a rapid rise for a program coach Brad Walker started from scratch in 2019.

After forming a co-op agreement with Apollo-Ridge, the Blue Devils were thrust into a section that included the most recent PIAA Class 2A runner-up in Deer Lakes and the two-time defending WPIAL champions in Shady Side Academy.

The Blue Devils’ first season ended with an overall record of 6-11-1, 3-10-1 in section, along with a goal differential of minus-60. It wasn’t the greatest outcome, but it was followed by an offseason that helped the Blue Devils grow as a team.

“Up until covid, we were playing in winter leagues, futsal leagues and then we got shut down, but that really helped us,” Walker said. “We really competed hard over the winter and ever since we could get back outside, every single kid on this team, besides one kid who came late, was there. So that just helped us come together as a team. We are a co-op, and you’d never know it because these kids are like best friends.”

Through 10 games, the Blue Devils have an overall record of 6-4, 4-4 in section. They are also on the verge of a playoff appearance as they sit in fourth place in Section 2-2A. Their only losses have come against the three teams above them: Shady Side Academy, Deer Lakes and Burrell.

Their goal differential is also plus-19 this season. Other than a 1-0 win over West Shamokin on Sept. 26, every one of Leechburg’s victories has come by four goals or more.

“I don’t want to say we are exceeding expectations, but I think we are matching them,” Walker said. “With how top-heavy our conference is, we expected to compete in every game — and we do want an upset in there — but we expect to win our nonconference games and we expect to beat the lower-echelon teams of our section. So as of right now, it’s been exactly how we’ve planned it.”

Leechburg’s prolific offense has started with forward Gavin Cole. The Apollo-Ridge junior who didn’t play last season has scored a team-high 13 goals and has scored three or more goals on three occasions.

Walker said having Cole play alongside returning players like sophomores Ashton Redmond and Jake Mull provides the Blue Devils with even more opportunities offensively.

“He draws a lot of attention and he frees up other kids, which is big for us,” Walker said. “Now, rather than Ashton getting all of the attention, Gavin is drawing some too, and it just opens up everything and there’s more space created.”

Leechburg has also improved defensively as Jake Schuffert has played a solid sweeper position and sophomore goalkeeper Owen McDermott has recorded six clean sheets.

With all the improvement that the Blue Devils have made, and their first playoff appearance on the horizon, they are hoping to make some noise in the playoffs.

“We have the tools,” Walker said, “so depending on the draw, I really think we have a chance.”

This shouldn’t be a one-off season for the Blue Devils either. Walker only has one senior on his roster and starts six sophomores to go around a few key juniors.

The Blue Devils are excited for what the future holds.

“We should be a perennial playoff team for three years in a row and anything less would be a disgrace,” Walker said. “I want to contend for the section championship the next two years. But after those two years, we are thin and we need some new bodies. So hopefully this playoff experience, winning and having fun draws more kids. That’s the plan.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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