Loaded lineup makes Shady Side Academy the team to beat in WPIAL Class 2A soccer

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Saturday, September 18, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Although Shady Side Academy fell short in last year’s WPIAL Class 2A boys soccer title game against Deer Lakes, the Bulldogs are loaded and ready for a return run.

Shady Side lost to Deer Lakes, 2-1, with the Lancers winning on penalty kicks, 3-2.

Ordinarily, a WPIAL runner-up finish would put Shady Side in the PIAA tournament, but a reduced bracket caused by the coronavirus pandemic ended the season at 14-3 overall and only Deer Lakes moved on.

But the Bulldogs are back, and with only Gunnar Pipitone and the goalkeeping duo of Zach Conti and Bruce David graduating, optimism prevails.

“We bring back so many players that continuity is a big thing,” said Shady Side coach Ed Ellsworth. “We can hit the ground running, and that’s huge for our progression.”

And hit the ground running they did, with a season-opening 11-1 rout over Derry.

Shady Side began the season atop the Trib HSSN Class 2A rankings.

Back in the Navy blue and gold is senior Sam Farner, one of the WPIAL’s top players who has committed to Liberty University.

Big things are also expected from fellow senior midfielder Joey Anania.

Defenders Owen Martens and Eli Naughton are also back for their senior seasons along with sophomore midfielders Koven Johnson and Drew McKim.

Said Ellsworth: “McKim got a penalty kick in the finals for us last year as a freshman. That epic game and others sure gives us a lot of playoff experience.”

Alternating two sterling goalkeepers worked for Shady Side last season, so there might be more of the same this year with junior Parker Mendham and senior Will Badeer.

“The team has confidence in them, and they both have a great work ethic,” Ellsworth said.

The Bulldogs have made the WPIAL playoffs each of the last 10 seasons and have appeared in four WPIAL title games in the last five seasons. Shady Side won it all in 2017 and ‘18, both under Ellsworth, a former soccer player at Pine-Richland and LaRoche University.

According to Ellsworth, the secret to the school’s outstanding soccer success over the years is summed up in three words: commitment to excellence.

And it starts at the top.

“I hold myself to a high standard of championship soccer,” Ellsworth said. “The players are driven to live up to the results of previous teams, and we’re always prepared.”

Even with the No. 1 ranking to start the season, the Bulldogs are taking nothing for granted.

“We have a super rivalry with Deer Lakes the past few seasons,” Ellsworth said. “We believe they are the champs until they are beaten, same if we were the champs. We have to get through our section first and foremost before we start worrying about the Quaker Valleys and the South Parks.”

Ellsworth also believes section foes Burrell and Leechburg are up-and-coming programs.

Assistant coaches this year will again be Nate Verbanets, Jerry Hare and junior varsity coach Devon Renock. Joe Palmer also joins the staff this season.

Another key matchup is the Oct. 9 game against The Kiski School, as part of Shady Side’s homecoming weekend, where a number of sporting events occur simultaneously.

The Bulldogs and Cougars go back to the days when both were members of the Interstate Prep League.

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