Longtime Thomas Jefferson soccer coach earns postseason honors

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Sunday, January 22, 2023 | 11:01 AM


His career coaching stats are indeed impressive.

Michael “Doc” Kulish has been a soccer phenomenon as head coach of the Thomas Jefferson boys program.

He has coached in 636 games and compiled a 417-183-36 record.

That’s a lot of soccer and a lot of wins.

The Jaguars finished 17-3 in 2022, winning the Section 3-3A title with a 13-1 record and advancing to the WPIAL quarterfinals.

Kulish was named coach of the year in the section for the second consecutive season.

He guided TJ to an 11-1-2 record in league play and a 16-2-2 overall record in 2021. The Jaguars also advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals.

“Along with the team winning the section in back-to-back years, it was an honor to be named Section 3 Coach of the Year two consecutive years,” Kulish said. “I always have said any time a coach receives an accolade, it is in large part due to the players on the pitch.

“Once again this year, our players stood up to the task of repeating as section champs and making it to the quarterfinals of the WPIAL playoffs.”

Kulish has been in charge of the boys varsity soccer team at TJ for 30 years. There seems to be no stopping him as TJ’s coach as he continues to grind out victories.

The veteran field boss has been assisted for more than two decades by his son, Michael Kulish III.

“A lot of my success would not have been where it is without my son,” Kulish said. “He has been an assistant varsity and head JV coach the past 21 years. I’d also like to thank my other two assistants, Rob Shoemaker (four years) and Scott Graham (first year).

“And I’d like to congratulate (coach) Sean Richter and the TJ girls team for a successful season, winning their section and making it to the WPIAL quarterfinals. This is the first time in school history that both the boys and girls soccer teams won section championships in the same year.”

Thomas Jefferson’s boys squad was led in 2022 by five all-section players.

At the top of that list was junior forward and captain Anthony Orlando, who accounted for 26 goals and 11 assists and was selected player of the year in the section.

He also was named All-WPIAL and voted as TJ’s offensive player of the year by his teammates.

“There are a lot of talented players in our section and in the WPIAL and to be selected for these achievements is an honor,” Orlando said. “I thought our team had a good season for the most part. We were young last year and we won the section. Throughout the season, our team’s chemistry started to show and we began to become stronger as a team as the season went on.”

The 5-foot-7, 165-pound Orlando began playing soccer at age 3 at the YMCA.

“I love the pace of the game and how the game never stops moving,” he said.

Orlando made a career move by switching to football from seventh grade until his freshman year. He was a wide receiver/cornerback for the Jaguars.

The talented TJ athlete returned to the pitch as a sophomore in 2021, netting 10 goals and seven assists.

“Anthony started to make a name for himself last year as a sophomore when he decided to come back and play soccer after a few years playing football,” Doc Kulish said. “Coming into this year, I knew Anthony was poised for a breakout year. He worked very hard in the offseason to make himself stronger, faster and an all-around better soccer player and team leader.

“He was named captain prior to the season. He became a focal point for opposing teams either by being ‘man marked’ or in some cases double teamed. However, that did not slow him down. Anthony was recognized by other coaches this season, being named Section 3 Player of the Year.”

As would be expected, Orlando, 17, plays the game with an extraordinary dose of confidence.

“I play the 10 (position), which is the attacking midfielder,” he said, “but I’ve also played the striker position. I will be working on improving my shot and my overall speed in the offseason.”

Orlando, who attends Steel Center for carpentry and hopes to continue his soccer career in college, already is eager to get started for next year. The outlook appears to be outstanding for the 2023 team.

“I want to thank my head coach, Doc, for believing in me from the beginning to when I came back to soccer,” Orlando said. “Although the 2023 season is far away, I’m excited and hope to make it farther in the playoffs.

“Our offense will be strong as we will not lose many seniors (to graduation), and the chemistry will be there. We have some spots to fill in the defense, but I know we’ll be able to fill them.”

Coach Kulish echoed his star player’s sentiments.

“I am looking to have another successful season in 2023 led by Anthony and a great core of returning players,” said the veteran field boss.

Two other all-section players at TJ this season were senior captains Andre Bekavac, who received the Senior Excellence Award from the United Coaches Association, and defender Robbie Shoemaker, who was voted as the Jaguars’ defensive player of the year by his teammates. Bekavac, a midfielder, earned All-WPIAL plaudits.

Sophomore forward Jake Shoemaker and junior midfielder Nate Powell also landed all-section honors.

Seven players on the TJ girls soccer team were named all-section: seniors Abby Atkinson (GK), Emma Martinis (F), Jordan Sinclair (D), Olivia Supp (MF) and Bella Vozar (D), junior Natalie Lamenza (F) and sophomore Olivia Della Lucia (MF).

Vozar and Lamenza also received All-WPIAL honors.

The TJ girls finished 13-1 in their section and 17-3 overall.

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