New alignment gets mostly positive reviews from Westmoreland County boys soccer coaches
Wednesday, September 14, 2022 | 7:21 PM
WPIAL realignment caused a shake-up in classifications and sections, and boys soccer saw quite a bit of movement in Westmoreland County.
Latrobe and Penn-Trafford moved from 4A to 3A. Greensburg Salem and Belle Vernon went from 3A to 2A, and Jeannette opted to play up a class in 2A.
With the season nearly three weeks old, the teams are adjusting to life in new settings.
“The section change is pretty good from a regional perspective,” Penn-Trafford coach Sotiri Tsourekis said. “All the high schools are geographically close in the east. Many of the players have played with and against each other outside of high school on classic level teams for years, so there is a lot of familiarity amongst the players and the parents.”
The trick for the programs is to get used to the new teams and different bus routes while keeping proper perspective on the changes. A move down doesn’t mean easier; a move up doesn’t have to be harder.
Penn-Trafford and Latrobe were tied for third place at 3-2 in Section 3 at the start of the week.
Jake Rice is in his first season coaching Latrobe, but he thinks the move downward will be beneficial for the Wildcats.
“However, the section we got dealt has been difficult,” Rice said. “Two of the best teams in the WPIAL (Plum and Franklin Regional) and then three other teams that made the playoffs last year (Penn-Trafford, Gateway and Penn Hills) are in with us. So, dealing with five playoff teams in your section, with us trying to also be a playoff team, has been a challenge.”
Rice, a Connellsville graduate who played at Malone in Ohio, is a former assistant with the Connellsville girls and coaches in the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy East.
“So far, I think we have handled it well,” he said, “but will have some big games coming up.”
Belle Vernon started fast by winning its first three games in Section 3-2A — with a young team.
Overachieving at the time of a major change for the program is a positive for coach Al Yeschenko.
“We are inexperienced for the first time in several years and are starting 11 players that have never been a full-year starter in the past,” Yeschenko said. “I am pleased to see contributions by every academic class on our team in varsity matches. We have goals and assists by every level, senior through freshman.”
Greensburg Salem and Jeannette were tied for sixth at 1-3 in Section 2. Jeannette opened with a 6-1 win over the Golden Lions.
Jeannette made the playoffs for the first time in program history last season.
Tsourekis said he coaches with or against many of his section’s coaches in cup season. He is the director of coaching for Allegheny Force Football Club, where Franklin Regional coach Lukas Petersen and Ryan Hankey of Penn Hills are coaches.
“We will miss the challenges and rivalries from our last section but look forward to creating some memorable moments in our new section,” Tsourekis said. “If we stayed in Quad-A, it probably would have been a bit more challenging from game to game, but our new section opponents are well-coached and tenacious and we must be well-prepared and focused this year.”
Penn-Trafford kept a few 4A teams on its schedule, but the Warriors hope to be a regular playoff team in 3A.
“Our current players don’t mind the change,” Tsourekis said. “They have a lot of experience, even though we are young. They just want to compete, have a winning season like last year and make the playoffs regardless of the section.”
Yeschenko said the biggest challenge of dropping to 2A is learning what new teams have and how to play against them.
That, and adjusting to a two-man referee system in 2A. Yeschenko said just about every game in 3A had three officials.
“We have had no idea what to expect from teams in our own section,” he said. “It has been quite an adjustment and a learning curve to adjust to the style of play we have run into this season.
“We have been working to remind the players that we must control what we can control. Good life lessons are coming out of this.”
There are negatives to the new landscape, such as lost rivalries and longer road trips.
“We have also gained some lengthy bus rides and opponents that do not have the numbers for a JV team,” Yeschenko said. “I would like to do everything I can to get our JV players experience. We have great interest at BVA with over 30 players currently on our roster. Coach Jamey Caldwell and I have spoken at length regarding strategies to use a mix of players to gain experience but also keep our starters healthy.
“No matter what section or conference level we compete in, the message and goals remain the same.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
Tags: Belle Vernon, Greensburg Salem, Jeannette, Latrobe, Penn-Trafford
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