New Deer Lakes soccer coach Aaron Smith steps in to ‘higher-end program’

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Thursday, July 15, 2021 | 4:36 PM


Aaron Smith spent the past 11 years on the sidelines for the Valley girls soccer team.

The most recent six were as the Vikings’ head coach.

But change was in the air for the veteran mentor. Now, as the new Deer Lakes boys varsity head coach, Smith is ready to help keep up the program’s recent run of success both in the WPIAL and beyond.

“It was really tough leaving the (Valley) girls,” Smith said.

“I had been with them for 11 years and built some lasting connections. I hope the best for them. But I felt this was a move to something new I really wanted to make.”

Dan Yates, who helped guide the Lancers to the WPIAL Class 2A title and the PIAA championship game last fall under the specter of covid uncertainties and a WPIAL title-game appearance in 2019, stepped down as Lancers coach in late March to serve as a college assistant in the men’s program at Robert Morris.

In two seasons with Yates, Deer Lakes went a combined 34-8.

Graduate Michael Sullivan, a Pitt recruit, was named the Valley News Dispatch Player of the Year for 2020, and fellow grads Devin Murray, Colton Spence and Ryan Rodgers were selected to the VND all-star team.

Smith said he started paying attention to the team from afar during the 2018 march to the PIAA title game, and he recognized the high level of talent in place.

When Yates announced he was moving on from the Lancers, Smith’s interest in the vacancy was piqued.

Smith was hired last month, and he first met with the team members three weeks ago.

First impressions, he said, were exciting.

“You could tell right away they were invested,” Smith said. “What they did last year and the last few years was phenomenal. You could tell that they wanted to get to work and get this going.”

Despite losing a number of the all-star players from the lineup, Smith sees the pieces in place and other pieces beginning to fall into place to make a case for another WPIAL run in 2021.

“I showed up to the first workout about 15 minutes early, and they were already here, which was great,” said Smith, who will walk the sidelines this fall with assistant Cameron Rotto, a 2007 Burrell graduate and member of the back-to-back Bucs section title teams in 2005 and 2006.

“I am walking in new to a higher-end program, and there were some nerves. But they were here knocking the ball around and were ready to work.”

Smith said in the early going, the focus is on some basics and fundamentals to see each player’s ability. When the mandatory practices start in a couple of weeks, he said, that is when the talk of tactics and specific strategies will begin.

“We had an individual and team goals session, and individually, they all want to get stronger,” Smith said.

“As far as the team, the goals are the same. They have the confidence to where they can remain on that path to the championship game they have had the past couple of seasons.”

Rising juniors Ryan Hanes, Ruger Beer, Mason Metzler, Michael Butler, Nate Litrun and Nick Braun (GK) all started last season. Braun earned VND all-star recognition.

“There is just so much excitement for this team,” Butler said. “There are a lot of changes coming, but I think everyone is up for it. There is a lot of commitment in this team. We have a lot of potential to be good again, and it all starts with these workouts and getting up to speed with (coach Smith).”

Deer Lakes will do battle this fall in Section 2-2A with Burrell, Derry, Leechburg, Ligonier Valley, Shady Side Academy and Valley.

The Lancers and Shady Side Academy engaged in a high-stakes trilogy of games last year. Deer Lakes lost the first section meeting, 2-1, but rebounded to top SSA, 2-0, in the rematch en route to an 11-1 regular season record.

The teams met for the WPIAL title, and Deer Lakes outlasted its section rival on penalty kicks.

“Coach Yates was a great coach for us, and we wish him all the best at Robert Morris,” Braun said.

“But we have a really good coach now, too. It’s a fresh set of ideas, and we’re ready to adapt and work as a team.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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