Penn Hills boys soccer ready to build on 1st playoff appearance in 17 years

Saturday, August 13, 2022 | 1:39 PM

Finishing last season on a strong note has had a lasting impact on the Penn Hills boys soccer team.

Energized by their first WPIAL playoff appearance in 17 years, the Indians’ players spent the offseason participating in several tournaments to build up more experience.

About a month ago, Penn Hills played in a tournament in Somerset. Indians coach Ryan Hankey was pleased they were able to get competition against teams that have competed for spots in the state playoffs. The Indians won the tournament 3-0 by beating Somerset. Penn Hills, which will open the season Aug. 30 against Gateway at Linton Middle School, went 5-0-1 at the tournament.

“This is the year that I’ve been waiting for,” Hankey said. “Not to get our hopes up, but we only lost three seniors from last year. A lot of these kids who are starting this year have been playing since they were freshmen or sophomores.”

Alinur Zhamaldinov, Lenny Duncan and Mack Byrnes all scored for Penn Hills against Somerset during the summer tournament. All will be major contributors for the Indians this season. Zhamaldinov led Penn Hills with 14 goals last season.

Playing those tournaments in the winter and summer helped the Indians build cohesion.

“We wanted to keep the kids competitive and playing competitive soccer,” Hankey said. “We wanted to get used to different scenarios and constantly play together from goalie to defense and midfield to forward. They are used to tactics and formations we run. They know the game plan.”

The Indians finished last season 9-10 overall with a 7-7 record in section. Penn Hills lost to Hampton, 8-0, in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

The Indians are returning all-section honorees. Goaltender Landon Hankey was chosen for the first team, while Owen Williams was named honorable mention.

Jeremy Safran, Alex Monteque and Travis Korotko will also be counted on to contribute. Penn Hills has 27 players out for the team this year and will see some new foes in section.

The Indians were put in a section with Franklin Regional, Gateway, Latrobe, McKeesport, Obama Academy, Penn-Trafford and Plum.

What will be important for this group to get back to the playoffs will be avoiding pitfalls at the beginning of the season.

“We didn’t get off to a good start last year, but we ended strong,” Ryan Hankey said. “We were 2-7 in our first nine games, then won seven of our last nine. Every game is going to be a fight. This section is going to be hard and competitive.”

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