Pine-Richland boys soccer has pieces in place to end playoff drought

Sunday, August 28, 2022 | 9:01 AM

The Pine-Richland boys soccer team has the right ingredients for a promising fall.

The Rams are experienced with eight returning starters and have depth in every part of the field.

Coach Jordan Wiegand is entering his fourth year working with the team, so there’s familiarity with the system.

With all of that experience and familiarity, there’s a burning desire within the group to break through and end the Rams’ three-year playoff drought.

“If you’d ask any guy on the team what the goal is, they’d tell you it’s playoffs,” Wiegand said. “Anything can happen once you get in there, as I’ve experienced with other teams that I’ve had. With this group, that is the No. 1 goal. Until we do it, you can’t make any goals for anything else. That is definitely our expectation and something we’re always working toward.”

Pine-Richland fell just short of making the postseason last year, finishing fifth in Section 1-4A at 6-9-2 overall.

Leading scorer Colin Zvejnieks returns at forward. Sam Engel and Ethan Wygant are the wings. Cale Klaff, Nathan Bang and Ben Rishel patrol the midfield. Tyler Fritz is a returning center back and Tyler Derks is back at right back.

Those eight provide stability in each third of the lineup.

“We have guys that understand the pace of play at the varsity level,” Wiegand said. “That’s huge for transitioning into this year. This is my fourth season, so these guys have only known me as their coach. It’s kind of nice that everyone is aligned with the same expectations and standards that we’re trying to uphold at Pine-Richland.”

Zvejnieks, Rishel and Klaff are the team captains. Rishel and Klaff were captains last year.

“All three of them have been contributing pretty heavily since their freshman year,” Wiegand said. “It’s nice to see the progression they’ve made over the years. I look back and cannot believe they are almost ready to graduate.”

Pine-Richland was set to open the season Saturday by hosting its annual JRK Tournament. The Rams were scheduled to play Franklin Regional on Saturday and Penn-Trafford on Sunday. Other teams scheduled to attend the tournament were North Allegheny, Moon and Winchester Thurston.

If the Rams are going to break into the postseason, they’ll have to successfully navigate an extremely difficult Section 1-4A. With Class 4A dropping from 21 to 16 teams, there will be two sections instead of three, with four teams from each section qualifying for the postseason.

The Rams are in a section with two-time defending WPIAL champ Seneca Valley as well as perennial playoff teams Butler, Central Catholic, Fox Chapel and North Allegheny. Shaler and North Hills are also in the section.

“Our section is riddled with talent everywhere,” Wiegand said. “From the top to the bottom in our section, you always know no matter who the opponent is, they are going to give you a match. That’s the fun part about our section and the stressful part.

“Each year, we try to use our own game style for what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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