Pine-Richland boys soccer looks to build with experienced lineup

Sunday, August 29, 2021 | 11:01 AM

When Jordan Wiegand took the Pine-Richland boys soccer coaching job in 2019 he came to a program that had graduated 16 seniors who were major contributors since their sophomore season.

Wiegand knew it would be a process to build the team back up into a playoff contender, but it was a challenge he welcomed.

Entering his third year with the Rams, that process is still ongoing, but with seven returning starters there is a good base to rely upon in the quest to get back to the postseason.

“We’re finally getting to a point where we have some experience returning,” Wiegand said.

“It’s spread out throughout each grade, but it’s the most experienced players we’ve had in my stint at Pine-Richland.”

The Rams have at least one starter back in each third of the field.

That includes the three team captains: Midfielders Zach Palko and Cale Klaff and center back Ben Rishel.

Palko is a senior, while Klaff and Rishel are both juniors. Rishel missed all of last season because of injury, but is back healthy and ready to go.

All three bring a unique element of leadership.

“Zach contributed at the varsity level in some capacity since his freshman year,” Wiegand said.

“He’s a great talent and he’s willing to go anywhere you need him. He’ll succeed in any position you put him in, so it’s nice to have someone that versatile. On top of that, especially this past year, he’s shown his true colors as a leader and the younger guys look up to him.

“Cale and Ben were captains last year as sophomores. They earned that distinction. They really helped our team jell. Cale is a selfless player. He usually plays in the midfield, but we asked him to move back with all the injuries last year and he did well at center back. He’s more of a quiet leader. There’s a nice balance of leadership between all three of them.”

Other returning starters include forward Colin Zvejnieks, outside backs Justin Bang and Thomas Cornelius and keeper Evan Dougal.

Zvejnieks, a junior, found his rhythm as a goal scorer last year playing alongside Will Sangpachatanaruk, who graduated, and will be counted upon as the team’s striker.

“We have some guys that can score goals. Colin has helped contribute as a freshman all the way through until now,” Wiegand said. “At this point he has a little bit more size to him and has good pace. He definitely can score some goals. We saw him do that last year for us. My expectation is that the juniors and seniors should break away from the rest and start to dominate on the field. He’s definitely one to watch.”

Freshman Ben McLean and senior Mason Wells have shown early signs in training that they could see significant minutes as the coaching staff works to craft the starting 11.

Pine-Richland is in Section 1-4A with Butler, Fox Chapel, North Allegheny, North Hills, Shaler and Seneca Valley. The Rams placed fifth in section play last year and are hopeful that they can get one spot or more better in 2021.

“We’re gaining inch by inch back to it, but it takes some time and it’s a process,” Wiegand said.

“We’re excited about the challenge in front of us to crack that top four spot. During the regular season, even going back to my days at North Catholic and Deer Lakes, I always put the goal at making playoffs and adjusted them accordingly from there.

Until we break that top four here that is going to be our goal. Once we make it in then we can reevaluate and make new goals.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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