Pine-Richland boys soccer team misses playoffs but makes major strides

Sunday, October 31, 2021 | 11:01 AM

As his third season as the Pine-Richland boys soccer coach wrapped up, Jordan Wiegand could sense his players fully bought into the family-like culture he’s been trying to build.

It’s taken some time to get there, but there’s trust, belief and brotherhood within the Rams. Even though they fell short of their ultimate goal of making the playoffs, the development of the culture could be the final step they needed to take to break in next season.

“This group was just genuine with each other,” Wiegand said. “They really got along, but they also pushed each other. They embraced that type of family atmosphere and dynamic that we’ve been trying to instill into the program. At a bigger program like Pine-Richland, that can take some time. There are a lot more bodies and a lot of different minds, but this year I can truly say we found that common ground and we were all fighting towards the same thing. Everyone was a team player throughout the process.”

What the Rams were fighting towards was trying to break into a group of juggernauts at the top of Section 1-4A. All four teams that qualified — Seneca Valley, Fox Chapel, North Allegheny and Butler — advanced to the quarterfinals. Seneca Valley is the top seed and defending WPIAL and PIAA champs.

Aside from 5-0 and 7-0 losses to the Raiders and a 4-0 loss to Fox Chapel, the Rams were within two goals of their other four section losses. They finished 6-9-2 overall and 5-7 in fifth place in the section.

Only four seniors were in the starting lineup, so it was a good experience for younger players to play so many close matches against perennial WPIAL contenders.

“I’d categorize the season as an improvement, specifically if we want to compare from year to year,” Wiegand said. “The boys definitely developed and found a different sense of purpose in playing the game. They now understand what a high-level, high-intensity match feels like. It was evident in the tight games that we had.”

The Rams return leading scorer Colin Zvejnieks as well as co-captains Caleb Klaff and Ben Rishel. Each one plays in a different third of the field with Zvejnieks at forward, Klaff at center midfield and Rishel at center back, giving the Rams a strong base up the middle to start next season.

Senior captain Zach Palko, a center midfielder, outside backs Justin Bang and Thomas Cornelius and goalkeeper Evan Dougal are the four senior starters that graduated. Other seniors on the team included Robert Helmsen, Jack Mauer, Mason Wells, Brendan Guise and Josh Katruska.

Wiegand credited all of his seniors with helping complete the culture shift.

A good example of the Rams’ maturity was their final section game against Fox Chapel. The team learned prior to the match that they were eliminated from playoff contention and with nothing of material to play for, they still went out and put a scare into the second-place team in the section.

The Rams led 1-0 in the second half, but Fox Chapel rallied late for a 2-1 victory.

“Our goal was to break into the playoffs and we got down to the last section game before we were mathematically eliminated, which was tough for us, but we still went out and gave Fox Chapel a match,” Wiegand said.

“That speaks volumes for how we fought. We led most of that match and a penalty that went to Fox Chapel in the final minute of the match is what decided it. Overall, I’m proud of the guys and I’m looking forward to next season already.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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