Playoff-bound Jeannette boys soccer setting new standards for program

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Saturday, October 9, 2021 | 5:02 PM


When Art Cicero was offered the Jeannette boys soccer job in 2018, the Jayhawks were coming off a 1-16-1 season and facing another rebuild.

A floundering program since its inception in 1997, Jeannette had a three-year stretch from 2007-09 when it couldn’t even field a team.

Cicero, a Hempfield grad who continued his soccer career at Saint Vincent, was hunting for a high school coaching position when he saw the opening at Jeannette. He said he dreamed about coaching in the WPIAL, but Jeannette? Not exactly a dream-like scenario.

He was apprised of the program’s dark past and glum future, but the warning label did not scare him away. Instead, he was somewhat magnetized by the idea of leading the Jayhawks.

“I said, ‘I’ll take the challenge,’ ” Cicero said. “I was used to coaching cup teams where all the kids know everything already. This was different.”

Fast forward to 2021 and the Jayhawks have made history as the first in the program to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

Jeannette suddenly is being taken seriously in soccer.

The Jayhawks (7-3, 4-3), weighed down to the bottom of the section for years, are trying to secure second or third place in Section 1-A behind defending WPIAL champion and PIAA runner-up Greensburg Central Catholic.

“These kids are proud to be from Jeannette. Small town, big pride they say here,” Cicero said. “They play for the team and the town. They all contribute in some way.”

Despite being an on-and-off-again program that lacked stability, Jeannette soccer has stepped into the center of the stage just as the school’s football team endures a down season following a mass exodus of transfers.

Now the football players come to soccer games to cheer on goals and assists.

“We were 0-18 my freshman year,” junior goalkeeper Mitchell “Trey” Steele said. “Before the season, we knew we had the potential to do some big things. We used to expect to lose. Now, we get upset when we don’t win.”

Steele is busy this fall because he also plays football. A unique set of positions, he is a tight end and linebacker, in addition to his duties as a kicker. He booted a 26-yard field goal Friday in a 20-9 loss to Springdale.

The Jayhawks are led by sophomore standout Jordan Taylor, who fronts the team with 29 goals and has scored 55 times in two varsity seasons.

But the team has become so much more than Taylor. He has a legit supporting cast, including sophomore Austin Emery, who has 18 goals and a team-best 16 assists.

“Jordan is a great player, but we have a special group of players who don’t get a lot of attention,” Emery said. “There is Jared (Vincent), Deyton (Conrad), Trey, me, Jorel (Taylor) … we have great coaches. We knew we could make something happen.”

Cicero is assisted by former Jeannette player Bobby Tanyer, whose father, Bob, started the program 24 years ago and was its first coach.

Cicero said the top two goals for his team were to make the playoffs and break the single-season record for wins. That total is eight, set in 2013.

“We made the goals, and the kids want to achieve them,” Cicero said. “But they don’t want to stop there.”

Emery said games have been energized by more people in the bleachers who have a reason to watch.

“There are a lot more fans,” he said. “There are people we have never even seen before.”

The success of this team is a carry-over from youth soccer, Conrad said, when this group was winning titles at Gobbler’s Knob, the longtime home for Jeannette youth leagues and former home pitch for the varsity Jayhawks.

“We have had chemistry since our U-10 team,” he said. “We won six tournaments in a row and went undefeated.

“We would do anything for each other. We’d put our lives on the line for this team.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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