Scoring surge lifts Thomas Jefferson boys soccer team into WPIAL playoffs

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Saturday, October 24, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Thomas Jefferson’s boys soccer team exudes confidence. One reason behind it is the offensive punch displayed by the Jaguars in 2020.

TJ racked up an 11-4-1 regular-season record and a third-place finish in Section 3-3A behind co-champs Belle Vernon and Trinity.

The Jaguars were confident they will enjoy a successful WPIAL playoff performance.

“Being that we are finally healthy, I feel we should be competitive in the playoffs,” coach Michael “Doc” Kulish said before the No. 11-­seeded Jaguars’ scheduled game Saturday against No. 6 Moon. “The triple-A playoffs should be very competitive this year. There are a lot of great playoff teams from top to bottom. Our guys need to be ready for whoever we play in the first round.”

The Jaguars netted 65 goals while allowing 20 this season, averaging 4.1 goals per game.

“This is the best offensive team we’ve had in my four years (at TJ). We just keep scoring,” said Tryston Alava, a senior midfielder. “I’m pretty proud of our season so far. We’ve played all season dealing with injuries, and I’m excited to play with a healthy team in the playoffs.

“I think we should be able to make a nice playoff run and have a long postseason. I’m just glad we got to have a senior season, even if it wasn’t perfect.”

Before the start of the season, TJ’s midfield was the most experienced unit, with Alava and senior Jack Sella, juniors Michael Ngugi and Aiden Mohideen and sophomore Andre Bekavac.

Sella, like Alava, was a returning starter in 2020.

“I think we’ve played very well this year,” Sella said. “I don’t see an area on the field that is not a strength. We are scoring a lot of goals and not giving up a lot of goals.

“My expectation for the playoffs is to go out there and win. If we play as a team like we know how to play, we won’t lose a game.”

TJ kicked off its schedule with a five-game winning streak that was followed by three close section losses. The Jaguars rebounded with six wins in section play before wrapping things up with a 3-1 loss to Baldwin and a 0-0 tie with Elizabeth Forward.

“I thought we played well, finishing second with a 9-3 section record,” Kulish said. “Coming into a new section, we were not sure what to expect from the other teams.”

TJ’s scoring leaders were Sella and Luke Giger, both with 14 goals and 6 assists; followed by Ngugi (10 goals, 4 assists), Jordan Chiprich (5 goals, 13 assists) and Alava (5 goals, 5 assists). Giger and Chiprich are junior strikers.

Defensively, the Jaguars allowed one goal or fewer in 10 contests and had four shutouts. TJ’s defensive corps is anchored by senior Anthony Bekavac, juniors A.J. Getsy and Billy Marshall and sophomore Robbie Shoemaker, with support from sophomore Andy Graham and junior Daniel Bonacchi. Junior Alex Day is the starting goalkeeper.

“We are finally starting to get healthy,” Kulish said. “We had our true starting lineup available for only three of our 16 games. We had great contributions not only from our starters but everyone on the varsity roster.

“Overall, I am very happy with how well our guys followed all guidelines established by the school and PIAA during these uncertain times.”

TJ’s starting lineup for the playoffs was expected to be Giger and Chiprich at forward; Sella, Alava, Ngugi and Mohideen at midfield; Getsy, Bekavac, Marshall and Shoemaker on defense; and Day at goalie.

There is one caveat.

“As long as everybody is healthy, that’s the plan,” Kulish said.

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