Section title, WPIAL playoff run in reach for Moon boys soccer

Monday, October 7, 2019 | 6:32 PM

Moon is one the verge of clinching first place on the pitch in Section 2-3A.

The Tigers are 13-2 overall, 9-1 in league play, slightly ahead of rival West Allegheny (10-4-1, 8-1-1), with two games remaining.

Moon plays on the road against two teams closer to the bottom of the section standings, Obama Acadamy on Tuesday and Montour on Thursday.

“I expected that we should be able to compete for the section title,” coach Earl Pannebaker said. “The boys have exceeded where I thought they would be at this point. We had a couple of players that returned to the team that did not play last year, which really helped. We are just taking our season one game at a time and hope to extend it as far as we can.”

Seven consecutive victories sandwiched between a pair of modest three-game winning streaks has catapulted the Tigers to the No. 3 spot in Class AAA in the latest Trib HSSN weekly rankings. The other top five teams are Franklin Regional, Mars, Belle Vernon and South Fayette.

Pannebaker has been a fixture for years in and around the Moon soccer program, serving as a middle school coach for 12 seasons, middle school/varsity assistant for one year, and now is in his third season as head coach.

He said the senior players’ “teamwork-first” attitude has been instrumental in the Tigers’ success in 2019.

“Their approach to training and the games has been the best I’ve seen out of a senior class as a whole,” Pannebaker said. “They enjoy playing together and have set an example of great teamwork. When one of our main guys has a down day, there is another one to pick him up and lead the way. They are just an enjoyable group of young men.”

There are 13 seniors on this year’s high-flying team, led by captains Justin Kopay, Darek Panucci and Connor Suchar.

Kopay, a forward/midfielder, has been brilliant, clicking for a team-high 20 goals and eight assists. Panucci, a midfielder, has contributed 15 goals and eight assists. Suchar is the Tigers’ starting goalkeeper.

The 10 other senior team members are midfielder Victor Korzilius (11 goals, 10 assists), strikers Ian Cueto and Daoud Naqi, midfielders Hector Morales and Dylan Heiser, and defenders Ethan Cemer, Arthur Jeanfils, Colin Buzza, Nathaniel Brown and Zeynel Ayman. Cueto and Jeanfils also are listed as midfielders.

There also is a talented group of juniors on the squad thanks to the likes of midfielders John Lenosky (10 goals, 4 assists), Paden Shoaf and Gavin Sebastian, striker/midfielder Bryan Fuentes, and defenders Luke Sacco, Vincent Treonze and Tristan Larson.

Two sophomore team members are Jacob Wieland (GK) and Severin Dengel (MF/D). Ryan Kopay and Christopher Brancato are top freshman prospects.

Moon has outscored the opposition by a lopsided 76-18 margin and has posted six shutouts. Four opponents also were limited to only one goal.

Moon and West Allegheny split decisions this year. The only thing separating the rivals at the top of the standings is a 2-2 tie Sept. 17 between WA and Blackhawk.

Moon’s 1-0 win in double overtime Sept. 10 against WA ignited the Tigers to their seven-game winning streak and first-place status.

It was no doubt a turning point in Moon’s season, but Pannebaker, who is assisted by Tyler Blake, believes his team’s reaction to the two losses have been integral to the Tigers’ success.

“The attitude wasn’t one of defeat,” Pannebaker said, “but one of determination that we need to get better. And then they all put the work in to get better.”

The Tigers finished 13-4-1 last season and advanced to the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

They are no doubt hoping the first round this year provides a stepping stone to additional laurels.


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