Shady Side Academy boys soccer attacking season with championship aspirations

Saturday, September 26, 2020 | 11:01 AM

Just like every year, the Shady Side Academy boys soccer team is considered one of the top teams in WPIAL Class 2A this season and rightfully so.

For the past four years, Shady Side has become a fixture in the WPIAL Class 2A finals at Highmark Stadium. The team won back-to-back WPIAL titles in 2017 and 2018 and also made an appearance in the 2016 finals.

Last year was the first time in four years that Shady Side didn’t make a trip to the WPIAL finals, but coach Ed Ellsworth and company are looking to change their fortunes in 2020 after last year’s 2-0 semifinal loss to Quaker Valley, which went on to win WPIAL and PIAA titles.

“We had a beautiful team last year, but it was an inexperienced team,” Ellsworth said. “We played a really exciting match against a historic team in the semifinals, but the fact is that we feel like we are well poised to win another.”

Shady Side returns nine starters from a team that went 15-4-1 and put together a 10-game, season-opening win streak that included eight shutouts and key section wins over Deer Lakes and Burrell.

Zach Conti, who splits his time between the field and the net with Bruce David, midfielders Sam Farner and Joey Anania and senior forward Hazem Hamda are all back for Shady Side. They lead a talented contingent that have been around for a few years and knows what it will take to return to the WPIAL final. Ellsworth believes having that experience will be crucial.

“Our program relies on that experience. Our program is a heritage program, so these kids, a lot of them, have watched us and saw us play in the WPIAL finals and the kids talk about the memory of being there in the stands,” Ellsworth said. “Then you have kids that know what the pressure is like to play in a WPIAL final or a WPIAL semifinal and win a championship. A couple of them have two titles, so yeah, it is important to know that you know how to get there.”

Just like other schools around the WPIAL, Shady Side lost out on crucial training time when the coronavirus pandemic halted offseason activities and canceled spring sports. Rather than resting on their laurels, Ellsworth and his players used the downtime as motivation to train even harder.

“A lot of those guys saw seniors lose out on an entire sports season, so it’s something we talk about,” Ellsworth said. “One of the mantras we talk about is to ‘train like today is the last day’ and that approach I think has helped us. We’ve kept focus on that and never lose sight of the fact that we don’t know where this will take us. We’re optimistic, we’re hopeful, but we don’t really know for sure.”

The pandemic has already affected Shady Side’s season. While some teams started Sept. 14, Shady Side delayed the start of its season until Sept. 24.

With the season in front of them and expectations as high as ever, Shady Side Academy has one thing on its mind and that’s getting back to Highmark Stadium and lifting another WPIAL trophy.

“That’s all we talk about around here,” Ellsworth said. “We never talk about anything other than getting to those championship games and winning them. That’s an expectation around here. It drives us in practice and I’d argue our practices are more competitive than a lot of people’s games. It’s a competitive culture here.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .


More High School Soccer Boys

Championship WPIAL soccer coach to follow father into A-K Valley Sports Hall of Fame
Nick White approved as Franklin Regional boys soccer coach
PIAA discussing eliminating overtime in regular-season soccer games
The Kiski School builds on success, wins 4th straight PAISAA championship
Norwin’s Owen Christopher headlines 2023 Trib HSSN boys soccer all-stars