Springdale’s Michael Zolnierczyk named Valley News Dispatch Boys Athlete of the Year

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Saturday, June 29, 2019 | 6:37 PM


Michael Zolnierczyk has been front and center in maintaining two of the Alle-Kiski Valley’s most enduring sports legacies: Springdale Dynamos soccer and basketball.

The soccer program has won nine WPIAL titles and several runners-up. The basketball team has won mor than 1,100 games and has made 34 WPIAL playoff appearances.

In soccer this past season, Zolnierczyk recorded 14 shutouts, giving up only eight goals in 20 contests. He was named All-WPIAL for the third consecutive year and WPIAL Class A Player of the Year.

As a junior in 2017, he blanked the opposition 12 times while leading the Dynamos to the WPIAL Championship game and the PIAA second round.

In basketball, the four-year point guard led the program to the WPIAL playoffs three of the four seasons — missing by one game in 2017.

He scored 19.8 points per game this past season. As a junior in 2018, he helped lead the Dynamos to their first PIAA basketball appearance since 1991.

Zolnierczyk received a scholarship to play soccer at Robert Morris, and he hopes to make an impact as early as his freshman season. He plans to study business administration and minor in informational systems as a member of the honors college.

How old were you when you began to realize the Springdale area’s great soccer history?

I always knew that Springdale had a rich soccer history but didn’t truly appreciate it until the end of my freshman year. I realized how physically and mentally strong the whole team must be to be able to compete for a championship. For them to win nine WPIAL titles is truly incredible.

At what point did soccer become your main vehicle for the movement toward a collegiate career instead of basketball?

I switched my focus in seventh grade after being diagnosed with Osgood Schlatter (Disease) in my knees. I could no longer continue playing AAU basketball with Top Level because of the pain when running on the court. I grew out of it by the end of eighth grade, but my love for soccer stuck. I joined Beadling (Soccer Club) when going into 10th grade and really started taking soccer seriously. I made the switch much later than most and had to put in a lot of work to become a Division I-level player.

How cool was it to have 94-year-old World War II hero Emilio “Chum” Saldari as part of your graduating class?

I have the utmost respect for Mr. Saldari and all of the veterans of his generation. My grandfather, Frank Zolnierczyk, served in World War II as well, and I grew up knowing just how important they were to this country. Mr. Saldari has sacrificed more than I could ever comprehend, and he deserved to be on that stage more than anyone. I was honored to have him join our graduating class.

How is your summer going thus far?

The fact that I graduated earlier this month hasn’t fully set in yet. I have started strength and agility training to prepare for my freshman season at Robert Morris. I have been training with family friend and professional hockey player Miles Liberati. I owe it to my teammates to be the best I can be in August when we begin the journey to an NEC championship.

What was your most memorable moment on the pitch?

My most memorable soccer moment was when I opened the doors to the locker room and stepped on the turf moments before the 2017 WPIAL championship. I was prepared for the game, but seeing how many Springdale students, faculty, community members and alumni that packed into the stands to support us took the wind right out of me. It was a moment that you would see in a movie.

What was your most memorable moment in basketball?

My most memorable basketball moment was scoring my 1,000th career point and beating the No. 1 ranked team in the section on the same night. Basketball was my main sport for most of my life, and hitting that milestone was always a dream of mine.

This past basketball season, was it rewarding to overcome a series of injuries and still qualify for the playoffs?

We had to play games this season with only two healthy starters. Being able to overcome adversity is a huge part of sports at any level. I am proud of our guys for being mentally tough and doing what needed to be done to make the playoffs. With that being said, we didn’t win a championship and can’t be satisfied with just making playoffs. I wish the guys the best of luck in the seasons to come.

As a youth, did you look up to any athletes — local or otherwise?

As a young student-athlete, I looked up to Johnny Petrishen (Lower Burrell resident at Penn State). He is five years older than me and had multiple Division I offers as a safety. Our families have always been close, and he has given me advice on how to get to the next level. He showed me what it truly meant to give it everything you have and to be mentally strong when facing adversity. His attitude and work ethic are admirable. Johnny and I still talk often.

What kind of advice would you give to a young, aspiring soccer player — particularly a goalkeeper?

Being a goalkeeper, you have to love the pressure of being the last line of defense. The mental side of the game is the most important part. Be excited for PK shootouts, overtime and playing against the best of the best. Winners want to be counted on when the game is on the line. You will experience great moments with teammates that will become your family. You will make mistakes and bounce back. If you aspire to be a college athlete, people will doubt you, but never give up and live with no regrets. Someone has to be the 1 percent who make it, so why not you? Do the extra sprint. Take the extra reps, and eat like an athlete. You can always get better.

Do you have any superstitions before an athletic event?

I always put on my left sock before my right sock and my left shoe before my right shoe. I jog to the middle of the goal line, then to the right post, then to the left, the back to the center where I reach up and hit the cross bar. I do not wear deodorant on gamedays.

Who are your favorite pro sports teams?

I don’t have any favorite teams, but I enjoy watching professional soccer. My favorite two goalkeepers in the game are Gianluigi Buffon and Thibaut Courtois. Soccer can be boring to watch until you learn to really appreciate all of the small things happening away from the ball.

What is your favorite food or restaurant?

I love a good steak with broccoli and brown rice. I have really changed my eating habits over the past few years to start to build to become a Division I athlete.

Are there any humorous antecdotes or stories during your Springdale days?

The practice before the 2017 WPIAL championship, 10 out of our 11 starters were banged up, and coach had us sit out of practice. We were all laying in the grass with ice and tape on our ankles, knees and hamstrings. The confused, worried, shocked look on VND reporter Mr. (Doug) Gulasy’s face when he showed up for an interview was priceless.

Do you have anything additional to add?

I have been blessed with a lot of wonderful people in my life who have helped me get to where I am today. I would not have these opportunities without them. My family is small but has shown me an unbelievable amount of support on and off the field. I have had a great experience at Springdale and will always call it home. I strive to give back to the community by making a positive impact on the future Dynamos just as my role models have done for me. I am excited to begin the next chapter of my journey at Robert Morris University.

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