Strong season for Thomas Jefferson boys soccer gets milestone win for veteran coach

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Sunday, November 21, 2021 | 11:01 AM


He is one of the esteemed deans among WPIAL soccer coaches.

Michael Kulish, affectionately known as “Doc,” has enjoyed a legendary coaching career at Thomas Jefferson.

At age 74, Kulish is one of the oldest soccer coaches in Western Pennylsvania, and he recently completed his 29th season in style, attaining a coveted milestone in the first round of the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs.

The Jaguars edged South Fayette, 1-0, on a clutch goal in overtime by senior midfielder Michael Ngugi in the 88th minute to give Kulish his treasured 400th career victory. His all-time record stands at 400-180-36.

TJ captured the Section 3-3A title this season and finished with a 16-2-2 record, a year after going 11-5-1 overall and 9-3 in its first season in 3-3A.

After a 2-1-1 start in 2021, the Jaguars did not lose any of their next 14 regular-season contests. The Jaguars outscored the opposition 70-19 and posted 10 shutouts this season.

TJ was led by senior defender A.J. Getsy, an all-section, All-WPIAL and all-state selection, and senior forward Jordan Chiprich, an all-section and All-WPIAL pick.

The team leaders in scoring were Ngugi, with 17 goals, 11 assists, and Chiprich, with 16 goals, 11 assists, along with sophomore MF Anthony Orlando and senior F Luke Giger, who netted 10 goals apiece.

Other all-section players consisted of Ngugi, Giger, and juniors Andre Bekavac (MF) and Robbie Shoemaker (D).

The Jaguars utilized a unique on-the-field “braintrust” this fall. Coach Kulish named six players as team captains: Giger, Getsy, Ngugi, Chiprich, Shoemaker and senior Marshall Richter.

“Each was extremely talented, an excellent student and a tremendous leader,” Kulish said. ”Billy Marshall was added as a captain when Marshall Richter could not play because of his injury. Marshall asked my permission to give his captain’s band to Billy.

“That’s just one example of the kind of character Marshall has. Although he wasn’t able to play his senior year, he was at the games providing words of encouragement to the players. He’s an outstanding young man.”

Marshall, a senior defender, received the United Soccer Coaches Senior Excellence Award, a national honor.

TJ has been a postseason participant eight years in a row. During that span, the Jaguars have won two section titles, advanced to the state playoffs twice, haven’t had a losing regular-season record and were 109-41-12 overall.

Kulish graduated from Thomas Jefferson in 1964, and four years later from Alliance College, where he played a fullback position on the men’s soccer team.

The veteran field boss earned a master’s degree in deaf education at Pitt in 1974 and a Ph.D. in vocational education in the area of trade and industrial safety education at Pitt in 1986.

Kulish, who retired from 40 years as a teacher in 2007, is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the WPIAL.

“I was an educator my entire career,” he said. “I began as a regular education teacher, then as a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at Allegheny Intermediate Unit at Mon Valley School.”

Kulish’s high school coaching career began at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf from 1974-1978. He was as an assistant to Michael Adams, serving as acting head coach when Adams wasn’t available. Prior to that, Kulish coached youth teams when his son, Michael Jr., was young.

“I had the opportunity to apply for the head coaching position at Thomas Jefferson and became head coach in 1993,” Kulish said. “When I was hired, I was told that my sole objective was to win. If I didn’t (win), ‘Then don’t expect to be here very long.’

“I love coaching at TJ, and with my son as my assistant the past 20 years has made it even more rewarding.”

Kulish has been named WPIAL coach of the year twice and PIAA coach of the year once.

He was assisted this season by his son, Michael Jr., TJ’s associate head coach and junior varsity coach, along with Rob Shoemaker and volunteer Brian Thatcher.

Like his father at the varsity level, Michael Jr. has logged his fair share of victories as JV coach.

“Michael’s terrific,” Doc Kulish said, “and very knowledgeable of the game. He is also my best friend. And my wife, Helen, has been so supportive of us over the years.”

After reaching 400 wins, Kulish took a few moments to answer some questions.

What does achieving 400 career wins mean to you?

It will always be a memorable achievement. I thank all my present and past players for helping with this accomplishment. I have received many congratulatory texts, phone calls and cards from current and past players. For that I will forever be grateful.

•••

What is your basic coaching philosophy?

Demonstrate a winning attitude, be organized, be a leader, communicate, be physically fit, establish rules and be consistent.

•••

What do you enjoy most about coaching soccer?

The game is meant to be very simple, requiring minimal intrusions from the coach. Soccer is a player’s game. It requires players to think for themselves.

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After soccer, what is your favorite sport (or sports)?

American football and baseball.

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Did you play soccer in high school and college?

I did not play soccer in high school. We did not have a team at TJ. I played soccer at Alliance College for four years.

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Who was the most influential person in your athletic career?

My father Michael Kulish Sr. He played soccer throughout his youth and early adult years. He taught me the game when I was young.

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Who have been the most influential people in your coaching career?

My father, as well as my son Michael.

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What are some of your favorite coaching memories at TJ?

Being in three state championships in a row and winning one in 2002. All the WPIAL championship games. We’ve had many memorable games but more importantly, the players I’ve coached and their parental support I’ve had rejuvenates me to press onward.

•••

Who are the 11 best soccer players you have coached at TJ?

My dream team would consist of, in no particular order, forwards Chris Hey, Richard Costanzo, Cole Lutz and Jon Browne; midfielders Tyler Fabian, Evan Browne, Ryan Browne and A.J. Meshanko; defenders A J. Getsy and Greg Liebenguth; and goalie Jack Wessel.

•••

Is there anything you would have changed in your coaching career?

No, not really. I am pleased with my longevity and team success. I thank the good Lord every day that I have had the opportunity to coach at the high school I graduated from.

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What are your thoughts on the performance of this year’s squad?

The team played with enthusiasm and with great teamwork. We won the section and won in the first round of the playoffs.

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How and when did you acquire the nickname Doc?

The nickname came from having a doctorate degree from Pitt. Students, fellow educators, players, etc. starting calling me that in 1986 after I received my degree.

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Now, let’s move more to the lighter side. Do you have any hobbies?

I collect watch fobs. They are for pocket watches, and heavy authentic equipment replica models.

•••

What is the title of the last book you’ve read?

The last book I read was “My Heart Will Triumph” by Mirjana Soldo.

•••

What is your favorite book (or books)?

“Qualities of a Leader” by John C. Maxwell, “Winning Every Day” by Lou Holtz, “The Soccer Coaching Bible” by the National Soccer Coaches of America.

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What is your favorite movie?

“Hacksaw Ridge,” a true story about WWII medic Desmond Dodd, played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spiderman).

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What is the name of the last movie that you saw?

“Woodlawn.” It is a great story and a true story.

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What is your favorite TV show?

“The Chase” with “The Beast.”

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What has been your all-time favorite summer vacation?

I was the head coach of two teams that played in the Upper Austria Cup in 1995 in Wels, Austria, and the Como Cup in Italy in 1997. What a rewarding trip (both years) for the parents, players and assistant coaches.

•••

What is something people may not know about you?

I had a polka band — the Triumphs — in my elementary, high school and college days. I played the accordion. I also played the keyboard and sang in a rock ‘n roll band in college and after college. I was in two groups, The Clouds, at Alliance College, and Salt, Pepper & the Soul Shakers, in the late ’60s and early ’70s. We played at many dances, fraternity parties and popular nightclubs.

•••

What are your favorite foods?

Anything Polish. And my wife Helen’s homemade chicken noodle soup.

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