Strong start fuels Bethel Park boys soccer toward postseason run

Saturday, September 23, 2023 | 11:01 AM

If the first month of the season was any indication, the Bethel Park boys soccer team was looking at a fantastic finish in 2023.

As of Sept. 17, Bethel Park was undefeated at 6-0 and in first place in Section 3-3A, one game ahead of Thomas Jefferson (5-1) and Ringgold (5-1).

The Black Hawks won seven in a row after a season-opening loss to Class 4A Peters Township, and outscored the opposition by a 26-6 overall margin.

Last season, the Black Hawks won 12 in a row and 13 of 14 to finish as the section runner-up with an 11-3 record.

“I am certainly pleased with our start,” coach Doug Fink said, “but I still don’t think we’ve put together a complete 80-minute match yet. Soccer is a game of mistakes and we have certainly made some. Our job is to try to limit our mistakes and outwork the other teams.

“Our goal of making the playoffs has not changed since preseason started. I believe our ability to defend has been our biggest strength so far and, of course, we’ve had some luck along the way. I hope the luck and success continues for this group because it are a great group of young men.”

Bethel Park allowed only four goals in its seven wins which included three shutouts.

Sophomore Luke Rubican is the Black Hawks’ starting goalkeeper behind two sets of brothers on defense — senior Dylan DeClair, sophomore Gavin DeClair, senior Carmin Yimin and freshman Luke Yimin.

“Luke has made some tremendous saves to keep our team in matches,” Fink said, “and our back line has done a great job.

“Henry Gaston and Adam Thompson are two of our seniors I asked to play multiple positions to try to help the team win matches. Henry and Adam are fantastic defensively, and they can also create goal-scoring chances with their ability on the ball.”

Gaston and Thompson are listed as defenders/midfielders on the varsity team roster.

Gaston expected the team to finish the regular season strong similar to last year.

“We have a great group this year, and I think we will go far,” Gaston said. “My goal for the team is to win the section. We will worry about playoffs after that, but for now I am focused on winning the section. My personal goal is to lead my team to a successful season. I want to play as big a role as I can in helping the team improve and make another run through the playoffs.

“We started a little bit shaky in our nonsection loss to Peters in our opening game. I think we have really come together as a group. We got some key players back that we were missing at the beginning of the season, and I think the puzzle pieces are starting to fall into place.”

Thompson said the Black Hawks are looking to make a deep run in the playoffs, and wanted to win all their matches at home.

“We discussed team goals for this season before its started,” Thompson said, “and everyone was on agreement about winning the section.

“The team overall has been amazing. If we can work together as a group and push people, I envision great things in the future. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season.”

The starters at midfield consisted of juniors Ethan Varley, Devin Palombia and Jackson Friday in the early part of the season.

“They provide speed and strength to our lineup,” Fink said. “Up front, we have relied on (sophomore forwards) Xavier Jackson and Youssef Benrabia to create attacking threats around the 18-yard box.”

Others who made significant contributions to the team’s early success are senior defenders Tommy Bova and Arpan Gurung; juniors Max LeMessurier (MF), Colin Hewes (F), Ali Yasin (F), along with Evan Chichwak, Nate Disori and Michael Taylor on defense; sophomores Tyler Benlock (MF), Cooper Kicinski (MF), Jacob Coffield (GF), Josh Pantin (F), Brady McCarthy (D) and Jonah Stearman (D); and freshmen Owen Bileck (F) and Aaden McClelland (MF).

“There always seems to be one or two pleasant surprises each season,” Fink said. “This year, I have been extremely pleased with one of our freshmen, Luke Yimin. Luke has a lot of quality to his game and has made a big jump into our starting lineup. It has been rare in our program to have a ninth grader start on the varsity level.

“And although Tommy Bova is not really a surprise for me because he is a senior, I have been very impressed with his work rate and leadership skills. Tommy is one of our captains and he has the ability to get the boys fired-up and ready to compete. I have a lot of respect for the way Tommy plays.”

Bova, Dylan DeClair and Gaston are serving as the Black Hawks’ team captains.

“I was expecting a good season for the team,” Bova said. “After losing a lot of seniors, the current class and underclassmen had to step up and be prepared for varsity play.

“The team goals are set high since we ended second in the section last year. We’re shooting for a section championship and higher seeding in the playoffs. We’ve been playing strong lately but can’t step off the gas now. We’re hoping to finish the season strong.”

Gaston discussed some of the team strengths this season.

“We have a very strong back line, along with some athletic and creative attackers,” he said. “Luke Rubican, our sophomore goalkeeper, has had a great start to his season, keeping us in our toughest games.

“The team culture is something special this year. We have recent alumni at all of our games, and the support from the whole Bethel Park soccer community has been awesome.”

Bova also gave a shout-out to the Bethel Park student body.

“We couldn’t have come this far without the student section we have at our games,” he said. “Since our first home game against TJ, they’ve kept the energy high and have helped push us to victory.”


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