Team captains guide Pine-Richland boys soccer toward playoff berth

Sunday, September 18, 2022 | 11:01 AM

In seventh grade, Ben Rishel took a year off from playing for the Pine-Richland middle school boys soccer team, but he caught wind of a new player who was turning heads.

“I heard through the grapevine of some amazing player that had just moved in from Virginia,” Rishel said.

That player was Cale Klaff.

They met soon after and became fast friends.

Now, along with fellow senior and friend Colin Zvejnieks, they captain a Pine-Richland team that has made waves in the early portion of the season.

The Rams were 5-1-1 and 3-1-1 overall through Sept. 14 and just behind two-time defending WPIAL champion Seneca Valley in the Section 1-4A standings.

Getting to their current state has been a long process.

Klaff and Rishel played on varsity as freshmen and were sophomores when they were named captains by Rams coach Jordan Wiegand.

In the last few years there have been some tough moments that culminated in narrowly missing the playoffs, but now they are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s great to see the work we’ve put in through the years, especially the seniors I’ve been with for a long time, paying off and things starting to go our way,” Klaff said. “We knew that it was going to be a process. Every year we’ve improved a little bit. We trained hard in the offseason, and this seems like it’s going to be our year. We’ve chased a playoff spot the last few years and the way we’ve started this year has been amazing.”

Klaff, Rishel and Zvejnieks each bring different skill sets to the field.

Zvejnieks is the team’s striker and leading scorer. Rishel plays attacking midfield and considers himself more of a distributor than a goal scorer, but he had three goals through the first seven games. Rishel had been a center back for his entire high school career, before moving to defensive midfield this year.

He isn’t known for his goal scoring, but he did have one of the biggest goals of the year so far, scoring in Pine-Richland’s 1-0 win over North Allegheny.

They also bring different leadership styles.

Klaff and Zvejnieks lead more by example and Rishel is the vocal leader.

Rishel picks his spots for when to use his voice.

“If you’re loud all the time and getting on kids all the time, that’s going to grow stale and they aren’t going to listen to you anymore,” Rishel said. “It’s really key to pick your spots. Like if you’re down at halftime and you need a spark that’s a good time, but if you’re constantly being loud at practices it’s not going to have the same effect when you’re getting loud in the key moment in a game.”

Wiegand enjoys seeing the different styles and how they mesh together.

“It’s been amazing to watch them grow from being freshmen to seniors,” Wiegand said. “They are the type of kids that are unselfish and would do anything they need to for the team, and they’ve proven that in the past.

“It’s a nice balance between captains. They all get along and see the greater good of what the team is trying to accomplish. It’s hard for that to not rub off on the team.”

Pine-Richland’s first four section games were against last year’s playoff qualifiers. The Rams scored 1-0 wins over Butler and North Allegheny, tied Fox Chapel 1-1 and lost 3-2 in overtime to Seneca Valley.

Though they lost to Seneca Valley, they led the match twice and put forth their best result against the perennial favorites for WPIAL gold.

It was a sign the Rams are on track to be contenders.

“The main takeaway that we took from the Seneca Valley game is that we’re a serious team this year,” Klaff said. “The results against them the last couple years are ones that we don’t like to look at. For us to fight against a team that’s traditionally one of the top in the state, take them to overtime and have a lead against them, made it feel like it was our game to lose. We haven’t felt that against them in a really long time. It’s a great predictor for the future.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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