Thomas Jefferson boys overcome injuries to reach WPIAL playoffs

Sunday, October 22, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Michael “Doc” Kulish performed a juggling act this year as head coach of the Thomas Jefferson boys soccer team.

“Overall, I am happy with the season so far,” Kulish said prior to the WPIAL playoffs. “I’m disappointed we did not win the section, but overcoming the (knee) injuries we had to key players — Anthony Orlando, Gui DeLima and Sean Shimko — our younger players stepped in and contributed greatly.”

Orlando was the team’s leading scorer and an all-WPIAL selection last year with 26 goals and 17 assists. He was named section player of the year and voted as TJ’s offensive player of the year by his teammates.

He said he took a natural approach to healing his knee because there wasn’t enough time to have surgery and be able to return to the pitch for his senior season.

“My season was short-lived as I injured my knee again in my first game back,” Orlando said. “We have faced a big adversity with injuries this year, but our players are stepping up when they need to.

“The (team’s) expectation for the postseason is to make it past the second round as we have not done it in a couple of years. But the end goal is to win it all.”

Team members taking on more prominent roles this season include sophomores Andrew Callaghan at midfield and Owen Householder at forward, junior midfielder Dylan Legeza and sophomore Cody O’Hare, who moved from his goalkeeper position to the midfield/forward areas.

Callaghan and O’Hare have filled in for DeLima and Shimko.

Junior midfielder Brayden Miller also accepted the Jaguars’ challenge by accounting for 24 goals and four assists (through 16 games). He was named co-player of the year in Section 3-3A along with Bethel Park’s Henry Gaston.

“I am very excited for this recognition in our section,” Miller said. “There are so many talented players in our section, and to be selected for this recognition was an honor. It was a major accomplishment of mine that was of one of my goals to achieve.

“I want to thank my coaches for everything they have done to help me accomplish this, and also want to thank my teammates as they helped me with this achievement. This have been an incredible season for our team. We have become stronger and didn’t let any obstacles get in our way. We are definitely contenders for the WPIAL championship.”

Miller was complemented offensively through 16 games by Ray Schrello (11 goals, 7 assists), Jake Shoemaker (9 goals, 14 assists) and Householder (9 goals, 6 assists).

“Coming into the season knowing we would need someone to step up and fill the scoring void due to Anthony’s injury. Brayden Miller has stepped up along with Ray Schrello, who scored eight of his 11 goals in the last three games,” Kulish said. ”Jake Shoemaker has also helped offensively with his passing and assists either in the midfield or forward position.”

TJ finished as section runner-up with a 12-1-1 record after winning back-to-back titles in 2021 and 2022. The Jaguars were 14-2-1 overall prior to the playoffs and had allowed only eight goals all season with 11 shutouts.

“I would like to give credit to our defense along with our keeper. Sam Wessel has been our primary goalie the last eight games,” Kulish said. “We have a 0.4 goals-against average which is tops in Class 3A. With our scoring being down compared to last year, the defense had a lot of pressure on them throughout the year and have delivered all year.”

The TJ defense was led in the regular season by seniors Nate Powell and Robert Kisner and juniors Bryce Kameg and Logan Shaffer, along with sophomore goalkeeper Sam Wessel.

Miller, Schrello, Shoemaker, Powell, Wessel and Kameg (honorable mention) were named all-section. Shoemaker and Powell were repeat selections.

“I think we have done an excellent job this season despite a lot of injuries in our starting lineup,” Miller said. “We had to become crafty on the field with our plays, and we utilized our strengths with our other players, and they have all stepped up and we have been seeing very positive results.

“As a team we are very strong.”


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