Thomas Jefferson boys soccer to rely on depth, defense in move to Section 3-3A

Thursday, September 10, 2020 | 10:14 PM

The overriding factor in all facets surrounding the Thomas Jefferson boys soccer program — as at all area schools — is the coronavirus pandemic.

“Up to this point, everyone is healthy and ready to play,” coach Michael “Doc” Kulish said. “We follow all state and district policies from the beginning of practice until the end. Masks are worn by all coaches during each session as well as the players who are not playing on the field.

“We sanitize our hands prior to entering the field and when returning to the sidelines. Each day, the players answer covid-19 questions prior to taking their temperature. This procedure is time consuming but absolutely necessary for the safety and for the protections of our players and coaches.”

The boys soccer program at TJ annually has a large participation level and this season is no different; the team roster consists of 33 players.

However, there is a significant difference in the makeup of the 2020 roster.

“This year’s team does not have that one standout player like we’ve had in the past,” Kulish said. “I have noticed throughout this extended preseason how upbeat and positive our players have been.

“The intensity, vocalization and leadership from the captains and upperclassmen during every practice has really helped with the development and improvement of the entire team.”

Defense should be a strength for the Jaguars this fall with the likes of senior Anthony Bekavac, juniors A.J. Getsy and Billy Marshall and sophomore Robbie Shoemaker on the back line.

“Any time we’re not in active play we’re always wearing masks or social distancing. Other than that, it’s almost like a normal season,” said Bekavac, an avid skier. “With school, most of the students at TJ are doing a hybrid system; some days in school and some days out. I learn a lot better in person so I’m really grateful for the chance to come in to school.

“Concerning the state of our team, things look really good. I’m excited for this season and I’m sure we’ll impress everyone.”

Getsy, an all-section selection at the goalkeeper position in 2019, Bekavac, Marshall and Shoemaker will be supported by sophomore Andy Graham and junior Daniel Bonacchi on defense.

“Andy and Daniel will see a lot of playing time defensively,” Kulish said.

With Getsy moving to the back line, senior Alex Folino and juniors Alex Day and Evan Savikas have been battling for the starting goalie job during the preseason.

TJ’s midfield area has the most experience with returning senior starters Trystan Alava and Jack Sella complemented by the junior tandem of Michael Ngugi and Aiden Mohideen.

Kulish likes what he’s seen so far from junior strikers Luke Giger and Jordan Chiprich.

“We are looking to get a big offensive output from our two strikers, Luke and Jordan,” Kulish said. “They have shown great chemistry in practices and an unstoppable work ethic and constant hustle.”

Another athlete who has drawn the coaches’ attention in practice is Andre Bekavac, a sophomore midfielder.

“Andre is probably our most versatile player and without a doubt will be a big contributor,” Kulish said.

Others looking for playing time this season include seniors Zach Budday (MF), Cody Pavicic (MF) and Chris Powell (F); along with juniors Rahim Chimbelu (MF), Ian Karel (MF) and Tyler Speicher (D).

“As always, our goal is to qualify for the playoffs,” Kulish said. “However, this year we are hoping to contend for a section championship. We know it will not be easy since we are the new team in Section 3 (3A). The section has been very competitive the last couple of years.”

Belle Vernon is the reigning section champion. Trinity, Ringgold and Laurel Highlands also were playoff qualifiers a year ago.

“This will be my 28th year at TJ,” Kulish said, “and as unusual of a year as it might be, the support and guidance we’ve gotten from the administration, athletic director Bill Cherpak and the school board has made it feel as normal as possible.

“We are extremely excited about the season.”

Anthony Bekavac, Getsy, Alava, Sella and Giger will serve as co-captains for the Jaguars, who were slated to open up Sept. 14 against section foe Greensburg Salem.


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