Tough breaks test Aquinas Academy boys soccer team

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Saturday, September 17, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Aquinas Academy left the field following last season’s WPIAL Class A boys soccer playoff loss to Sewickley Academy with bright hopes for 2022.

But little has gone right since then.

Expected to return 10 starters from the second-winningest team in program history, Aquinas Academy has instead dealt with one setback after another.

“The goal this year was to certainly finish top two or three in the section,” coach Mat Anselmino said. “But at this point, we have readjusted.”

The Crusaders saw five returning starters either transfer or quit soccer and then lost senior center midfielder Tommy Quinn, a four-year starter, to a season-ending injury in the ‘22 opener.

“Our season now is kind of in peril,” said Anselmino, in his fourth season at the tiny Hampton private school. “The players that we have lost, it has been very, very difficult to recover from and (the losses) were not expected. … It’s an uphill battle for our young men.”

But the Crusaders, only three years removed from being one of the WPIAL soccer laughingstocks, have pushed forward. They were 1-2 in Section 3-A (2-2 overall) as of Sept. 12.

“I think we are overperforming what we thought we could have done after the (losses) that we had,” senior all-section goalkeeper Jude Truschel said. “(The new starters) are definitely handling it very well.”

Anselmino said the adjusted goal is to finish top four in the section and qualify for the WPIAL playoffs for the third year in a row. That would be a major step for the Crusaders, who went 1-50-1 from 2017-19.

In 2017, Aquinas went 0-17 while being outscored 138-1. The following year, the season before Anselmino arrived, the Crusaders went 0-16-1 and were outscored 142-12.

“It was a bit dire, if you will,” said Quinn, a freshman on the ‘19 team that snapped the program’s 50-game winless streak. “The growth of the program has been crazy.”

The Crusaders went 10-8-1 last season — only the second Aquinas team to win at least 10 games since the school joined the WPIAL in ‘04 — and reached the WPIAL playoffs.

“We’ve earned respect,” Anselmino said, “and that was our initial goal.”

Quinn suffered a broken left ankle and partially torn ligaments early in a 2-0 victory over Bishop Canevin on Aug. 27. Injured during a slide tackle, he played the remainder of the game, scoring a goal.

Only three weeks earlier, he had returned from a stress fracture in his back that sidelined him for nine months.

“It is kind of heartbreaking,” said Quinn, who still attends practices and games to support his teammates.

Other top players for the Crusaders are junior forward Ryan Policicchio, sophomore center midfielder Will Scioscia, senior John Paul Calvino, junior defender Michael Jernigan and a pair of freshmen, defender Jonah Burchill and striker Marco Anselmino, the coach’s son.

Coach Anselmino said Truschel gives the Crusaders a chance in every match.

“Jude is the main reason we are still in most games and, frankly, he’s the reason we made playoffs the past two seasons,” Anselmino said. “Our strongest point is our goalkeeper.”

Truschel said he doesn’t feel extra pressure this season and is encouraged by how the Crusaders are playing in front of him despite all of the personnel losses.

“Morale is still pretty high,” Truschel said, “and we’ve won some games.”

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