WPIAL soccer teams nearing end of full-season sprint

Wednesday, September 30, 2020 | 6:23 PM

Once considered a marathon, WPIAL soccer season is a full-on sprint this season. No time to stop off for a rest, either — not in 2020.

“It’s a war of attrition,” Norwin boys coach Scott Schuchert said.

With the coronavirus forcing a late start to the season — Sept. 14 instead of Sept. 4 — teams are moving at warp speed to get the the regular season completed by the WPIAL-mandated deadline of Oct. 20.

“It’s going to be a grind,” Franklin Regional boys coach Rand Hudson said. “Scheduling has been a nightmare. You’re not going to get a lot of practices, and the days you do have off, you might need for recovery.”

Franklin Regional, which is eight games into its 14-game schedule, faced a stretch last week where it had a game Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It then played again Monday.

Simply finding a rhythm has been tough for some teams. After all, there wasn’t much of a preseason — one scrimmage was permitted — as section play began instantly. Teams had little room for tweaking or finding the right mix before a big game. And they’re all big games now.

Shady Side Academy, Allderdice, Obama Academy and Uniontown started late after covid-19-related delays. Shady Side Academy played its first game Sept. 24.

Valley has not played a game because of a shortage of players. Riverview canceled its season.

Teams have had to postpone nonsection games, which could create an interesting dilemma for the steering committee come playoff time in terms of schedule strength. Teams scheduled to play City League teams had to shuffle to find a new opponent after Pittsburgh Public Schools shut down fall sports because of covid 19, then reset games against those same teams when the city decided to go ahead with fall sports.

“You don’t really see anything like this at any level of soccer,” Penn-Trafford first-year boys coach Sotiri Tsourekis said. “Maybe at the middle-school level, you see teams stacking games, but otherwise, in cup, I know it’s unheard of.”

Teams are walking a fine line between staying sharp and staying healthy during this mad dash.

“You have to be careful and manage your players,” Tsourekis said. “For us, we’re not deep, so fitness is very important.”

Norwin senior forward Brendan Ash said his team is built for the schedule crunch and would like to play more games in less days.

“A lot of it has to do with conditioning,” Ash said. “We’ve been working really hard ever since the spring. Every single day we have time to recover. We get ice after practice, and we’re ready to go the next day. Every other day is practice.”

The WPIAL soccer committee has not made an official announcement on how many teams will make the playoffs. It has been the top four and ties in each section in past years. The committee plans to meet Friday to discuss postseason plans.

A pivotal change, though, is this: only the WPIAL champion in each of the four classes will advance to the PIAA playoffs.

“You have to be ready to go,” Schuchert said. “It’s that simple.”

Norwin was scheduled to play 10 games in 25 days, starting with last Thursday’s home game against Penn-Trafford. That doesn’t sound horrible, but throw in an injury or two, with no room for error, and must-win situations could overwhelm a contender.

“It’s going to be a fight each and every game,” Belle Vernon junior forward Daniel Sassak said. “We don’t have any easy games on the schedule this season, and we’ve all realized that. I’ve seen an unbelievable amount of determination and hard work from this team so far, and it’s very important for us to keep that up.”

Consistency is an added component, another key ask during the crunch.

“We can’t have one great game, and then come out the next game and play slow and poor,” Sassak said. “We need to be able to play to our full potential for 80 minutes each game.”

Looking at the situation as a negative could lead to distractions and even excuses for teams. All things considered, most are just glad to be having a season, no matter how different it may look or feel.

“It’s the silver lining during covid,” Tsourekis said. “We’re playing.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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