USC, SLS, CV welcome new soccer coaches
New leadership at top keep some soccer clubs rolling
While leadership at the helm has shifted for some scholastic soccer clubs this fall, the objectives remain constant. Make the playoffs and contend for WPIAL titles are the goals for schools such as Upper St. Clair, Seton-La Salle and Chartiers Valley, all of whom are under new coaching systems.
Natasha Dirda heads up the girls’ program at Upper St. Clair, which boasts eight district championships, the last occurring in 2011. The Panthers, however, finished 11-6-2 overall last fall. They were runners-up to Peters Township in Section 5-AAA with a 7-2-1 slate.
Dirda brings an impressive resume to USC. She played soccer at Virginia Tech. The Pittsburgh native coached the past seven seasons at her alma mater, Montour, while teaching math in the North Hills School District. She is now an instructor at USC and some of her players are her students.
Dirda’s objectives are clear. While bringing her coaching style and philosophy to USC, she comes to “build off of the amazing program and foundation” already in place. “With a fresh start all players are given the opportunity to step up and play significant roles on our team,” she said.
So far the approach has worked as USC opened the 2013 campaign with back-to-back wins in the South Hills Classic. The Panthers defeated Mt. Lebanon, 4-1, and blanked Mercyhurst Prep, 1-0.
Dirda expected strong leadership from her six seniors, Olivia Belack, Megan Ebeck, Alexis Evangelista, Hayley Gans, Leah Mertz and Jordan Selep, and received just that in the season-opening tournament.
Belack scored twice against Lebo and assisted Ebeck on the game-winner against Prep. Selep had a goal against Lebo as did sophomore Emma Hasco. Katie Torkos assisted Hasco.
Juniors Heather Godwin, Sami Lackner, Bailey Mielcusny and Julia de la Parra anchored the defense and Sarah McMurtry recorded the shutout in the nets against Prep.
In addition to Hasco and Belack, USC expects fire power up front from sophomores Maddie Rocks and Katie Banbury. Meanwhile Taylor Smith provides strong support with McMurtry in goal.
While she spoke little of tangible goals like winning championships, Dirda’s outlook for the season sums up success for USC on a variety of levels.
“Our goals are to develop competitive and intelligent soccer players that are able to make changes during the run of play,” Dirda said. “We will trust in our team identity to challenge ourselves to become the best soccer team we can be. Every game will be a challenge and we will look for continual growth and improvements throughout the season.”
At 2-1 overall, USC looks to extend that growth when the Lady Panthers host Canon-McMillan at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 11 and when they visit Highmark Stadium in Station Square on Sept. 14. USC takes on Bethel Park, which is fresh off an upset win against Peters Township. Kick-off is at 3 p.m.
The Rebels are now in the capable hands of Ryan Kelly. He captained Seton-La Salle to a WPIAL championship in 2002.
His resume includes a long list of assistantships, not only at his alma mater, but also at powerhouse Mt. Lebanon. During a string of state and district championships, Kelly assisted Aaron Pancyzk (2007-08) and Mike Thomas (2011) at SLS. From 2009-2010, he assisted Larry Fingers. The current Canon-McMillan coach, who led the Big Macs to the Class AAA title in 2013, formerly managed Carlynton. Most recently, Kelly assisted Ron Wilcher’s Blue Devils in 2012.
Kelly has surrounded himself with winners on his staff as former Rebels Nik Balzer (’07), Mark DelGreco (’06) and Pat Vaughan (’08) serve as assistant coaches.
While it appears to be a rebuilding year for the Rebels because they lost much from last year’s 13-4 playoff club, they deviate little from previous plans. “Our goals are the same as seasons past,” said Kelly, pointing to a program that has won five district titles between 2002-2011 and several state crowns. “Win the section championship. Win the WPIAL title and plan a trip to Hershey in November.”
Though Rocco Gagliardi has moved on to La Roche, Tony Pecone to UPJ and Eric Albright to Robert Morris, SLS builds around veterans Dan Boland, Kevin Hudson and Christian Vogel. According to Kelly, those three contributed “a lot” to last year’s team.
“Goal scoring seemed to be an issue last season and we lost our two leading scorers (Gagliardi and Sam Kotsyak), so I’d assume that to be our biggest concern going into the season.”
While the Rebels anticipated having that area of the game “sorted out” by the beginning of the season, they depended upon other assets to carry them through the campaign. “Our speed and athleticism appear to be the team’s strengths,” Kelly said. “Plus, we return some strong defensive players.”
The SLS roster boasts 10 seniors. In addition to Boland, Hudson and Vogel, the Rebels depend upon Zach Hutchinson, Noah Kaib, Levi Masau, Ryan Milcarek, Sean Reiber, Justin Wang and Matt Wilke for leadership.
Among the juniors are: Chris Cho, James Mallon, Justin Nedzesky, Nick Pazuchanics, Colin Stewart and Mark Williamson.
The Rebels also feature four sophomorers: Brandon Benedetti, Morgan Samuels, Nick Messina and Leo Wilson as well as three freshman: Jared Capozza, Ryan Kenderick and Christopher Stack.
Going into this week’s action, the Rebels were 3-0 with victories over Greensburg Central Catholic, 2-1, Avonworth, 3-0, and North Catholic, 10-0.
Meanwhile, Bill Douglass has taken over the reins of the girls’ program at Chartiers Valley. The Ohio native played soccer for Thiel College. Before accepting the position as the Lady Colts’ skipper, Douglass was an assistant at South Park, where the Eagles have competed in several state and district championships. Douglass also coaches for the Century United soccer club.
Douglass has taught middle school and high school Spanish. His entire 11-year career has been spent in the Char-Valley School District.
With eight returning veterans, the Lady Colts have aspirations of finishing in the top three in their division so as to make the playoffs, says Douglass. “We enter each game knowing what tactics we want to implement in order to get the result we desire,” he added.
Returning players such as Emily Tolmer, Katie Burnett, Jamie Casto, Alanna Sullivan, Katie Glausser, Skylar Martz, Sara Watters and Candice Coughenour provide the leadership. They blend well with newcomers, who are filling the vacancies in the line-up, such as Morgan Henderson, Valerie Mutschler, Justine Burnett, Heather Schmidt, Anne Radzanowski and Chelsea Cornish.
While the Lady Colts are good at challenging for soccer balls in the air, Douglass would like to see them do better. It’s likely that will come to fruition as Douglass says that his team’s work ethic has been great. Another asset, he added, is that his squad possesses “great depth of technically and tactically sound players.”
Before heading into their first section clash versus Upper St. Clair, the Lady Colts posted shutouts against Penn Hills, 3-0, Elizabeth-Forward, 1-0, South Fayette, 5-0, and Montour, 2-0.