Upper St. Clair boys’ going for three-peat with Blatz

Published Aug 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm (Updated Aug 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm)

If a third-straight PIAA championship awaits the Upper St. Clair boys’ soccer team, the Panthers will claim the banner under new leadership. In addition to losing 12 seniors to graduation, the Panthers have lost their head coach.

Uwe Schneider, the architect of four state titles in 10 years, is out for the season because of injuries he incurred during an accident at home over the summer. He plummeted two stories when the ladder he was using to hang shutters at his house in Mt. Lebanon fell. Schneider broke both of his legs. He had surgery to repair the fractures in his left leg, which is now held together by a rod and pins. Schneider also had to have another surgery when he developed an infection in his leg.

In addition to not coaching this fall, Schneider, who spent more than two weeks in the hospital, has not returned to the classroom. He teaches German at the high school.

A familiar face, however, will patrol the sidelines for the Panthers. During Schneider’s absence, Mike Blatz will coach USC. A standout player at South Fayette and Pitt, Blatz previously coached at Chartiers Valley High School. He guided the Colts to a WPIAL title in 2001 and to the PIAA finals.

“I am excited coaching high school soccer again, but not under these circumstances with Coach Schneider getting hurt,” said Blatz. “I enjoy the day-to-day sessions in building a team and look forward to the challenges of being a head coach at USC.”

For Blatz, himself, there are plenty of challenges, primarily with balancing his own busy schedule.

First, he is the director of coaching at Century United. His job with the club is to work with coaches, the board and the parents to create the best environment for the players to develop. “We want them to improve in the game of soccer but as young people, we want them to develop with great character.”

Second, Blatz teaches health and physical education at Chartiers Valley Middle School. In addition, he is a ‘proud’ parent. He and his wife, Rosemary, have two daughters, Eva and Freya.

“With taking on the position as [USC] head coach, my fall has become very busy,” Blatz said. “Without the support from Rosemary and a team of teachers that I have worked with for 16 years, I am not sure coaching for this year would have been a possibility. I can only hope that our USC team is as good as the team at home and at work.”

Because he knows six of the returning players from Century United and through the Cup circuit, the Panthers could be that good.

Robbie Mertz spearheads the corps of returning veterans. An all-state performer, he has already committed to Michigan. The midfielder scored a handful of goals and racked up 21 assists during a 23-1-1 campaign.

Seniors Doug Hapeman, Garrett Blake and Hayden Bernhardt return to a defense that allowed only 14 goals.

Shane Sipley and Joe Bell will be responsible for replenishing the offense, which produced 122 goals and graduated leading scorer Joe Hart to American University. Junior Adam Heil champions the cause of filling the vacancy caused by Troye Kiernan’s matriculation to St. Francis University. The Almanac’s MVP scored 20 goals and helped USC to a 65-5-4 record in three years.

“We will have six captains this year and each and every one of them is expected to be a leader and demonstrate three principles,” said Blatz. “I expect the boys of USC to work hard, be disciplined and look after each other on and off the field. If we can achieve these three things, we will be very successful.”

USC will be successful if additional players apply their mark to the program. Sophomores are expected to be impact players up front while Gino Pezzone and J.P. Schrott are two defenders that are going to be valuable to the backline, says Blatz. Mark Vlah, Eric Leahman and Daniel Quiroga will provide stability in the midfield. Lastly Mac Dominic and Kenny Rapko will play between the pipes.

Though he has not been coaching high school soccer for a decade – he retired after the 2004 season at CV – Blatz said he knows that Canon-McMillan, Peters Township, Moon and CV are good teams that are directed by very good coaches.

“Our toughest opponent will be the grind in Section 5,” he said simply.

USC’s opponent on Sept. 9 could prove tough and emotional. The Panthers play Char Valley. Garrett MacKenzie, his brothers and father, David, coach the Colts. The MacKenzie brothers played for Blatz when CV knocked off USC in the PIAA tournament to reach the state finals.

Of the upcoming engagement Blatz said, “I look forward to the game with CV. “It will be quite an experience coaching against the MacKenzie boys and their father. They are a tremendous family that I have a great deal of respect for many reasons. I can only hope that I raise my children well enough to be coaching with them. In the end, I hope we create some great memories.”

A great memory for the Panthers has always been a mid-November date in Hershey. In addition to winning back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004, the Panthers were PIAA finalists in 2011 before winning the past two state crowns. Being the first to win three straight, Blatz acknowledges, is no easy task.

“I would have to say that we are going to need a little luck as any team would in order to win such a championship.”

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