A trio of boys’ soccer teams enter this season with high expectations after highlighting the 2016 season with successful postseason runs.
State College and Bald Eagle Area are coming off state playoff appearances, and Bellefonte is looking to return to the District 6 championship game.
Philipsburg-Osceola and Penns Valley aim to improve after losing campaigns; Grace Prep and Centre County Christian Academy are shooting for the postseason.
Here’s a look at each team heading into the season:
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Bald Eagle Area
The Eagles return a handful of their top players after enjoying the best season in program history in 2016.
BEA made its first District 6 championship game appearance and first state playoff appearance last fall with Jared Gettig and Seth Koleno leading the team offensively and Hunter Etters in net.
All three are among the team’s crucial returning players in 2017.
“I don’t want them to come in overconfident,” BEA coach Jason Bair said. “I want them to be confident in what they’re doing, but something I’m stressing to them is that even though they did well last year that guarantees them nothing for this year.”
Gettig and Koleno combined for 30 goals and 17 assists last season. Gettig (17 goals; seven assists) earned all-state honors, while Koleno (13 goals; 10 assists) put together an impressive campaign as well.
Bair expects Gettig and Koleno to produce again, but like the team, he doesn’t want them to be overconfident.
“They had to earn everything they got last year, so I’m trying to keep them in that mindset of you have to earn what you get,” Bair said. “You don’t get it just because of your name, and you don’t get it just because of your position.”
And despite BEA’s successful 2016 season, Bair said his team should be motivated after falling short in every big game. The Eagles lost to Bellefonte with the Mountain League title on the line, they lost in overtime to Everett in the District 6 Class 2A championship game, and they lost 7-0 to Quaker Valley in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
“They know they were so close, but yet they didn’t get it,” Bair said. “They didn’t get any of ’em.”
Defense proved to be Bellefonte’s staple on its way to winning the Mountain League in 2016.
And the Red Raiders will be relying on that group in 2017 as they aim to top last season’s accomplishments.
“Our defense creates our offense for us,” Bellefonte coach Scott Martz said. “I tell those guys that. If we don’t have a good defense, we’re not going to be able to score goals.”
Josh Gaus will be the team’s goalie for the third straight year, providing experience along with three-year starting defender Zach Stone and second-year starter Ryan Houser. They’ll be joined by some newcomers, but Martz is confident his defense will be solid again this season.
Offensively, Daniel Catchmark will take over as the team’s go-to scorer after finishing with 10 goals a year ago.
“He’s just been an absolute animal,” Martz said. “He’s ready to take the leadership role and score goals for us this year.”
Catchmark and the Red Raiders are looking to return to the District 6 championship game, where they lost to Hollidaysburg last year.
“We’ve been so close to that district championship. We just haven’t been able to push it over the edge,” Martz said. “They want to be that first district championship team in Bellefonte. They want to be able to say that they were the ones that did it.”
Robert Maholic didn’t realize how hard it would be to restart the Centre County Christian Academy program.
In four years, the Bulldogs have earned seven wins and never reached the Allegheny Christian Athletic Association playoffs. Maholic is hoping his team will qualify for the postseason and add to the modest win total.
“We think we can have a winning record,” Maholic said.
CCCA, which finished with a 4-12 record last season, will be led by goalie Chad Weaver. Maholic said Weaver is probably the best at his position in the league.
“He’s a star,” Maholic said. “He’s a superb goalie — very fast, very quick, very smart.”
But after losing two starters on defense, Maholic said his team will need to attack offensively.
“We’re going to be about scoring,” Maholic said. “Hopefully, we can outscore them.”
Melvin Anaya won a state championship as a player and as an assistant coach at Bowling Green High School in Kentucky.
Now, Anaya is taking over as the head coach at Grace Prep with a roster of 16 players.
“It’s quite different,” Anaya said. “The expectations are different compared to a public high school that’s always competing to win.”
Anaya was still working to decide on the best style of play for his team as he learned about his players during the preseason. He said senior striker Josh Mikhail caught his eye with his skill and knowledge of the game, while senior defender Joseph Wheeler and junior goalie Jake Cannizzaro will be crucial contributors this season.
Though expectations are different at Grace Prep, Anaya said his goal is to take the team to the District 6 playoffs this year.
“So they can get used to what that’s like and playing at a high level,” Anaya said.
Rams coach Scott Case knows what to expect at certain positions but spent the preseason trying to figure out the puzzle at other spots.
“Our defense is really solid. We’re bringing back nearly the entire varsity defense that we had last year,” Case said. “I have reasonable confidence that we’re going to be able to put some goals in there.”
Penns Valley returns Jared Kines at goalie along with defender Jakob Daniels, who impressed during the preseason. Sam Kupp has spent time at the midfield going into the season, and Sal Castiglia has looked sharp offensively.
They’re among 12 returning letterwinners on the roster.
“We look like a fast team,” Case said. “It’s just figuring out how to use that speed.”
Coming off a 6-12 season, Case said the Rams are shooting to compete in postseason play this year.
Philipsburg-Osceola regularly competed for District 6 championships in the past five years.
The Mounties won back-to-back district titles in 2012 and 2013, followed by consecutive 10-win seasons in 2014-15. But they didn’t compete in the postseason in 2016 after finishing with a 3-13 record.
“I haven’t had a season like that since 1993,” P-O coach Shawn Inlow said. “It’s been a long time since I had a team that performed that poorly, and the 1993 team was the first team Philipsburg ever had. It was a co-ed team.”
Inlow served as the head coach from 1993-95 before starting his second stint with the Mounties in 2010. His teams put together winning seasons as a possession squad that played safe defense. But that style of play didn’t work last season.
“I think we were pretty renowned for our defense over the years,” said Inlow, whose team was outscored 37-7 in 2016. “Last year, we didn’t have it so couldn’t sit back anymore. There was no use defending in front of our goal because we were getting punished when we were defending in front of our goal.”
P-O shifted to a more aggressive approach and plan to play the same way this season.
“We’re going to attack a lot more,” Inlow said.
Danny Orton feels there’s a “stigma” attached to his State College program as it tries to break through in the PIAA tournament.
The Little Lions have reached the state playoffs and lost in the first round in each of the last five seasons.
“For some reason, we’ve come up against either great teams in that first round of states or we’ve lacked a little bit in competition and preparation going into it and lacked a little sharpness,” said Orton, who is going into his sixth season leading State College.
Orton said this year’s team is talented and experienced, with eight players who contributed to the varsity team last season. Jason Keller returns as the team’s starting goalie, and starting defenders Jake Hall, Scott Morelli and Jacob Whipple are back. They were part of the Little Lions’ run to their sixth straight District 6 championship and the PIAA playoffs in 2016.
State College lost 1-0 in double overtime to Seneca Valley in the first round of the state tournament. The Little Lions head into this season hoping to become the first State College team to advance past the first round since the 2011 team made the state semifinals.
“Not easy to do, but it is certainly something that we’ve got our eye on to try and push forward finally through that barrier,” Orton said.
Bald Eagle Area
Head coach: Jason Bair (18th season)
Assistant coaches: Dan Walter
Last season: 14-6-2
Key losses: Joe Gates, Carson Spence, Austin Huyett, Mitchell Jenkins, Clayton Geidroc
Returning letterwinners: Seth Koleno, Garret Barnhart, Dylan Zink, Anton Fatula, Jared Gettig, Trent Donley, Nick Zink, Jacob Michael, Hunter Etters, Garrett Geidroc
Key newcomers: Noah Hockenberry, Shane Eveleth, Judah Eveleth, Conner Robinson
Head coach: Scott Martz (14th season)
Assistant coaches: John Boatman, Dave Lamb, Andrew Weigold
Last season: 13-5-2
Key losses: Noah Gaus, Wilson Miller, Alex Horner, Mitchel Shutika, Daniel Simmons
Returning letterwinners: Daniel Catchmark, Joey Maggs, Evan Nyquist, Noah Nadolsky, Josh Gaus, Ricky Methven, Andrew Sharp, Zach Stone, Ryan Houser
Key newcomers: Daniel Methven, Zach Speary, Seth Johnson, AJ Hovis, Jake Rudloff
Head coach: Robert Maholic (eighth season)
Assistant coaches: Patrick Walker, Ben Black
Last season: 4-12
Key losses: Jacob Berzas, Drew Evanko, Dwayne Lose, Caden Malek, Gunner Redmond, Tommy Wlker
Returning letterwinners: Daniel Witherite, Isaiah Smith, Chad Weaver, Mintesinot Borst, Noah Bakaj
Key newcomers: Matt Hodges, Tavi Mallare, Caleb Henry, Ethan Gore, Lance Gates, Trevor Bickle
Head coach: Melvin Anaya (first season)
Assistant coaches: DJ Watkins
Last season: 6-6-4
Key players: Jake Cannizzaro, Joseph Wheeler, Josh Mikhail
Head coach: Scott Case (21st season)
Assistant coaches: Brian Markle, Alex Homan
Last season: 6-12
Key losses: Maxton Case, Stephen Gover, Owen McFeely, Christian Walker, McKinley Yarrington
Returning letterwinners: Jakob Daniels, Nate Gillespie, Sam Goodwin, Jared Kines, Sam Kupp, Ben Leitzel, Sal Castiglia, Carter Felker, Alex Gretok, Caden Martz, Branston Peese, Lukas Winkelblech
Key newcomers: Thomas Dolheimer, Alex Castiglia, Max Fiedler, Zach Heckman, Michael Johnson, Connor Martz, Caleb Narber, Dristin Wolfe
Head coach: Shawn Inlow (11th season)
Assistant coaches: Neal Parks
Last season: 3-13
Key losses: Max Wittlinger, Micah Shively, Ben Handel
Returning letterwinners: Reece Yarger, Eric Tew, Curt Rowles, Noah Adams, Brady Bizzarri, James Tew, Jaylen Johnson, Kyle Godin, Matt Farrell, Aaron Parks
Key newcomers: Nick Mostyn, Caleb Pellerite, Thomas Pelesky, Gregg Paladina, Jacob Vaux, Matthew Thomas, William Rishel, Justin Mulhollem, Connor Blasko, Todd Stiles Jr.
Head coach: Danny Orton (sixth season)
Assistant coaches: Alex Kimbro, Bud Price, Shawn Lelko
Last season: 14-7
Returning letterwinners: Fernando del Castillo, Jake Hall, Jason Keller, Scott Morelli, Devin Morrisson, Zach Price, Thomas Sowers, Jacob Whipple