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A-K valley soccer teams take respective styles to postseason

November 3, 2018

Springdale made a run in the 2017 WPIAL boys soccer playoffs thanks in large part to the Dynamos’ ability to make runs.

With talented scorers like Jared Demore and Nick Taliani, Springdale knew it could count on its offense to win games, and the Dynamos won plenty, advancing to the WPIAL Class A championship game and the PIAA second round with a prolific offense.

The graduation losses of seven senior starters, including most of the team’s top scorers, meant Springdale needed to find a different tactic. The Dynamos (13-2-1) no longer dig the deep ball, instead falling in love with possession and defense to suffocate their opponents this fall. They allowed five goals all season and posted 12 shutouts to again earn a spot in the postseason, where they earned a No. 5 seed and a date with No. 12 Bishop Canevin in a first-round game Monday.

“The younger guys here this year, watching the team last year, everybody thought, ‘Oh, we’ve got to score all these goals,’ ” Springdale senior goalkeeper Mike Zolnierczyk said. “This year, once everybody realized that’s not our game, they changed their attitude and how they looked at it. It really helped us out.”

The WPIAL soccer playoffs begin Saturday for girls teams and Monday for boys teams that in many cases are seeing each other for the first time. Some will bring prolific offenses, some shutdown defenses and some a measure of both. Which team advances can come down to a matter of style.

“A lot of teams are in the same mentality as we are: They don’t want to give up that first goal,” Kiski Area coach Sean Arnold said. “Whether their mentality is to sit back a little and take a look or say, ‘Hey, we’ve just got to be smart with the ball,’ or they defer to a more tactical defensive position to weather the storm ... every team has a winning record, and they’re there for a reason.”

Most teams devise their playing style through the regular season, which can include as many as 18 games for WPIAL teams, and coaches adapt it based on their personnel.

Arnold, who coached Kiski Area to the 2015 semifinals with a defensive-minded team backed by a star goalkeeper in Nick Bisceglia, considers himself a defensive-minded coach in general but is willing to change to a more offensive approach should the occasion call for it.

This season, Arnold has a roster similar to the 2015 team, and he put some of his top players to the back line in the second half of the season to shore up the defense. With juniors Owen Anderson, Tyler Ciuca and Ross Ziemianski and freshman Travis Rogal fronting senior goalkeeper Nick Smith, the Cavaliers (11-6-1) allowed just nine goals in their final nine games, going 7-1-1 in the process.

“We don’t want to dig ourselves a hole,” Arnold said. “If we get scored on in the first five minutes, emotionally, that can be a problem as well. That can be a thought process.”

Springdale shifted its mentality, too. Outside of a 20-goal spurt in two games against Section 3-A opponent Aquinas Academy, the Dynamos played relatively low-scoring games. But it proved effective.

“We have (12) shutouts in (16) games, so we know our defense is solid,” junior Mike Mitchell said. “Our defense last year was pretty good, too, but I think this year we were able to bring out some younger kids who really picked up their spots. Our offense, at the beginning of the year we were worried about it, but it hasn’t been much of an issue.”

Other teams that advanced to the playoffs based on their defensive prowess include the Apollo-Ridge and Plum girls and the Fox Chapel boys. Four of Apollo-Ridge’s six victories came by shutout, and the Vikings (6-6-1) allowed just one goal in their other two wins. Plum (12-6) posted nine shutouts, including seven in a row, and Fox Chapel (11-6-1) blanked seven teams.

On the other hand, there are the teams that can fill the back of the net with regularity, such as the Burrell (85 goals) and Deer Lakes girls (78) and the Deer Lakes boys (74).

Those teams rely on a handful of talented scorers, whether it’s Skylar Dale, Maia Ferra, Cara Fiore or Jordyn Kowalkowski on the Burrell girls; Abigail and Madeline Boulos, Nina Lafko or Lily Litrun on the Deer Lakes girls; or A.J. Dorman, Devin Murray, Ryan Rodgers or Colton Spence on the Deer Lakes boys.

“I like to think we’re still a ball-possession team and a skill team that likes to knock it around, but when you have horses up front that can score, you want to play to your strength,” Deer Lakes girls coach Frank Accetta said. “We tend not to play a lot of long balls because that’s just knocking the ball, hoping and praying. We like to work the ball down the field.”

Freeport’s girls teams used a similar, swarming possession style to reach the WPIAL semifinals each of the past two seasons. Those Yellowjackets also excelled on defense, as did Springdale’s boys in making their WPIAL run last season.

Adaptability can make the biggest difference in the playoffs, and Accetta said he believes his team can play more than one style. The Lancers will play either defensive-minded Quaker Valley or skill-heavy Brownsville in the Class AA quarterfinals.

“Based on what happens Saturday,” Accetta said, “I’ll be able to adjust my practices to what I think we’re going to see.”