Cavanaughs add stability to Penn State New Kensington men's soccer
There's a familiar face and voice roaming the sidelines for Penn State New Kensington men's soccer.
The face is longtime assistant-turned-coach Pat Cavanaugh. The hoarse and raspy voice that echoes throughout the PSNK soccer facility belongs to his son, Casey.
They took charge of a team 12 days before preseason camp began. The Lions talented are headed into the meat of their regular season schedule.
“I was the head coach in 2012. Then I went back to being an assistant coach,” said Pat Cavanaugh, who has been with the program for six seasons. “I'm here to fill back in and to keep things consistent. It's seamless and with (Casey) and Cole, they're two of the best assistants a coach can have.”
Having endured three coaching changes over the past six years, the elder Cavanaugh has been the common thread that has bound the PSNK men's soccer program together.
In 2017 the roster numbers add up. With 20 players, PSNK (2-0-1, 1-0-1) has one of the largest rosters in the Penn State University Athletic Conference.
With numbers and depth, the Lions are in an unfamiliar position in at practice and during games.
“(Having the numbers) makes practices and games a lot easier to coach and to work with because we have substitutions and people on the bench,” said Casey Cavanaugh, whose final season as a PSNK player came in 2014. “We don't have to overwork players, and it gives us an advantage on all fronts. It is nice.”
No player is more vital than senior forward Pascal Bikanura, who leads the PSUAC with six goals.
Bikanura's earned PSUAC Men's Soccer Player of the Week honors last week.
“He loves getting the ball,” Pat Cavanaugh said. ”Just get him the ball and he does funny things, and it's great. Other kids try to do it and they get hurt.”
Bikanura's passion has influenced his teammates and created a standard they want to meet. Cavanaugh said Bikanura's leadership has grown in his final season.
“His skill is so much higher than everybody else's. So everybody has only one thing to do, which is to play up,” Casey Cavanaugh said.
Brothers Ryan and Matt Stanga bring solid play and knowledge of the game to PSNK. The Deer Lakes graduates were key to Saturday's 9-2 win over conference foe Penn State Worthington Scranton.
The Stangas shore up a defense in front of goalkeeper Joshua Zakrzewski, who has a 1.5 goals-against average through three matches this season.
“Ryan is just a solid player,” Pat Cavanaugh said. “He's the shortest guy on the team but has his head on the ball more than anybody. You can put him anywhere, and he's going to play a solid game.”
Freshman David Belitskus (Valley) has fortified the PSNK defense as well.
Zakrzewski was PSUAC Goalie of the Week last week. Zakrewski will trade his PSNK soccer uniform in for camouflage as he deploys to Iraq this November as a member of the Air Force reserve.
Cavanaugh will work Cody Shoemaker in at goalkeeper to keep the senior fresh when his number is called.
“Cody backed him up last year because (Zakrzewski) couldn't make it one weekend last year because of drill,” said Cavanaugh. “Cody did well, and he plays baseball, so he can catch.”
Another spark for the Lions is sophomore Alex Ferracio (Kiski Area). Ferracio scored two goals and added three assists in Saturday's win over Penn State Worthington Scranton.
“He just came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I'd like to go out for the team,' ” Cavanaugh said. “He put on a uniform, and I was like, ‘Holy mackerel, the kid can play.' ”
Cavanaugh and his Lions face the challenges of traveling to Penn State Hazleton and Penn State Brandywine this weekend. Once PSNK returns from its road trip, the Cavanaughs will have a better idea of where the Lions area headed.
“The big test will be Hazleton, Brandywine and then Penn State Beaver,” Cavanaugh said.
William Whalen is a freelance writer.