Locals lead Carlow soccer to first ever conference crown
While sharing the Fifth and Forbes Avenue corridor with Pitt, Duquense and Carnegie Mellon, Carlow University sometimes gets overlooked among the colleges in Pittsburgh.
But with a team driven by local high school products, Carlow's women's soccer program put itself on the map this fall.
The Celtics captured the first conference title in its team's history with a 1-0 overtime win over Point Park in the final of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament on Nov. 10 and finished with a 15-3-1 record after falling in the first round of the NAIA national tournament.
Every player on Carlow's women's soccer roster graduated from a WPIAL school, and many of those hail from Westmoreland County, including six players and an assistant coach from Norwin, two players each from Mt. Pleasant and Belle Vernon, and one player each from Penn-Trafford and Greensburg Central Catholic on the 2012 team.
Two of the team's four seniors, Amanda Cotherman and Lindsay Bacco, are Norwin products, and it was Cotherman who scored the game-winning goal in the 92nd minute of the KIAC final at Founders Field in Indiana Township.
“It was such a great feeling. This is a program that has been built up over the last five years,” Cotherman said.
“When I got here, we lost far more games than we won. Winning (the conference) is a great closure for me because I'm leaving the team better than it was when I got here.”
While it was the final season for Cotherman and Bacco, junior Marisa Czapor, sophomores Lauren Closser and Janelle McIntyre and freshman Jordan Huffman — all Norwin grads — will be back next year to help the Celtics' winning ways. Junior Julianna Lieb, a Penn-Trafford grad, and sophomore Amber Szekley, a GCC grad from Irwin, also will return in 2013 for Carlow.
This season was the first winning season for the program under head coach Marcus Pollidore, who was named the KIAC's Coach of the Year.
In Pollidore's first three seasons after taking over as head coach in 2006, the Celtics went a combined 2-44-3, but since 2009, the team has improved steadily with records of 4-13, 3-11-2 and 7-9 before this season's breakout.
“Every year, I try to recruit girls that want to come in and play to a high standard. The girls from Norwin and Penn-Trafford are girls that have played club soccer at a high level,” Pollidore said.
While building his team during training sessions this year, Pollidore used as motivation one of the most memorable quotes of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who famously decreed that no matter who the players in the lineup are, “The standard is the standard.”
“Mike Tomlin said that in a press conference, and it seemed apropos for our team,” Pollidore said. “One of the things I stressed all season with the girls is to define a high level and push yourself to reach that level and maintain it every game.”
The person who witnessed the entire turnaround firsthand was assistant coach Tara Imbarlina, who was a 2012 graduate of Carlow's nursing school and a 2008 graduate of Norwin.
In her first season, Imbarlina was part of a team that finished 1-15-2. She then played a part in the team's steady improvement until her graduation last spring, when she took a spot on the coaching staff.
“When I started out, we hardly had enough girls to field a team,” Imbarlina said. “To see the growth over the last five years, it's really been unbelievable.
“When I first got recruited to Carlow, I didn't know anything about the school. A couple of us from Norwin and Hempfield went there my first year, and we were able to spread the word. People still don't know it like they do Pitt, but now when I say I went to Carlow, people know where I'm talking about.”
To maintain its level of success, Pollidore said, attracting more of the Pittsburgh area's quality soccer players is a must. But while Pollidore admitted that many of the best players get drawn to the bigger schools, he said there are enough quality players that Carlow can continue to be a winning team with homegrown talent.
“The recruiting, that's all Marcus,” Cotherman said. “He definitely came to Norwin quite a number of times when I was in high school.
“I do hope that the success we achieved this year helps the team grow. It's hard for us as a small school, but I hope Carlow becomes a more well-known place as far as its athletics.”
Imbarlina also will return to Carlow as a coach in 2013, and she said preparations already are under way to keep the team on top.
“For me, this season was unbelievable. We used to strive just to have a winning season, so to win (the conference) was very emotional for me,” Imbarlina said.
“Before, no one knew about Carlow soccer. People inquiring about the team was unheard of, but now girls are asking about playing soccer here. It's incredible how much it has grown.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.