Keystone Oaks grads impacting Point Park soccer
The Point Park men's soccer team has international flair with players hailing from across the world including Brazil, England, France, Iraq and the Gaza Strip.
But the Pioneers also have some local flavor.
Matt Buckley, Dominic Canello and Zach Rafalowski are 2011 graduates of Keystone Oaks and are expected to be major players.
“We have played a lot more soccer together than just in high school,” Rafalowski said. “We were even on the same Cup team. It seems like we've played together forever. You can tell we have the chemistry down because its almost like I don't need to look for them because I know where they'll be.”
All three were all-section players their senior season and helped the Golden Eagles to the team's last winning season in 2011 when the squad went 8-7.
“It is nice having them out there,” Buckley said. “Especially Zach since we play closer together on the field.”
The bond shared between the players should benefit the Pioneers this season after the team claimed a Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title last season.
Buckley and Rafalowski are coming off sophomore campaigns that helped boost the Point Park defense. Buckley started at the right back and filled in at center back when other players were injured. Rafalowski is a two-year starter at the defensive midfield position.
Canello started 14 of 18 games as a sophomore. He started last season as a forward and scored five goals over the first five games. But he was moved to right outside midfield and recorded only one more goal the rest of the season.
While Buckley and Rafalowski are heading into their third seasons at Point Park, Canello is in his second. The midfielder initially went to Slippery Rock after high school and played one season. But he said Slippery Rock just wasn't the right fit, leading to his transfer closer to home.
“I may have made my commitment too early in high school,” Canello said. “I didn't feel my options out enough.”
Canello has an added benefit heading into the fall as he was a member of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds U-23 Professional Development League team alongside fellow Pioneer Max Flick.
“I spent the summer out there playing with some of the best kids in the area,” Canello said. “It was a very good speed of play. I won't be rusty going back into the season.”
The Pioneers are coming off a 12-7-1 season in which they won the KIAC title. Point Park advanced to the NAIA national tournament, falling to overall No. 1 seed Rio Grande, 2-1, in the opening round.
“It made us hungry,” Rafalowski said. “We were disappointed to lose in the first game. We wanted to go further.”
To repeat as conference champions, the team will need to find a way to overcome the team that ended its season as Rio Grande joins Point Park, Asbury, Brescie and Cincinnati Christian this season.
But what will guide the team to a three-peat is its experience. The three Keystone Oaks graduates are part of a veteran group. The former Golden Eagles are a part of an 11-member junior class, and the roster also includes six seniors.
“We have such good chemistry,” Buckley said. “We can bring all of our ability together. Everyone is going into the season with a really high morale. Everyone just wants to get out there and play.”
The team's focus will to be to prove it is once again the best team in the KIAC.
“It all starts with the conference title,” Canello said. “That is the ultimate goal. After we win the conference title, we can focus on bigger and better things like the national tournament.”
Point Parks kicks the season off Sept. 2 with a road match at Penn State York.