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Guido: It's a season of change for high school soccer

| Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, 10:00 p.m.

High school soccer players can now kick the ball in any direction to begin play.

That new kickoff procedure is one of eight changes approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations, effective for the 2017 season.

Previously, the ball had to be kicked forward from the center of the field to begin play at the start of the match, after halftime and after each goal. Now, the ball can “clearly be kicked in any direction.”

“There have been a number of rules changes in soccer (at other levels), so we look to see if they are appropriate for high school competition,” said Theresia Wynns, NFHS director of sports and officials liaison to the Soccer Rules Committee. “We want to ensure that rules we consider are best for the (high school) game.”

So all free kicks, with the exception of penalty kicks, can be taken in any direction.

In another change, players are permitted to use a stutter step or a hesitation move when taking a penalty kick as long as there is continuous movement. Stutter-stepping is not an interruption of “movement toward the ball.”

Also, soft-padded headgear that meets American Society of Testing Materials standards can be worn. This allows but does not require players to use the newer headgear styles that are not just headbands.

As far as visible arm and leg compression sleeves go, they can be worn as long as the material is a single, solid color matching the color of jerseys or shorts.

In an interesting rule change, officials can use electronic communication devices if permitted by the state associations.

Wynns said this change will permit officials to improve communications and allow for “a better officiated game.”

There are 108 boys soccer teams and 101 girls teams in the WPIAL this year.

That's a far cry from the days when, even into the early 1970s, there was only one boys soccer section in the WPIAL. The section winner, for all intents and purposes, was WPIAL champion.

There are now four classes in boys and girls soccer.

The top four teams from each section will qualify for the WPIAL playoffs that begin Oct. 21.

Section wins will be counted as three points, ties are one point. Head-to-head competition will decide tiebreakers for the final playoff berth.

The WPIAL finals will be spread out from Nov. 2-4.

The PIAA playoffs begin Nov. 7 and will consist of four rounds, culminating with the finals Nov. 17-18.

PIHL hockey realignment

With fall sports athletes sweating through two-a-days, what better time to talk about high school hockey?

In this year's PIHL realignment, there again will be Classes AAA, AA, A and Division 2, once known as the Open Class.

Deer Lakes returns to PIHL competition after a brief hiatus.

Last year's Class AA champion, Plum, has been bumped up to Class AAA. There are 11 AAA teams in one conference. Each school will play their opponents twice.

In Class AA, there are no local teams, but defending Class A champion Franklin Regional has been advanced to AA.

In Class A, the East Conference has some local flavor such as Fox Chapel, Freeport, Kiski Area and Deer Lakes.

Each of the 22 Class A teams — 11 in both the East and West Conferences — will play the other 21 schools once.

Burrell will be the only local school in Division 2, consisting of a lone conference of 10 teams.

Each Division 2 school will play opponents twice. Defending champ Meadville has moved up to Class A.

There are 67 PIHL schools, down from 69 last season.

Regular-season schedules and playoff formats will be disclosed at a later date.

George Guido is a Valley News Dispatch scholastic sports correspondent. His column appears Wednesdays.

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