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Sewickley Academy's Jackson O'Neill excells in goal for soccer, lacrosse teams

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Jackson O'Neill's start as a goalie in two sports came from circumstance.

The sophomore began playing lacrosse in fifth grade and eventually took over the spot when there was no one else to fill the role. Several years later, a similar set of circumstances happened on the soccer field.

“No one was the goalie when I was playing lacrosse when I was younger,” O'Neill said.

“I felt like I would be good at it. Then everyone knew I was a lacrosse goalie so they thought I would be good as a goalie in soccer.

“When they had two seniors two years ago, they told me to get ready because this past year I would start. It worked pretty well because we won a state title.”

After a breakout season on the soccer field in which he recorded 14 shutouts to help the Panthers win a state title, O'Neill is stepping into the full-time starting role with the lacrosse team. He started nearly half the games last season while learning the ropes of high school lacrosse.

“It gave me good experience,” O'Neill said. “It got me used to the shots. The players are bigger and a lot better so it was a jump from middle school lacrosse. In high school you have to go in more mentally prepared to play.”

While some teams would be concerned about throwing an underclassman into the fire, Sewickley Academy coach Tim Hastings praised the effort and dedication of O'Neill.

“We have total confidence in him,” Hastings said. “He started a number of games last season. This is something he decided he wants to do and has worked really hard at it.”

Hastings added the confidence O'Neill found during the soccer team's run to WPIAL and PIAA Class A titles cannot be manufactured.

“You cannot substitute the pressure he has faced winning a state championship in soccer,” Hastings sad. “That is going to translate onto the lacrosse field. We are glad we have him.”

The strength of the team early in the season had been its defense. The Panthers installed a new offense that focuses on movement rather than having players try to take opponents 1-on-1. The scheme has taken time to develop so the play of O'Neill — along with defenders Pat Bowles, Sam Klaber and Beloit College commit Barrett Fowkes — has kept the Panthers in games. Sewickley Academy is giving up only five goals per game in WPIAL play.

“The defense is keeping us in games,” Hastings said. “The new offensive scheme is taking time to get it down so we need the defense to continue to play well until the offense starts clicking.”

Sewickley Academy travels to Shady Side Academy for an 8 p.m. start Tuesday.

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at nsmith@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.

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