South Allegheny boys soccer turning heads
South Allegheny had reason to believe its boys soccer team would be improved this year.
The Gladiators were beneficiaries of the WPIAL's biennial realignment and were dropping down a classification, out of Section 3-AA and away from perennial title contender South Park along with postseason regulars Southmoreland, Thomas Jefferson and Steel Valley. A move to Section 1-A, with defending champion Greensburg Central Catholic and several middling programs, appeared to be reason to believe South Allegheny would show improvement over a dismal 2011 campaign in which it finished 1-16-0.
But arguably no one expected this.
The Gladiators, who have not qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since 2001, are 4-0-0 with wins against teams in all three classifications and are readying themselves for their section opener at home at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Winchester-Thurston.
“I took (the team) to Camp Soles to bond for a week, which was a plus, and we picked up some players this year,” said South Allegheny sixth-year coach Dean Vickers.
“Some of them played spring soccer before they played high school soccer, so that helped, and they're finally starting to understand the game.”
South Allegheny picked up junior forward Jake Thieret, who lives in Liberty and transferred from Serra Catholic — a team that is now in the Gladiators' section — and the forward has been a solid addition, leading the team with five goals. Another fresh face, junior center-midfielder Anthony Lewis, has scored three times, meaning two of the new additions have accounted for eight of the team's 12 goals.
South Allegheny has scored 12 goals; the team netted just 16 in 17 games last season and was held to one goal or fewer 14 times while allowing 78 goals.
“I had 14 first-year players last year, and these kids are better now with a full year under their belts,” Vickers said. “The move into Class A (helped) because that section we were in last year was a tough section. But we're beating Double-A teams … and I'm extremely proud and extremely pleased with how we've done and the work the kids have put in.”
Still, the real litmus test will come this week, when South Allegheny opens section play. Not only will the Gladiators host Winchester-Thurston on Wednesday, they also travel to Greensburg Central Catholic at 7:30 p.m. Thursday for a showdown with the Centurions, the No. 4 team in the Trib Total Media preseason rankings.
“It's really nice to have the nonsection games that we did to get the kids ready and to have them come together before we play in the section,” Vickers said. “With Winchester-Thurston and Greensburg Central Catholic, who is really good, I'll see how far we have come.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.