Crusaders determined to make return to postseason
The athletes on the Bishop Canevin boys soccer team won't deny the past two seasons have been a bit of a disappointment.
The Crusaders went 4-13-1 and finished sixth in Section 3-A in 2010. The team rebounded to finish 7-7-4 in 2011 but missed the playoffs by three games and finished fourth in the section.
With a mix of veterans and talented youngsters, Bishop Canevin is looking to bring the playoff drought to an end in 2012.
“Our freshman season was the last time we made the playoffs,” senior forward Andrew Graziano said. “Before that season, Bishop Canevin was a big name in high school soccer. We want to get it back to that.”
The team started hot, opening the season 5-2. Last week the team fell to Neshannock, 2-0, and Springdale, 1-0, but picked up a 2-1 win over Avonworth in Section 3-A action.
The strong start can be contributed to the large group of returning talent. Coach Jim Bull played a number of freshmen and sophomores last season, and now those players are experienced sophomores and juniors. Those athletes will share time on the field with eight seniors.
“The amount of playing time younger players got last season made me feel pretty confident in our depth coming into this season,” Bull said. “There was no reservations coming into the season that we would not be continuing where we left off last season.”
Bull said the offensive will be led by three seniors: forward Greg McGuire, midfielder Andrew Joseph and Graziano. The trio has been playing at the varsity level for a minimum of three seasons.
A group of younger athletes also will look to score. Sophomores midfielder Aidan Crossey, midfielder Clayton Crabbe and forward Chase Virgi are expected to play significant roles.
“Those guys all got significant playing time last season,” Bull said. “We are hoping to get these guys involved so we can move the pieces around and start scoring goals.”
The offense is one area Bull said he hopes to see improvement. While the team has five wins early in the season, their coach said too many goals are being left on the field. It is a team concern, according to Bull.
“I don't want to say I am disappointed in how the offense is playing,” Bull said. “You can't be disapointed with (five) wins this early. The kids are working hard. We are just trying to find clarity and purpose for what we want to do on offense.”
While the offense looks to find a way to get more balls into the back of the net, the defense will be able to keep opponents in check.
The defense features Sean O'Toole, an athlete not even penciled into the starting 11 before the season started. The sweeper was coming off a back injury but impressed in practices and has become a leader in the defense unit. Senior Dylan Cain and sophomore Nick Burton are expected to play big roles on defense, as well.
“The defense may be the best part of this team,” senior goalkeeper Anthony Gioia said. “It is going to be a shut-down defense.”
Gioia, a senior, started all of last season and hopes to use the experience to give the Crusaders a strong presence in the net.
“He could have started as a sophomore if we hadn't had a senior goalie that season,” Bull said. “He can make big saves if he is called upon to do that.”
Bishop Canevin will be contending in a shaken-up section; Class A powers Sewickley Academy and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart moved into Section 5-A. They were replaced by Brentwood, North Catholic and Eden Christian.
“I think it is good and bad,” Bull said. “There will be more parity across the section. But is good because we had the top three teams from Class A in our section with Sewickley Academy, OLSH and Seton-La Salle. We need to make sure we are ready for every game and not let weaker opponents pull us down.”
While the section lost two of its top teams, the Crusaders still have to contend with defending WPIAL Class A champions — and top rival — Seton-La Salle. Also, Carlynton is seeing a resurgence and gave the Crusaders a scare before falling, 1-0.
“We still have our rivals,” Gioia said. “I like that Seton is still in the section. And Carlynton. Those are our top rivals.”
Bull said he has kept his goals simple for his squad in 2012. In the past, they may have had started the season with four or five things they wanted to achieve. Now the Crusaders have one things on their minds — playoffs.
“Playoffs is it,” Gioia said. “If we meet that goal and make it in, we will go after other stuff from there. Making it to the playoffs will be so much better now as a senior.”
The Crusaders return to the field at 4 p.m. on Thursday in section action as they travel to Eden Christian.
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.