The Belle Vernon boys soccer team enjoyed arguably the greatest season in the program's history last year, advancing to the WPIAL Class AA title game and PIAA quarterfinals.
A tough act to follow, to be sure. The Leopards' coach, though, believes it was only a sign of things to come.
“As good as we were last year, so far this season, I think our play on the field has actually been a little better,” coach John Kerekes said. “I've been really happy with the way we've played.”
Belle Vernon, ranked fourth in Class AA by the Tribune-Review, is off to a 5-1 start using a lineup that included five returning starters from last season's 20-4 team. That was the second consecutive year in which the Leopards advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals.
They also were WPIAL finalists for the first time. A 3-0 loss to Hampton wasn't the way the Leopards envisioned their experience, however.
“We're trying to get back to the WPIAL championship — that's the ultimate goal, to win that and not to walk off the field feeling like we left something out there on the field like we did last year,” Kerekes said. “We didn't feel like we played our game last year in the finals. Whether it nerves or whatever, we want to get back and prove that a 3-0 loss isn't usually what the score is when a Belle Vernon team shows up.”
Returning starters include senior co-captains Alan Robinson, T.J. Radic and Anthony Zenobi, and senior sniper Dave Wurmlinger.
Radic and Zenobi are center-midfielders, and Robinson and fellow returning starter David Kost, a junior, play defense.
“If we keep coming together and working together like we have, I do think we have a very good chance of going just as far as last year — if not further,” Radic said.
Robinson was moved from forward, where Kerekes said, “he pretty much played his whole life.” But Robinson was needed to shore up a back line that lost three starters and the starting goalkeeper.
“Our defense this year has been excellent,” Kerekes said. “With new starters and a new keeper, I expected to have some problems, but there haven't been any. It's a very nice surprise to see them do so well defensively.”
Belle Vernon has allowed only four goals in six games and is allowing an average of less than four shots per game.
Wurmlinger has 2 1⁄2 times more goals by himself than all of Belle Vernon's opponents combined this season. Coming off a season in which he had 22 during the regular season, Wurmlinger has 10 goals.
“He has very good ball skill, and he's just a really quick, fast player,” Kerekes said. “He's able to take his quickness and apply it to his ball skills, which usually with fast players, they don't have great ball skills. They're fast, but they can't do things quickly with the ball.”
Kerekes is in his eighth season as Belle Vernon's coach, and he said this team has been the best he's seen at time of possession.
“I've been completely amazed at how we've been able to hold onto the ball,” Kerekes said. “That's come from working hard in practice and then applying it to the field.
“At the end of the day, possession is the No. 1 thing to determine if we're going to be in a game or win a game. Teams that possess the best usually win championships.”
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