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Trib Cup: Boys soccer team leads Burrell to impressive fall season

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 8:42 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Joey Cox celebrates his goal against Valley during their game at Valley High School on Saturday, September 22, 2012.
Burrell's Pete Spagnolo keeps his eyes on the ball while battling against East Allegheny's Joe Barone during the soccer game at Burrell High School on Tuesday September 4, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

At some point during most Burrell boys soccer practices, second-year coach TJ Trozzi splits the players into two teams. One side features members of the undefeated varsity squad. Their opposition is the junior varsity.

Trozzi throws in various stipulations when the sides square off.

“Like today,” he said of Monday night's practice. “If varsity doesn't score in so many minutes or the JV holds a tie or wins, varsity has to run.”

Varsity did have to run. Twice.

“(Monday's) practice was pretty intense,” said senior keeper Alex White, the lone varsity starter who lines up with the junior varsity. “The JV, they're pretty good. They've been winning a lot, too. It makes it hard for us.”

The difficulty the Bucs have encountered in practice has hardened rather than hurt the team and has allowed the players to thrive in difficult game situations. The Bucs improved to 11-0-1 overall and 9-0-1 in Section 1-AA with a 7-0 victory against Mt. Pleasant on Thursday.

Burrell's push toward the upper echelon of Class AA is the focus of this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature.

Despite Burrell capturing a third consecutive section title last season, senior forward Pete Spagnolo — a creative force at forward and Burrell's most dangerous player — was caught off guard by the team's success this season.

“I'm more surprised this year than last,” he said. “A lot of younger guys, some who didn't have any varsity time last year, did a lot of work before the season and have become key players.”

That includes creative sophomore midfielder Joey Cox, sophomore stopper Seth Strayer and a handful of other underclassmen who rotate in and out of the lineup at various times each game.

Burrell's ability to deploy multiple weapons allows Trozzi the opportunity to innovate and use the team's speed.

“We do talk about quickness and transitioning; that's really important,” he said. “What I'm seeing more of is the team not just kicking it, but kicking it on the ground into space for a forward or outside midfielder to run on to.”

The Bucs often employ quick throw-ins and fast restarts on free kicks to keep opponents on their heels.

Utilizing the speed and width provided by senior left back Ben Wertkin and junior right back Evan West, Burrell's defense is able to support its midfield in transition and provide plenty of service to the dangerous forward tandem of brothers Pete and Tom Spagnolo.

“Their chemistry at making runs and reading each other is what makes them dangerous,” Trozzi said. “When Pete gets the ball, Tom knows where to go. When Tom gets the ball, Pete knows where to go.”

Tom, a junior, acts as the finisher with eight goals, while Pete functions as more of a setup man with seven goals and nine assists.

“I like (playing with Tom) a lot. We have good chemistry,” Pete said. “At home, we talk to each other and practice things. Throughout the game, we talk the whole time, stay together and team up on defenders like it's a two-on-one.”

Pete doesn't just credit the cohesion between himself and his brother for Burrell's success.

“More than ever, this team has great chemistry,” he said. “Everyone likes everyone. There's no drama.”

At the back, the stopper-sweeper duo of Strayer and senior Jimmy Meyers has been key to a defense that surrendered only six goals this season. Behind them in goal, White, now in his second year as a starter, has perhaps been even more vital.

After being out of soccer for four years, White returned to the sport at the encouragement of Pete Spagnolo, a teammate of his on the Burrell basketball team.

“I looked at the team, and I knew they were pretty good. They had a lot of kids returning, and I thought I could help,” White said.

After a breakout 2011 season, White has maintained that form in 2012 despite missing some time due to a hand injury. In eight games, he has surrendered only four goals, recorded four shutouts and boasts a .935 save percentage.

“I knew we needed to convince him. He's athletic, and I knew he could do it,” Pete Spagnolo said. “We worked out all offseason, and it worked out for him and the team.”

Stephen Catanese is a freelance writer.

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