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Young players provide potential for Thomas Jefferson boys soccer

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 1:46 a.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Thomas Jefferson's Matthew Wardlaw attempts a steal from a Belle Vernon player during game action on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, at Thomas Jefferson High School.

To coach Michael “Doc” Kulish, who was witnessing a strong effort by his Thomas Jefferson boys soccer team in its WPIAL Section 3-AA opener on Tuesday night, it would have been a shame had the Jaguars come away without a victory.

They prevailed, cementing a notion that Kulish has been selling to whomever will listen.

“I think we can make some noise, and I think we're going to be back in the playoffs,” he said following a 2-1 overtime victory over visiting Belle Vernon.

“This team has a lot of potential.”

Matt Prezioso's overtime goal broke a 1-1 tie and provided Thomas Jefferson with a victory that balanced its overall record at 2-2. More important, it gave the Jaguars a confidence boost.

“If we would have lost this game, after the way we were playing, it would have been tough for the kids to handle,” Kulish said. “I'm happy for them.”

Junior Nick Burkett's second goal of the year gave Thomas Jefferson a 1-0 lead in the second half. Prezioso, a sophomore, scored his first of the year for the game-winner.

Just two seniors are part of the Thomas Jefferson team, but one — defender Mike Redmond — is injured.

“We've only got three juniors on this team,” Kulish said. “We're loaded with sophomores (nine) and freshmen (four), but these guys are good athletes, good soccer players. We're small and young, but we're quick, fast and skilled.”

Moments after Prezioso's deciding goal, junior midfielder Mahesh Dhaubhadel circled the Thomas Jefferson bench to celebrate with his team.

Dhaubhadel, an all-section player as a sophomore in 2012, remained without a goal through the Jaguars' first four games, but he praised his teammates for their perseverance.

“I'm trying to help the guys in everything that they do,” said Dhaubhadel, who began his high school career at Napierville (Ill.) Nequa Valley before his family moved to Western Pennsylvania before the start of the 2012 season. “I try to motivate them the best I can. And they are always there for me. It's a give-and-take.”

Dhaubhadel, Kulish said, is accustomed to playing with “very good players in high school and with traveling teams.

“Our whole team is wrapped around him,” Kulish said.

Thomas Jefferson ended a two-game losing streak after opening the year with a 2-1 victory over Waynesburg on a goal by sophomore Conor O'Leary. The Jaguars next play at Steel Valley in a section game on Thursday in a rematch of their 1-0 loss to the Ironmen at the Hempfield Tournament on Sunday.

“Steel Valley is big and strong, and so is Belle Vernon. They both have nice teams,” Kulish said.

Thomas Jefferson is seeking its first WPIAL playoff appearance since 2008, when the Jaguars reached the PIAA semifinals, posting a 20-4 record. Kulish isn't ready to anoint his current team with those credentials, but he remained steadfast with a moderate outlook.

“Once these players get their confidence up and learn to play together as a team,” he said, “I think we're going to be OK.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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