Decorated coach hopes to renew winning tradition at Steel Valley
For the love of the game.
That's John Strom's reason for wanting to stay pat as boys soccer coach at Steel Valley, his alma mater.
The program hasn't enjoyed much success since 2007 — his second year of leading the program — when the Ironmen won a WPIAL Class AA championship.
Since then, it's been tough going, though Strom remains hopeful. He savors opportunities to mentor his players, most of whom don't view the sport with the same passion as he.
“A lot of people aren't expecting a lot from us,” he said. “We only have 16 players, total. Other schools have that many just for the jayvee team. We kind of come together and do the best we can. A lot of the kids play only for the three months of the season and then concentrate on other sports.”
Perhaps the best example is senior Andrew Chuba, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound forward with 16 career goals. He is committed to Calhoun Community College to play baseball in 2014.
Chuba played center field for the Steel Valley baseball team but is expected to play mainly at shortstop at Calhoun CC, an National Junior College Athletic Association Division I school in Decatur, Ala.
“Some of us play other sports,” he said, “but I feel like the mindset toward soccer has changed with this team. We came into the summer conditioning program and have been working hard right up through the start of the games. If we push ourselves, we could be pretty good. We are realizing we can play together well as a team.”
Steel Valley's lineup includes two players who've had no previous experience in playing soccer.
“This is truly a team effort,” Strom said. “It's been an eye-opening experience. The guys work very, very hard.”
Steel Valley is off to a 4-3-0 start (2-2-0 in Section 3-AA) after Thursday night's 3-1 loss to visiting West Mifflin. The Ironmen were hoping to rebound from a 4-1 loss at Yough on Tuesday.
“Our first goal this season was to win more games than last year (Steel Valley was 3-11-0 in 2012),” Strom said. “We started off pretty well, but I think they got a little full of themselves and let up a little in that game.”
Chuba completely understands the sentiment.
“Sometimes we dog it,” Chuba said, “but whenever he says about when he plays, when he refers back to when they won championships, we try to put ourselves in his shoes. We trust his knowledge.”
That Strom's enthusiasm for this particular team can't be masked only fuels his passion to teach the game. He is, after all, among the top all-time goal scorers in Pennsylvania high school soccer history, ranking in a tie for sixth with 151 during a four-year career at Steel Valley from 1992-95 that included WPIAL titles in '94 and '95.
In ‘94, Strom scored 66 goals, which ranks as the third-most in a season by a player in the state. His brother Joe scored a 100 goals at Steel Valley from 1994-96. Their sister Jess is the former Penn State basketball star and WNBA player who currently serves as women's basketball coach at California (Pa.) University.
“Sometimes you really don't think about it,” Chuba said. “But when coach puts his turf shoes on, you just know that he was legit. The things he does with a soccer ball, it seems effortless with him, like when we do drills. That's when he takes a ball and puts it on his toe and sends it straight into the net.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.