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Shady Side Academy finds motivation in dropping regular-season finale

| Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Shady Side Academy goalkeeper Phil King controls the ball during a game against West Allegheny earlier this season.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Shady Side Academy goalkeeper Phil King makes a save next to defender Chris Zhang during a game against West Allegheny earlier this season.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Shady Side Academy's Gray Garrard (6) battles West Allegheny's Kyle McCracken for a header during a game earlier this season.

As Deer Lakes' fans ran onto the soccer field, Shady Side Academy senior Chinedu Okoroafor went through the handshake line, walked to the locker room and started to fume following the Indians' 2-1 loss to the Lancers at Highmark Stadium last Thursday.

“It made my blood boil, but it also made me realize that while we may be good, we're not perfect,” Okoroafor said. “We sat in the locker room for 10 minutes, and nobody said a word.”

While the loss ruined Shady Side's shot at a perfect section season, the Indians are hoping it serves as a tuneup with the WPIAL playoffs approaching.

“It was a wake-up call,” said Evan Brazinski, who, like Okoroafor, is a senior midfielder and one of the team's captains along with senior defender Dan Marous.

“That Deer Lakes game had a playoff atmosphere.”

Which Shady Side (12-3, 11-1) didn't see much of last season thanks to a 3-2 loss in overtime to Indiana, a game in which coach James Meara's team blew a two-goal lead with 10 minutes go.

With all but one starter back, Shady Side Academy has perfected Meara's uptempo system, one that emphasizes possessing the ball and creating plenty of offensive chances, especially early.

“If we get a goal up, we're a tough team to beat,” Meara said. “If teams have to attack us, it leaves a lot of space for our creative players.”

Brazinski leads the Indians with eight goals and 10 assists. Mike Concordia, who's actually more of a lacrosse player, is someone Meara affectionately calls “a nuisance” and has been rewarded with eight goals and four assists.

Okoroafor and sophomore Matt Rytel have seven goals apiece. Sophomore midfielder Gray Garrard is someone who Meara said “has the potential to unlock a defense at any time,” something he's done to the tune of six assists.

“At the end of the day, if you don't have the ball, you can't do much,” Okoroafor said. “By the end of chasing us around for 80 minutes, teams are dead tired. That opens the field up for us.”

One of the things Shady Side Academy has done well this season is applying pressure from the start — and it's something the Indians didn't do against Deer Lakes.

After giving up a goal within the first 10 minutes, Shady Side battled back. But it obviously wasn't enough as Deer Lakes finished the upset.

“We were overconfident, and it came back to bite us,” Okoroafor said.

One of the things Shady Side Academy took away was correcting its defensive shape, Okoroafor said. Also communicating more so defenders are not marking the same forwards, something that happened against the Lancers.

“We walked in the locker room, and you could hear them celebrating,” Brazinski said. “Everybody was sitting there, taking it all in. It was a big motivator.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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