Sewickley Academy sophomore goalkeeper earning his stripes in postseason
Sewickley Academy goalkeeper Jackson O'Neill was a part of a stellar defensive unit that recorded 11 shutouts during the boys soccer regular season.
But despite the success he found in his first season as a starter, the sophomore admitted the playoffs have been stressful at times.
“Right before the WPIAL final I puked,” O'Neill said. “So there are some nerves there. When I played lacrosse last year we made the playoffs, so that has helped.”
O'Neill has kept his composure on the field during the Panthers postseason run, helping the team to a 3-0 win over Beaver County Christian in the WPIAL Class A championship game and holding opponents to only three goals in five games.
It may have been the perfect time for the team to break in a young goalkeeper. The Panthers have a defense filled with seniors, including Keegan MacDougall, Jack Matten, Erik Dietrich and Grady Moyer.
“They have really helped me pressure-wise,” O'Neill said. “They calm me down. Learning to be calm has been a big thing. It has been a real learning experience.”
His maturation when he is in front of the net has been noticed by his coach.
“He has more confidence,” Sewickley Academy coach James Boone said. “He is starting to believe in himself more. The players can critique his performance and he takes the criticism and soaks it up like a sponge.
“He has done a fantastic job and better than expected. The experience he is getting now can only help down the road.”
O'Neill is also the goalkeeper for Sewickley Academy's lacrosse team. While the sports are very different, O'Neill said both positions share many of the same things that lead to a successful goalkeeper.
“You have to communicate with your defense,” O'Neill said. “You have to have good reflexes and have the ability to come out and be aggressive.”
O'Neill continued his strong effort on the soccer field into the PIAA Class A playoffs last week. The WPIAL champion Panthers opened the tournament with a 5-1 win over Bishop McCort. The Panthers got two goals from Connor Zierden along with goals from J.P. Bowell, Ryder MacDougall and Anthony Stinson.
The lone Crushers goal came from Nick Mastovich in the first half on a penalty kick.
The Panthers followed it up in the PIAA quarterfinals with a 2-1 win over Mercyhurst Prep — a squad they lost 4-0 to on Sept. 28. Sewickley Academy took a 2-0 lead in the first half with goals from Matt Teitelbaum and Mike Napoloane.
Mercyhurst Prep got on the scoreboard in the second half with a Andrew Valencia goal but the Panthers were able to hold on.
Sewickley Academy faced North Star in the semifinals on Tuesday. Results were unavailable prior to this edition's deadline. The winner moved onto the PIAA Class A championship Friday at Hersheypark Stadium.
The playoff run will be pivotal for future seasons. The team will lose 12 seniors from this year's squad so the more experience O'Neill — along with sophomore starters Geoffrey Schuchardt and Teitelbaum — get will help soften the blow from the graduations.
“It will be a tough transition in next year,” O'Neill said. “This season and the playoffs are really helping the sophomore starters get more comfortable.”