Ironmen end ugly losing streak against Jaguars
This one was a long time in the making.
Over the past two years, the Thomas Jefferson boys soccer team has completely dominated Steel Valley in every aspect of its game coming away with four straight section victories while outscoring the Ironmen, 23-0.
So, when Steel Valley hosted TJ at William V. Campbell Field in both teams' Section 3-AA openers Tuesday, coach John Strom's Ironmen entered the game a determined bunch.
"These guys have hammered us pretty good in the last two years," Strom said.
"(Our team is) more confident going into the year and they wanted to test themselves against a team that beat up on them pretty good the past couple years. They were looking forward to it."
With a goal by Ben Bobick just before the end of the first half Tuesday, the Ironmen notched their first goal against the Jaguars since 2007.
Once that stumbling block was cleared, Steel Valley then survived a late second half rally by TJ to emerge with a 3-2 victory that can only add momentum to its fast start to the 2010 season.
"It's kind of what we expected," Strom said after his team won two out of its three games at the Belle Vernon Tournament over the weekend.
"Going into the year we have a lot of experience coming back with our juniors and seniors. We're happy to get a section win, that's for sure. Our goal is to make the playoffs, so this is a great start."
While Steel Valley (4-1, 1-0) has found some success so far this season, TJ (1-2-1, 0-1) has struggled to find similar footing.
The Jaguars earned a 1-0 victory over Latrobe in their season opener last week, but failed to find a winning consistency in Hempfield's tournament this weekend.
"We just have guys that are learning the positions and learning where to play," Kulish, who has three WPIAL championships and one PIAA title to his credit in 18 years at TJ, said. "Until we get that ironed out as coaches then we're going to be experiencing one-goal losses."
Such growing pains were readily apparent against the Ironmen.
Following Bobick's goal that sent the Ironmen into the half with a one-goal lead, Craig Hixon upped Steel Valley's advantage to 2-0 when he beat TJ goalie Steve Shelpman in the 12th minute of the second half.
"It's just a breakdown," Kulish said. "We've been having our problems overall. There's no one person. It was just a breakdown, offense and defense communicating."
Only four minutes after falling down by a two-goal deficit, however, a goal by Jaguars sophomore captain Severin Scott began to shift the momentum back toward TJ.
"It's hard to come back when you're down by two," Scott said. "It always makes it more difficult to come back. We were trying, I just think we didn't have that teamwork tonight that we needed to win."
Another defensive breakdown by the Jaguars near the midway point of the second half allowed Ironmen senior midfielder Aaron Bott to score and make the Steel Valley lead 3-1.
"We were shaky today," Strom said. "This was probably the worst game that we've played, especially defensively. We were shaky in the back. Fortunately, we had enough to win today. That's the bottom line in wins and losses. It's a good win."
TJ forward Cody Maimone attempted to bring his team back into the game with a goal that beat Ironmen goaltender Thayne Mitrik with 9:45 left in the game, but the Jaguars never found the back of the net again.
"Sometimes we play intense 75 percent of the game," Scott said. "It's not 75 percent, it's 100 percent. We need to keep that intensity up all game."
For the first time since 1998, the Jaguars failed to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs last season.
Kulish's team finished the 2009 campaign with an 8-5-1 record in section, which placed TJ in fourth place behind Belle Vernon, who qualified for the final playoff spot with an 8-4-2 mark.
If the Jaguars are to avoid a similar fate this fall, they will have to come together quickly.
"I'm not going to say this season's over," Kulish said. "I'm not going to write it off on one game, but we have our work cut out for us."
"These guys play together and they always try to assist and help one another," he added. "If we're going to win anything it's got to be teamwork."