PSNK soccer is primed for an encore
So much for baby steps.
In its first year of existence, the Penn State New Kensington men's soccer program reached the conference title game last October.
With the Lions beginning their second season at 2 p.m. today at St. Vincent, coach Jack Adams wants even more rapid growth from his fledgling program.
"We didn't have much of an expectation last year, and the fact we played into late October was tremendous," Adams said. "Certainly things really meshed for us at the right time last year, and we still have a work on in progress on our hands. That said, our standard is high. We want to do even better."
The Lions record was 8-9 overall, but their 7-4 record in Penn State University Athletic Conference play, including the postseason run, raised eyebrows as Adams garnered the league's Coach of the Year honors.
Still, the Lions dropped the PSUAC title game at Penn College of Technology in Williamsport, 2-0, despite getting outshot, 37-4. That disparity will not soon be forgotten.
"Most of our players have already experienced what it takes to make the championship game and we've seen what it takes to win it," Adams said. "Expectations are high, but it's in a positive way. Our practices are more intense. Our training sessions are more focused."
PSNK lost first-team all-conference midfielder Max Pascal (Plum) to graduation, but a pair of second-teamers — forward Justin Rectenwald (Derry) and defender Adam Bombalski (Freeport) -- will pick up the slack. Rectenwald (six goals, eight assists) is the leading returning scorer and will serve as captain, along with Sam Prokopik (Plum),
Goaltending duties will be by committee after Corey Casper did not return.
"Adam will be anchoring the defense with experience and the calm under fire that he has," Adams said. "Justin and Adam touch the ball more than anyone on the field, and we're building our strategy around them. If you can find a finisher, it will take your program great distances. That type of player has yet to present itself, but I might have an answer for you in a few weeks."
Along with a challenging nonleague schedule that includes road games at LaRoche and Grove City, the Lions will host a rematch with defending champion Penn College on Oct. 15 to end the regular season.
"It's a long way away and we have some big challenges in between, but from a coach's perspective, playing Penn again will be a great litmus test for where we want to be," Adams said. "I would hope things turn out different for us this year. We have a significant number of upperclassmen and a leadership structure with guys that buy into the team culture."