As playoff time approaches for the scholastic soccer season, many unexpected turns have taken place during the course of the year.
One of the unexpected surprises has been the year that the Hollidaysburg Lady Tigers squad has undergone. The team, which last year advanced to the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals, returned all of its freshmen starters. The girls have looked extremely sharp at times but also have lost some games that made them look vulnerable.
Having dropped a game to Somerset, not only exposed their vulnerability, but showed the strength of the teams in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference. Hollidaysburg will definitely be challenged for the District 6 crown by a very talented and very deep State College squad.
The Lady Little Lions are not only extremely talented, but they have as good as or better team speed as Hollidaysburg. State College, the top seed for the District 6 playoffs, defeated Hollidaysburg, the fourth seed, twice during the regular season. The battle for the District 6 championship and to advance to the state playoffs will indeed be an interesting one to watch.
n The Altoona girls have continued to struggle as injuries and the loss of their top scorers from last season have truly taken their toll. Goalie Jordan Zilla and the defense have truly been tested in a number of games. The same may be said of the Hollidaysburg boys squad, which has a number of talented individual players but lacks strength in certain positions and has little depth. That has been evident in their games with arch-rival Altoona and other strong District 6 foes.
n The strength of the Altoona boys squad is its senior returning lettermen, and the Mountain Lions own a nice victory over State College. Altoona will have to show greater consistency in order to earn coach Dave Alexander his third District 6-AAA title. It definitely appears, however, that goalie Stephen Weiss is playing his best in between the pipes as the season heads into the playoffs.
n The Bishop Guilfoyle Lady Marauders have also shown a marked improvement in play in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference. BG has developed its own incredibly strong offensive attack in the form of Alli Williams, Morgan Berger and Amanda James. It has not been unusual to see one of them have a hat trick during a number of games.
n On the youth soccer front, congratulations are in order for the Altoona soccer club's U-10 and U-12 girls travel teams. These teams have been together for several years and have become mini-scoring machines, averaging 10-12 goals per game.
The club's fundamentals are extremely sharp, and it would probably be in the best interest of the Altoona U-12 team to move to an A level of play for the next season.
n It was a nice gesture to see the Penn State Altoona men's and women's soccer programs host their third annual youth soccer night at Spring Run Stadium. This is a great experience for AYSO youth from Altoona, Hollidaysburg, Tyrone and younger club teams to interact with the players.
n It's also nice to see a program, which has been struggling, turn its fortunes around. This has happened with the Juniata College women's soccer program, which after years of fighting for respectability, is off to an extremely strong start, the best in the program's history. The team has experienced some wins over very strong ranked teams and has developed a successful offense, which had been absent in the past.
Tom Schmitt's column appears monthly.