As the curtain closed on the 2008 soccer year, several thoughts come to mind when looking ahead to the new year. Several issues have become very evident.
n State College, after the dust settled, remains the team to beat scholastically, as it has for the vast majority of the last two decades.
n The Hollidaysburg girls will still have two more years with some of the most talented players in the state.
n The Altoona boys will lose the nucleus of their power for the past four years and will find it hard to replace graduating seniors.
n The Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference is coming into its own.
n The Altoona girls may endure a long 2009 season because they lose their goalie, Jordan Zilla, to graduation.
The indoor soccer season has been fully fired up with the first session at the Summit Athletic Club already complete. Kudos have to go to director Tony Alianiello for keeping this league organized and in strong working order as he has helped it grow incredibly from its inception.
The first indoor tournament of the season, the Summit's own indoor tournament, was a strong success, and it will be followed by a second indoor league session, the Polar Challenge, this month and the Meltdown Challenge in February. These small-court blaster-board games have grown in interest to almost everyone, despite the fact that soccer purists still compare these games to actual soccer games in a very negative light saying that it is like comparing tennis to racquetball.
Still, the blaster-board tournaments are fast, physical and require a great amount of conditioning. The amount of play by adults also continues to grow. The over-20s is loaded with some very strong and talented players, while the over-30s remains very competitive.
n Congratulations have to go to the Hollidaysburg girls for their huge win in the championship game of the Indiana Tournament played with a 7-on-7 player format on the large indoor soccer courts, equivalent to the size of a hockey rink. The tournament had a strong, full 16-team field with strong state teams like Villa Maria and State College represented. It was nice to see former Hollidaysburg soccer standout Jen McConnell coaching the girls to victory. All players in this tourney had to play for the high school teams they were registered with.
n It's great to see some local soccer alumni give back to the area after returning from their collegiate playing time. A good example of this is Barry Snyder, who has taken over the reins of the Mount Aloysius College soccer program. They are working very hard to recruit and retain local soccer talent to jump-start a program that has suffered through the years with numbers and recruitment.
n Congratulations to Altoona Soccer Club refereeing sisters Allison and Vanessa Schmitt, who have been nominated as young referees of the year for our district in the PA West Soccer Association. They have done countless games over the past several years in the U-10, U-12 and U-14 brackets. Youth referees have been absolutely key to the club but have been very difficult to find since most players don't want to handle the duties of playing and refereeing, although the number has climbed in recent years.
Tom Schmitt's soccer column appears monthly in the Mirror.