As the date draws near where high school soccer teams are allowed to officially begin practice, the upcoming 2009 scholastic season promises to be one of the most competitive in recent years.
The boys season should be a challenge with Altoona sporting a very young, but talented team that was outstanding in spring travel league play in Division 1. They will be crippled by the loss of a number of team leaders like Joe Mencer, Ben Makin and goalie Stephen Weiss.
The real dogfight, however, should come in District 6 girls play, where at least three area teams have a very legitimate shot at a district title.
Hollidaysburg, which advanced to the state semis two years ago, is back with one of perhaps the most potent offensive attacks in the state, despite the loss of team leader Ashlynn Soellner to graduation. Lady Tigers Taylor Vladic, Mackenzie Walter and Jamie McConnell will provide scoring punch, if the Tigers can hold opponents on defense.
Altoona got a pleasant surprise with the return of Bre Morris and Amber McCaulley, after a year's absence. They had provided a majority of Altoona's scoring punch two years ago. Last season the Lady Lions held on to many one-goal leads by playing great defense and strong goal play by three-year starter Jordan Zilla, who must now be replaced.
Defending champ State College returns a wealth of talent and possesses the greatest depth. It will still be the team to beat, but the differences in the teams could be razor thin and every game between them should be a treat for soccer fans.
Congratulations are in order to some local soccer standouts. Amanda James, a scoring machine for Bishop Guilfoyle over the past several years with 75 goals, will head to IUP to continue her soccer career and pursue a nursing career. She put in thousands of practice hours, starting at age 5 at AYSO with her father working with her, and she played year-round for many seasons with travel, indoor and scholastic play.
Also, Hollidaysburg's Madison Aungst had the thrill of playing soccer in Austria and taking part in the Friendship Games as a sports ambassador for People to People. She also got the chance to work with fellow players from across America.
Hoping for spring
It would definitely benefit our region if girls soccer could be moved to spring play as it is in many parts of the state with the PIAA crowning two state champions for fall and spring.
Fall presents soccer, cross country, tennis, volleyball and golf to the girls and forces thin numbers on certain teams. For instance, over the past two years, the Altoona tennis team had at least five players who could have bolstered Altoona's soccer numbers if the seasons would not have conflicted.
It would be nice to see students at the high school level able to participate in as many activities as possible. A spring season for soccer would provide that chance.
Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column.