Reflecting on local soccer as it draws to a close for 2009, it proved to be an extremely exciting year for area scholastic, travel and collegiate teams.
On the high school front, although the Altoona boys and girls teams failed to realize their goals as far as wins and losses, both have a great deal to build on. The Altoona boys have a superb group of underclassmen who will develop even further during the indoor and spring travel season when they play as a group. Look for them to be in the thick of the District 6 race next fall.
The AAHS girls struggled mightily this year. By far their biggest problem was putting the ball in the back of the net. Next year, some of the younger strikers, such as Hannah Makin, will have gained valuable experience and together with the return of Bre Morris should be a force to be reckoned with. The midfield, the defense and goalie position should definitely be solid.
Hollidaysburg will once again be the shining stars of girls soccer in our region. The Lady Tiger will play classic and travel this spring and summer and will gain even greater experience. They will, however, have their last chance at overcoming what has been their nemesis the past two seasons, the State College Lady Little Lions. This will truly be their last shot at a district title and run at states for a while. Their group of seniors will be absolutely phenomenal.
The Golden Tiger boys squad however will be hard pressed to match the success of last year. They will lose a number of talented seniors and could experience a true rebuilding year.
The Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic boys and girls squads could truly come of age next year. Both the boys and girls coaches will run the teams in spring travel squads and run clinics throughout the summer. They should have a very solid base, and once they begin to play as a team, should definitely hold their own in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.
At the collegiate level, the Altoona campus of Penn State should continue its winning ways. Both men's coach John Parente and women's coach Tim Wassell have developed not only competitive squads but have become a force with whick to reckon for even the four year schools that they play.
The girls finished a whisker away from a conference championship this year, and next year should be able to lay claim to the title. The men's team also has more than a legitimate chance at grabbing a conference title. The fact that players are staying and playing longer at the campus has definitely made both teams much stronger.
The most interesting scenario at the regional collegiate level will occur at Mount Aloysius. For years, The Mount has battled just to be able to put 11 players on the field. It was not unusual several seasons ago for the men to play many of their games one or two players down. There has been a strong effort to turn the tide for the men, but only time will tell if the program can actually survive.
On the women's side, Barry Snyder brings youth, energy, and very strong playing experience as the women's head coach. Barry recruited as hard as possible to get the best local talent to stay at home and play with the Mounties. He viewed many area high school games in an effort to recruit stronger players into the girls fold. It's great to see local product Nikki Stuller playing at The Mount. She is exactly the type of strong, energetic, experienced player it needs. She definitely will serve as a leader and inspiration to the team.
The girls did, however, lose a very strong player in sophomore Angela Rieg who opted to come on board as a girls coach at Penn Cambria High School in order to help develop its program. She has been a great addition to the PC Panthers as a coach, but a big loss to the Mounties ladies squad.
Currently, the area is the middle of its indoor soccer season. The Summit classic and first session of play are already completed. Remaining at The Summit Tennis and Athletic Club on the indoor slate are the Polar Challenge and Spring Meltdown along with the second indoor session. It would be nice if it would be able to field teams in all brackets particularly for the girls so squads did not have to jump up three or four years in age brackets just to get playing experience.
Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column for the Mirror.