As summer draws to a close and schools have have begun fall classes, the curtain has opened on the scholastic and collegiate soccer season.
Although this year has brought many interesting developments and changes, none have been as great as the incredible coaching changes seen in the girls high school programs: Seven area schools sport new head coaches in the girls ranks.
The yearround commitment required of coaches who want to be competitive in their respective leagues takes a toll on a coach's time and entire lifestyle. Most aren't willing to commit to this type of commitment for numerous years.
Additionally, a vast majority of the schools still will only or preferably look to hire coaches from within the district. Many times this makes it difficult to find a qualified candidate who will commit to a long term stay.
Looking at area teams, there are several major developments. Spring Cove School District has added a girls and boys programs to their varsity high school sports teams this fall. Central will have a good feeder program through its junior high soccer squads where players get several years of competitive soccer before hitting the high school ranks.
The Altoona girls, who had a rock solid roster last year finished a disappointing season finishing well under .500 and lost several key seniors which anchored the team. They are a little thin in numbers and are going to have to improve on their ability to finish and get the ball in the back of the net to produce the goals they will need to be District 6 contenders.
The Hollidaysburg Lady Tigers return a vast majority of starters,but the depth of the team is comprised of newcomers and young players with limited experience. They will hold their own in the district but once again the road to a District 6 title will run through State College.
The sleeper team to watch will be the Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic girls, who will be sneaking up and surprising some teams this year. For the past several years, the Lady Marauders have been punted around by teams in the tough Laurel Highlands Conference.
This year, they are bringing in a crop of freshmen and newcomers which have a great deal of successful Classic playing experience which will significantly bolster the overall team strength, one of them is Ashland Drass, who will be joined by her father, Michael Drass, who will be taking the assistant coaching position at BGCHS.
The Penn Cambria Lady Panthers, although undergoing a coaching change with Jess Kline taking the reins, could have the year for which they have been waiting. They return 10 starters, the conference leader in saves in goal, and five strong seniors including all-conference standout Sabrina Palguta. Leading goal scorer Kaitlyn Krug is back after losing the majority of last season to injuries, sio Penn Cambria should be able to play with anybody in the Laurel Highlands Conference - the Lady Panthers only by are hampered by the fact that the team is very small in numbers and will lack depth.
The boys scholastic soccer picture may be a bit clearer.
Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers, under ninth-year coach Craig Shale, should be the area team able to challenge for the district crown, owned last season by State College.
The Tigers have an incredibly strong core of starting seniors and will be on the attack during most of the game. They are balanced on both sides of the ball, with a strong keeper in Justin Hann. They should keep opposing defenses on their heels and have excellent ability to put up goals.
Altoona lost some very key starters off of last year's squad, and the Mountain Lions are hurting for depth. The Lions have some excellent younger talent but will have to develop quickly to challenge more mature teams in the district.
Bishop Guilfoyle could face a rocky road this season with a suspect defense and few returning starters. The Mauraduers will have to notch a lot of goals to win games in the tough Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.
The Tyrone Golden Eagles, made up of players from both Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis, have numerous returning letterman and a great deal of experienced players but may encounter some problems in the fact that they did not have a head coach until after the season alread had officially begun.
Local soccer fans can take in some great collegiate play at Spring Run Stadium with both the ladies and mens teams pursuing the AMCC championship. The Penn State Altoona men's and women's teams look like they have the ability to contend for the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.
Men's coach Maurice Taylor will open his season Friday at Spring Run Stadium against Westminster. Taylor sports 11 returning players with two seniors and 13 freshmen.
Mike Robinson will provide firepower for the Lions at striker as a returning all-conference choice, and Penn State Altoona will have the services of standout team captain Dan Kennedy returning from the injury list.
Taylor even sports a player coming from Italy, Ben Gerard. Garret Stern, the Lions' other returning senior and captain will anchor the midfield, where Taylor believes the team's strength will be in controlling play with a good posession game.
Taylor sees Penn State Behrend as the team to beat to garner the conference championship.
The Penn State Altoona women hope to build on their tremendous past success, according to coach Pam Snyder Etters. They have played in the finals the past four years, winning the championship in 2008 and 2010.
The primary concern is that most of those girls are gone, and Etters will have to forge a contender this year from a younger crop of players.
The offensive hopes rests on the foot of lone senior and top offensive player Allysia Ketchem, who gained All-AMCC honors last year and tied for second in points for the conference.
The team also hopes to gain real offensive punch from highly touted freshman Theresa Deppenschmidt. Junior Jessie Kulp will anchor the Lady Lions' stingy defense.
Etters has a total of five returning players but is banking heavily on some very talented incoming freshmen to help lead them to the AMCC title.
Kelsey Swanger, standout defender from Altoona High, is travelling to Johnson and Wales University in Providence , R.I. to continue her playing career. She will help anchor the center of their flat-four defense. Wales plays in the formidable Great Northeast Athletic Conference.
Emma Blair, niece of former BG standout Bill Karnes and Peggy Karnes, has earned a starting birth with Division I Mount St. Mary's in just her freshman season. One of Mount St. Marys biggest games will come against St. Francis at Loretto on Sept. 21.