As the curtain is drawn on the 2012 scholastic soccer season, some things remained very much the same from previous seasons while others saw some remarkable changes with the onset of play this year.
The Spring Cove School District added both a boys and girls soccer program to its list of fall varsity sports, while the Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic girls soccer squad went from cellar dwellers of the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference to a very legitimate and competitive contender with a shot at the conference title, winning its first conference playoff game ever. And the co-op boys soccer squad with the unlikely alliance of Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis proved to put an extremely strong team together that made a very hard run at the District 6-AA title.
n The Bishop Guilfoyle girls changed dramatically with the appearance of an incredibly talented freshmen, Alyssa McGhee. She went through the 2012 season shattering all types of scholastic scoring records. The squad went from finishing 2-16 in 2011 to 11-9 in 2012 and going 9-7 in LHAC play. McGhee finished the season with 59 goals and 17 assists for a total of 76 points for BG. This led all scorers in the area at any level and certainly guaranteed her all-conference status if not a very good shot at all-state status.
Many of these were scored while being doubled up in defensive coverage with attempts to mark her extremely tightly. Although the girls eventually lost in the playoff rounds in districts to perennial powerhouse Richland, this was probably the biggest single turnaround for any team in one year, as last year saw the Lady Marauders losing games by double digits, struggling to find the back of the net. Coach Harry McGhee has a great deal to be excited about as he has a crop of very talented incoming freshmen next year with a great deal of Classic League Soccer play experience.
n The co-op boys team of Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis was also a very pleasant surprise to fans. The fact that these two schools like nothing more than to compete with each other in every sport is a given. This was also a team which did not even have a head coach when training camp officially started. The co-op program for the boys began in 2009, and this year they worked together remarkably well throughout the 2012 soccer campaign. The roster was split with 12 players from each school who looked, on the field, as though they had played together for years, and this earned them their first shot at district 6 playoffs ever.
They displayed an attacking style of play with striker Bobby Dawson putting pressure on up top supported by the strong aggressive play of the Bartlett brothers, Kyle and Alex, and the nifty footwork of Adam Burgett pushing forward in the midfield. Senior Kyle Bartlett will be continuing his play at Shippensburg University next season. Everything came together for the team at the culmination of the season when they made their way to the semifinal District 6 playoff game, losing a heartbreaking overtime decision to eventual district champion Phillipsburg-Osceola. This is a team which parents had to struggle to get the co-op initially, experienced some growing pains over the past several seasons only to see it all come together this year for an amazing year.
n Both the Hollidaysburg High School boys and girls squads advanced to the finals in District 6 Class AAA play again this year against a very familiar foe, the State College Little Lions. The Lady Tigers were shut out, 2-0, in the championship game, and the boys took a heartbreaking one-goal loss. The Golden Tigers under coach Craig Shale had an extremely talented and seasoned group of seniors that had played together for numerous years and provided the Tigers what was maybe their best shot to take the crown away from State College, which was under the direction of a new head coach and did not have one of its strongest teams this season.
The two no longer play each other during the regular season, which really hurts both teams in a number of ways, but the championship game did not lack any electricity. State College garnered a lead, but Hollidaysburg stormed back, only to have its efforts fall one goal shy. For decades, State College's overall dominance in district play seems to stem from the Centre County soccer system itself. Centre Soccer is a united, well-organized club from the U-6s on up and is the largest club in the PAWest soccer organization, whereas Blair County has many splintered factions with several clubs playing under several different organizations.
n There is some bright hope for the Altoona Area High School girls soccer program as the Altoona junior high girls finished 13-3-1, losing all three games by one goal to State College schools. The team had an impressive 81 goals on the season and limited the opposition to only 20 goals. Paris Haugh and Mykenah Lynn-Massar notched more than 20 goals each this season. They will be freshmen for coach Jim John, who definitely needs this kind of finishing ability after a very tough 2012 campaign for the Lady Lions this year.
n There has been growing concern over injuries this year, which is a given in a very physical sport, like soccer, which utilizes little or no protection for the player, but the fact that two games actually had to be stopped early due to injury may be a first at the high school ranks. The national increase in awareness of concussions may affect no sport more than soccer, and this has become a huge area of concern at the high school ranks.
Tom Schmitt's soccer column appears monthly in the Mirror.