With the scholastic soccer season now under way, change seems to be the word most applicable to the high school scene this fall.
On the girls side, Altoona Area High School has an entirely new coaching staff with Jim John not returning. They have had a great deal of trouble establishing a long-lasting head coach since Tim Sussengill, the founder of the program, left after 11 seasons more than a decade ago.
The Lady Lions, however, have some potential this year. New coach Anthony Lang has 10 returning starters and an influx of talent in his incoming freshman class. He has 13 classic players on the team and should play competitively with anyone on the schedule.
The Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis combined girls team has a new face on the sideline as head coach, but he is certainly not new to the game. Bruce Makin, long-time fixture in playing and coaching circles, heads up the program.
Makin played in both high school and college and in men's leagues throughout the area and served as the Altoona High boys team volunteer coach for a number of years. He has also coached many travel teams for the past two decades, both at the club and classic level. Most impressively, however, is that Makin has his National C coaching license through the United States Soccer Federation. This is very difficult to attain, and Makin, along with PSU Altoona coach Mo Taylor, is one of the very few in our area to have attained one. He is an excellent teacher of the game and should develop this program into a very solid one.
Central High School for the second consecutive year will be bringing on a new coach. Brian Campbell will have a challenge on his hands as he inherits a team that was 0-14 in the 2012 campaign and play in a tough Mountain League. The first order of business will be to increase goal production, as the Lady Dragons notched less than a handful of goals last season. They do have a number of returning starters back who gained valuable experience, which should help bolster their efforts to find the back of the net with more frequency.
Coach Chris Rozinsky will also undertake a challenge as first-year coach at Bishop Carroll, playing in the very tough Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.
The team to watch for this year is the Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic Lady Marauders. Three years ago, they were a breather in teams' LHAC schedule, and now they are a nightmare and are pounding opposing teams with their sledgehammer, Alyssa McGhee, who had 13 goals in her first two games. Since her appearance as a freshman, she has been virtually unstoppable. Opposing teams' old strategy of doubling up on her on defense will not be effective as she is now surrounded by a much more experienced group of girls with club and classic experience. Left unmarked, they will notch goals on the scoreboard with increasing frequency.
BG coach Harry McGhee was also fortunate enough to land seasoned goalkeeper Faber Moyer as an assistant coach. He will be a huge asset to not only keeper Gabby Smith but to the entire defense. McGhee also has an incredibly talented group of incoming freshmen, which should give him tremendous depth and BG opponents headaches.
On the boys side, 2012 state semifinalists Bedford should once again be a team to contend with. Head coach Jeff Thomas has amassed a 39-4-2 record going into his third season, and the Bisons should be tough in the 2013 campaign in the LHAC.
The Hollidaysburg boys may be an interesting team to watch. They had a fantastic season last year but lost virtually all of their scoring punch to graduation. The team could do well if they can find the players to step up and finish.
Along those same lines, Altoona Area High School veteran coach Dave Alexander, with 18 seasons under his belt, could be a challenger as well with seven returning starters back and strong incoming freshmen. The backyard brawl between Altoona and Hollidaysburg could be especially good this year.
The road to a District 6 Class AAA championship, however, still looks like it will go through defending champion State College as it manages to reload every year and has a great feeder program in the well-organized Centre Soccer Association.
The boys high school fall campaign has some very balanced and evenly matched teams - injuries and momentum as the season rolls on may make the biggest difference.
The Altoona Soccer Club has 12 teams registered for fall travel play in the U-8 to U-12 age brackets. This is incredible considering several years ago it was a crowded field for travel teams if there were four teams registered. This still leaves the local teams the dilemma of incredible lack of playable fields - one they may be dealing with for years to come.
Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column for the Mirror.