As the curtain closed on the 2013 scholastic season, it proved to be one of the most interesting in years. There were teams which excelled beyond all expectations, some teams which proved to be the same stable forces of soccer they always have been and those that ended their season in unexpected heartbreak.
In AAAA District championship play, once again State College proved to be a notch above the rest of the field and continued their stranglehold on the district title which it has had for decades. The Hollidaysburg Golden Tiger boys, however, surprised many after graduating a nucleus of their team which was responsible for a vast majority of their scoring punch. They played exceedingly well in fighting their way to the district final against State College.
The biggest difference in the teams may have been summed up by Golden Tiger coach Craig Shale, who said, "They play tough teams every week and we don't." The loss of playing the Little Lions for two regular season scheduled games on their schedule, definitely was detrimental. These games gave them a chance to get a real feel for the type of game State played. Never stepping on the field with them prior to district playoffs is a terrible setback for both Hollidaysburg and Altoona. It was the Little Lions' third straight district title.
The Hollidaysburg girls ran into the same nemesis in State College in their district final, and they were simply overpowered 5-1, with a stifling Lady Lion defense that allowed the Lady Tigers only one shot on goal. Their victory gave the State girls their sixth straight district crown. Playing in the Mid-Penn Conference definitely gives State College the kind of competition other teams in district playoffs just don't get.
The Philipsburg-Osceola boys team may have been one the biggest shockers come playoff time. After amassing only a 10-8-1 record going into the finals, the Mounties caught fire in the playoffs to garner their second consecutive District 6 Class AA title. With most of last years championship team lost to graduation, coach Shawn Inlow began to get his troops on a roll about midseason, and they continued to improve the entire way through their 2-0 trimming of Tyrone in the championship game. With most of this team returning next season, they will definitely be a squad to watch in 2014.
The Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic girls had been a team on fire all season long, with a potent high scoring offense featuring the top scorer in the nation in Alyssa McGhee, they ran through the tough Laurel Highlands Conference, winning the 2013 LHAC crown in strong fashion.
The bottom fell out however in a brutal two-overtime championship loss to Richland with a 2-1 count. The Marauders had beaten the Richland Rams earlier in the season, but BG, which had averaged almost eight goals per game, was limited to a single goal when Richland coach Nathan Gironda went with a tight man-to-man defense which didn't allow the Lady Marauders any space for their forwards to break free. This Marauder squad, however, is comprised heavily of freshmen and sophomores, and will be making a lot of noise at the district and state level for the next three years.
Another team making soccer fans take notice this season was the Tyrone/Bellwood jointure girls soccer team. Coach Bruce Makin was named as the coach only one week before practices got under way, and the seasoned soccer veteran pulled the girls together to play a strong 9-7 regular season and participate in and win their first district playoff game ever. Makin will lose five seniors, but will work with the girls program year round, and should be back next year to be even a bigger force in girls Class AA soccer.
A team that has flown under the radar has been the Bedford Bison boys soccer team. It has won back-to-back district titles the past two seasons and progressed to the state semifinals both years. This season, the Bisons had the services of the big scoring foreign exchange student Sebastian Jene-Aljua who complemented an extremely powerful defense led by outstanding goalie Brady Thomas.
Even more to their credit, the Bisons advanced to the state semis with only three starters from last year's squad returning. It has been many years since any team in our area has had a run into state playoffs several years in a row. Their opponent, West Allegheny, had perhaps the best defense in the state, had not been scored on since Oct. 10 and gave up only five goals all season.
Hats off to the Mount Aloysius men's soccer team for its first ever Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Tournament appearance and nabbing a victory over Penn State-Altoona, 2-0. This feat is even more outstanding considering that 6 or 7 years ago, Mount Aloysius was having trouble gathering enough players to field a team for some games.