The start of the scholastic soccer season is just around the corner with PIAA practices beginning on Monday.
One of the area teams to keep an eye on is the jointure girls soccer team for Tyrone/Bellwood-Antis. Coach Bruce Makin, in his first year with the squad, took the team to its first playoff win in districts ever and has spent time in clinics with the players and initiated a first-time weight strengthening, running, PIYO (Pilate/Yoga) and core strengthening program in the offseason.
He also has a seasoned squad returning this year, with six starters coming back for him. Carrie Vance, one of his offensive weapons, notched 19 goals and five assists last year and earned second-team all-Mountain?League honors. Marissa Panasiti also rocked the nets with 14 goals and 10 assists, earning first-team all-league honors. Hope Winston was also integral on offense with six goals and five assists.
Even better news for Makin is that Tyrone has initiated a junior high program for the girls and boys with more than 30 players enrolled in each program. This will give them significantly more playing experience when they hit the senior high ranks. Makin feels the junior high program will give the soccer program in general much more stability. He plans to focus very hard on ball possession and strengthening their midfield attack. Makin is one of the few coaches in the area with a U.S. Soccer Federation Class C National license. They should be a very interesting team to watch throughout the course of the year.
n Another team that will be on the warpath this year will be the Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic girls. Coach Harry McGhee's squad is the returning Laurel Highlands Conference champ, suffering a double-overtime loss in the district playoffs. Primary offensive weapon Alyssa McGhee, 2013 first-team all-state selection and all-conference selection, led the entire nation in total points, goals scored and assists. Fellow teammates Jordan DeLeo and Delaney Myrick on offense and a defense led by returners Tierra Miller and Maria Ruggery should make the girls a favorite again to capture the conference title.
Just three years ago, the BG girls were cellar-dwellers in the conference and considered a breather by many teams. McGhee has been successful in turning the entire program around and will have all his returning starters back to support him, with the exception of the starting goalie. McGhee will look to change some things around, however, as the very fast-paced game they play may be slowed down a little as he looks to establish a stronger possession game with more ball control by spreading the ball out a little more. Last year, after notching high-scoring numbers against most opponents, teams began to stack their box with seven or eight defenders forsaking any chance of scoring in the effort to keep BG's numbers down. McGhee will look to adjust for that this season.
n Former Glendale High graduate and football player Bill Peterson, who had worked in the front office of NFL Europe and currently the North American Soccer League Commissioner, is busy promoting his league in a very crowded soccer market. The NASL has added teams in Indy and Ottawa for 2014.
Several of the franchises in the league are struggling, but the league remains optimistic about the crowds, the fan base and the stadiums. Peterson is hopeful about franchises like Oklahoma City, which had run into problems previously. He has stated that the NASL wants to start focusing on providing more entertainment for the fans.
They are looking at archive stuff from the first go-round of the NASL, trying to create some other content, more show, highlighting goals, plays of the week, making it more vibrant for the fan base.
Tom Schmitt's soccer column runs monthly in the Mirror.