Bedford changes perception

This area of Central Pa. has never been considered a hot bed for soccer, but this past year, several teams did a great deal to change the perception of soccer in our area.

First and foremost has to be the accomplishments of the Bedford Area High School girls team, led by Amber Thomas, who scored 145 goals in her high school career. The Lady Bisons brought home the PIAA Class 2A state championship, the first girls team to ever do so in District 5 or 6 — the only other team in D6 to grab a state title was the State College boys back in 1976.

The girls had just completed their third undefeated regular season and had been knocking on the door of a state championship very hard the past two seasons, falling short in the semifinals both years. The perseverance of the Bedford girls and their coach, Jeff Thomas, paid off in gold this season.

The Lady Bisons defeated a very formidable foe in former state champ Lewisburg, whose 13-9-2 record did not reflect how incredibly tough its team could play. After a rough 4-7 start, Lewisburg came on like gang busters, finishing the season incredibly strong off a very competitive schedule. It rode that momentum the whole way up to the finals where an amazing final was played between two very determined, strong-willed squads.

Up for grabs the entire game, with both teams having good opportunities to score, they headed into overtime where Bedford’s Abigail Donaldson got tripped in the box and Amber Thomas came up to nail a perfectly placed penalty shot and send the entire town of Bedford into a frenzy. No longer were soccer circles talking about Bedford being a tough team in District 5 or 6, it now was the toughest team in the state.

n Our region made another first this year in the way of state champions when Coach Patrick “Moe” Taylor led his undefeated Blazers u-16 soccer squad from the Hollidaysburg Soccer Club to the PA West Classic state championship. No other team with a roster of regional players had ever won the PA West State Cup. Mike Vladic, of Hollidaysburg, had led the Penns Forest team of Pittsburgh, some years ago, with some local girls on it to a state championship.

This was not Taylor’s first shot at the brass ring, however, as he had led two other boys teams to the state finals in years past, falling just short of the championship. Taylor later received further honors by being voted PA West Classic coach of the year, an honor he was presented at the Hall of Fame banquet in Pittsburgh in early December.

n Also of interest, longtime area soccer coach, referee and administrator, Jim Fee, was part of the refereeing team which handled the very first state PIAA soccer championship. Fee recalls it being historic as he had to call for a penalty kick in the final seconds of the game, which determined the eventual state champion.

n Paulo Neto, director of Brazilian Way Soccer Camp, will be coming back with his camp for local players. Neto had a great turnout of players last year and will be running his trainings this year at the St. Patrick School gym in Newry every Tuesday starting on Jan. 22 until March 5 with 8-12-year-olds running from 6-7:15 and 13-17-year-olds running from 7:15-8:30. Neto holds a United States Soccer Federation “A” coaching license and a UEFA “A” coaching license. His training will be done through the cooperation of the Altoona Soccer Club.

n Longtime cirector of soccer at the Summit Tennis and Athletic Club, Mike Alianiello, has indoor soccer in full swing there with futsal being played at all his tournaments and indoor leagues. He brought the touchline style of play to the Summit because it more closely matches up with the real outdoor game requiring more foot skills, more accurate passing and greater ball control than the old style blaster board games with the rubbery green fuzzy balls did. Response from players and coaches alike has been very positive.

Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column for the Mirror.