Several local teams enjoy historic year

The 2019 scholastic soccer season went a long way in proving that area soccer teams can compete with nearly all programs in the state. Numerous teams had extremely strong seasons, but several teams in the region had record-setting years.

n The Altoona Area High School boys squad completed a historic season. The road to a District 6 Class 4A championship used to run through State College every season. For decades, the Little Lions dominated the district, with the exception of a few trip-ups.

The Altoona boys and coach Dave McCarter are changing that status. After losing a difficult lopsided 7-0 decision to State College earlier in the season, the district championship game brought a complete turnaround of fortune. Altoona stepped up to win the ball, control the pace of play and received a total team effort in jumping on State College for a 4-2 win in earning its second district title in three years.

The Mountain Lions went on to complete a 17-3-1 season, defeating a strong McDowell team, 2-0, before bowing out in the state playoffs, 3-1, in a very tough battle with Mount Lebanon. Altoona sported strong goalkeeping all year along with a stingy defense, but it had two scoring machines up top in the form of the speedy Alex Berardinelli and Austin Kravetz. Any team the Lions faced struggled to deal with their balanced attack. Kravetz notched 32 goals on the season, and according to McCarter, the two were a nightmare for any team to defend against.

n The Altoona girls soccer team made history of its own this season. State College had been its nemesis in the district finals for four consecutive years. But Altoona was not to be stopped this year and won the District 6 4A championship for the first time in school history.

Many of the Altoona girls play year-round, and this team improved through the past several years until Altoona dominated State College, 4-1, in the regular season and then 2-1 in the finals to capture the district championship and garner a program-high 15 wins.

n The winning continued in Blair County with the Hollidaysburg girls capturing a fourth consecutive Class 3A district title, playing an extremely strong game on all levels to down Bellefonte, 5-3. Since the reclassification of teams by the PIAA several years ago, Hollidaysburg no longer has to see arch-rivals State College or Altoona in the district playoffs. With the strong regular season Hollidaysburg plays, the Lady Tigers may be very tough to ever dethrone as district champions in the 3A level.

n Coach Craig Shale’s Hollidaysburg boys squad turned the tables on Tyrone, which edged the Tigers out of a title last year.

“We let it slip last year,” Shale said.

The Hollidaysburg boys came away with a 3-2 victory in this year’s District 6 3A championship game. This was the Tigers’ third district title in four years. Again, the shuffling and reclassification by the PIAA of teams took away some classic District 6 playoff matchups that the Tigers used to see, including battles with Altoona and State College, under the former system.

n The most consistently successful team in the region is arguably the Bedford girls team. With its 3-0 shutout of Bald Eagle Area to win its fourth straight District 5-6 2A title, Bedford began its quest for a second consecutive state championship. The Lady Bisons also completed another undefeated regular season.

The Bedford girls ultimately saw their quest for back-to-back state titles fall by the wayside with a 1-0 quarterfinal loss to Villa Maria at Chartiers Valley High School. Lady Bisons coach Jeff Thomas felt his team wasn’t able to capitalize on many key scoring opportunities. Bedford did dominate time of possession and pace of play but just could not find the back of the net. Villa Maria Coach Peter Wagner credited his defense and keeper play for the win.

n On the collegiate level, the Penn State women clinched the Big Ten Tournament title with a 2-1 overtime win over Michigan. It was the Lady Lions’ second title in three years and their eighth title overall, which is a Big Ten Conference record.

This automatically qualified the Lady Lions for the NCAA tourney, where they eventually lost to Stanford, 2-0, Sunday. PSU freshman forward Payton Linnehan was named offensive player of the Big Ten tournament, while PSU goalkeeper Amanda Dennis was the defensive player of the tournament. Former Hollidaysburg standout keeper and PSU assistant coach Tim Wassell has been a large part of all the Penn State conference titles.

n Despite scholastic playoffs taking center stage, indoor soccer play at The Summit began its first session of winter play in the younger age groups. Mike Alianiello, soccer director for the Summit, has the indoor teams rolling, and they are beginning to prepare for their tournaments slated to be played there during the 2019-20 indoor season.

Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column for the Mirror.