BROCKWAY — The Brockway boys soccer team is coming off one of, if not the best, season in program — one that saw the Rovers reach the PIAA Class A semifinals before suffering a heartbreaking overtime loss.
The Rovers’ magical 2017 season saw them win their first District 9 title in four years by thrashing Port Allegany, 7-0, in the finals before pulling out a pair of thrilling one-goal victories in the state playoffs against WPIAL foes in Seton-LaSalle (3-2) and Springdale (2-1).
Those two wins were the school’s first-ever against the WPIAL, but Brockway couldn’t quite make in 3-for-3 against District 7 though. WPIAL champ Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic edged the Rovers, 1-0, in overtime to reach the state finals, where North Catholic lost in OT itself (3-2) to D-3 champ Camp Hill.
Graduation hit the Rovers hard though, with the program losing six quality players in Anthony Esposito, Angelo Inzana, Devin Velez, Nathan Long, Carter Adams and Austin Moore — guys who played in every level of the field.
But, veteran coach Rich Esposito and his staff return a strong core in seniors Hunter Allenbaugh, Zane Puhala, Jake Anderson, Clayton Heckman and Tino Inzana to lead what will otherwise be a young squad to start the season. The team has just four juniors, with 22 of the 31 players on the roster being freshmen or sophomores this season.
“Last year was an awesome season, and we’ve talked about it a little,” said Esposito. “They’re excited about what happened last year, but they are focused and have the mindset of wanting to do that again, which is a good thing. And, the first step is getting back to the D-9 finals.
“But, we lost a lot of key people — probably more this last season than we ever have because we lost strikers, we lost midfielders, we lost defenders and our keeper. Usually, it’s one end or the other, but have a lot of holes to fill.
“We’re going to have a bunch of young guys playing this year, and we have a nice senior class with a lot of of playoff experience with those guys. They have been in close games and handled those very well last year.
“They (seniors) are actually working really well with these young kids, because they know some of them are going to be on the field with them.”
And, some of those seniors will be handling new roles this season to help offset the losses to graduation.
Allenbaugh and Puhala, who each scored 23 goals last year, will each play up top more as true strikers to help offset the scoring lost with the graduation of Adams and Esposito.
With that in mind, Esposito is moving Anderson from defense, where he played for two years, to a center-mid role. Tino Inzana, who scored the game-winner in the closing minutes last year against Seton-LaSalle, also is back in the midfield along with junior Linkin Nichols .
Heckman return on defense along with junior Nathan Bennett, while sophomore Noah Bash is moving from a midfield role back to defense to take over Anderson’s position. Fellow sophomore Dominic Inzana, who was hurt most of last year, also is looking to play defender to help the team.
A trio of freshmen — Marcus Bennett (forward), Eric Young (defender) and Jared Marchiori (midfield) — also currently find themselves in the mix for first-team action in the field to open the season.
Another key position that needs filled in goalkeeper, where Moore and his impressive resume of shutouts were lost to graduation.
Esposito said the battle for the spot is still an ongoing one between sophomore Lewis Painter and freshman Garet Park, and that a decision on who starts the opener (today) could be made as late as Monday night or in the pre-game.
“We’re defintiely going to have guys in some new positions,” said Esposito. “But, it started right away last year. When we got off the bus from Slippery Rock (loss to North Catholic), we told them here is the game plan and to work on it in the offseason and all through the spring and summer — and they did.
“The seniors did a great job getting everyone together and teaching and working with the freshmen. We have 14 of them (freshmen) and they are good players. Once they catch up to the pace of the game, and the fact it’s a little more physical than junior high, I think they’re going to be all right.
“Us coaches are really happy with the way things are progressing and excited to get the season started.”
The Rovers will do just that today, when they travel to St. Marys for a 5 p.m. game.
Seniors: Hunter Allenbaugh, Jake Anderson, Clayton Heckman, Tino Inzana, Zane Puhala.
Juniors: Nathan Bennett, Alec Fremer, Linkin Nichols, Ausatin Pringle.
Sophomores: Chase Azzato, Noah Bash, Elijah Fremer, Jared Fremer, Dominic Inzana, Ryan Lin, Lewis Painter, Connor Ryckman.
Freshmen: Noah Adams, Dylan Antonuccio, Marcus Bennett, Dylan Coder, Noah Fremer, Derek Gelnette, Joe Hertel, Cole Lunger, Jared Marchiori, Carter Nichols, Garet Park, Landon Schmader, Nolan Swanson, Eric Young.