BOYS 1A WPIAL FINAL
# 3 Sewickley Academy (17-4) vs. #4 Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (18-2-1)
Highmark Stadium, Friday, 8 p.m.
Live Broadcast – www.msasports.net
After many years of fielding a soccer program that was often fortunate to field enough players while still located on Pittsburgh’s North Side Troy Hill neighborhood, North Catholic played bottom-feeder in the same section with two Class A perennial powers, Sewickley Academy and Seton-LaSalle.
In my two seasons as head coach of North Catholic’s program, Seton-LaSalle and Sewickley were winning WPIAL and PIAA titles with regularity, and beating our undermanned Trojans teams by lopsided scores.
A couple of years after moving its campus from the City of Pittsburgh to the Northern Suburbs in Cranberry Township, head coach Jordan Wiegand has finally been able to cherish the fruits of the move to a location that would enable him to draw from a greater talent pool of players so that he could engineer a dramatic program turnaround.
The Trojans stunned one of its old section rivals, Seton-LaSalle in the semifinal, 3-1, on Saturday, and now have its sights set on another upset against the other, Sewickley, at Highmark Stadium on Saturday.
Sewickley Academy is in the WPIAL final for the 10th time, and have won six titles. They’re also the reigning PIAA champs. The Panthers have not lost to a 1A team this season, as their lone defeats have been to 4A Peters Township, 3A Montour and Ambridge, and 2A Beaver. The Panthers began the playoffs with one-goal wins against Serra Catholic and Bentworth before beating an upstart Freedom team, 3-1, in the semifinals.
North Catholic won just six games total from 2010-14 (for the record, in my two seasons in 2007 and 2008 we won 11 games). The Trojans improved to 7-9-1 last season and have taken their play to a new level in Wiegand’s third season. The Trojans captured its first playoff berth and section title in program history, going 15-0-1 in the last 16 games with a team that has ONE senior.
“We knew we were going to have a successful year. We didn’t really know it was going to be like this. We wanted to just make playoffs, and we knew we’d be competing for the section, but we didn’t know we were going to win it outright in the fashion that we did,” Wiegand told the Tribune-Review earlier this week.
“Now we have a chance at a WPIAL championship. They are just soaking up getting into the playoffs. None of these kids were around the last time the team made it and I was in elementary school, if it was then. They are really just soaking it in.”
How they got here…
SEWICKLEY – beat Serra Catholic 3-2, Bentworth 1-0, Freedom 3-1
CWNC – beat Brentwood 3-0, Eden Christian 2-0, Seton-LaSalle 3-0
TACTICS, STRATEGIES & KEY PLAYERS
For Sewickley it’s all about Ian Deihle and Tommy Lasorda at the top of the attack who have combined to score 35 goals in the regular season, with Deihle scoring 20 and Lasorda tallying 15.
Sewickley have traditionally been a strong defensive team, with ability to possess for long stretches, and will beat teams with ability to finish in the box and are deadly on set pieces.
In tight playoff contests, Lasorda has scored three times, netting two goals in a 3-2 overtime triumph against Serra Catholic in the first round and one in the semifinal victory against Freedom.
Having coached against Wiegand when he was at Deer Lakes, it’s not a big surprise to me that he would have the Trojans in contention. His teams are always going to play hard for 90 minutes, and are tactically prepared. And now, North Catholic has some talented players that have pushed the program to new heights, rolling through the first three games of the playoffs by an 8-0 margin.
And Sewickley coach James Boone agrees, as this is a North Catholic team that is going to be a tough out.
“For North Catholic to be in the finals is fantastic for them since they haven’t been in the playoffs in a long time,” Boone said.
“We hope our experience helps us. We have nine seniors, and that senior leadership has really come through and helped out the younger players who haven’t been on a stage as big as this. Hopefully, the guys who have played in big games for us over the past few years will lead the way and, hopefully, help us get a good result. If we play the way we’re capable of playing, that’ll give us a good chance to win.”
Despite being a young squad, which is often a detraction in playoffs, North Catholic have thrived with its youth at this level — led by freshman Joe Kearney, who’s been a terror for 1A back lines with 25 goals.
Nathan Paras is one of four sophomore starters, has been a rock as the team’s goalkeeper. Paras has not given up a goal in three playoff games and has nine shutouts this season. He’s allowed one goal in the team’s last six games.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY…
Now that WPIAL/PIAA boys soccer has expanded to four classifications, the bottom tier hasn’t changed all that much in the make-up of teams. Of course, CWNC’s ascension this season has been a bit of a surprise, but still many of the same teams remain.
With the exception of Winchester Thurston in 2014, there have only been three teams that have won Class A — Seton LaSalle, Sewickely Academy and Greensburg Central Catholic.
And getting a bit nostalgic — lets see if you can recognize the coach in this picture with a motley crew North Catholic squad circa 2007 at J.C. Stone Field in North Park…