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PREVIEW: East-West Classic provides tough early test for West A, Lebo and QV boys

PREVIEW: East-West Classic provides tough early test for West A, Lebo and QV boys

The East-West Classic kicks off at Highmark Stadium on Friday, and on Saturday, Pittsburgh Soccer Now will be there to provide extensive Day 2 coverage including Facebook Live audio broadcast.

Playing in this two-day tournament will provide three Western PA teams, Quaker Valley, Mt. Lebanon and West Allegheny with an opportunity to jump right into tough, competitive non-section games against some of the top schools from the Eastern side of the state.

This is the 27th year of the East-West Classic, an annual tradition which has typically been played on Labor Day weekend. Two of Western Pennsylvania’s most iconic soccer coaches, Gene Klein (with Quaker Valley from 1981-2014) and Mt. Lebanon’s Ron Wilcher, each played an influential role in helping keep this tournament going for many years. For the defending 3A state champions, West Allegheny,this will be its first time playing in the Classic.

“We’re very excited to be part of this,” Kevin Amos, Head Coach, West Allegheny said.

Now, this ‘Classic’ been handed over to a new generation of players and coaches at their schools, and a few other participants. One of the traditions with this event, that helps foster relationships and the bond between the schools competing from both sides of the Commonwealth, is players and families from home teams host players from visiting schools.

This year’s six teams represent a combined 28 state finalists and 14 state championships. Fleetwood and West Allegheny were 2018 Pennsylvania AA & AAA State Champions respectively. Wilson was a 2018 AAAA Pennsylvania State Finalist.

EAST-WEST CLASSIC SCHEDULE 

Friday, August 30th

4:00  Quaker Valley vs Exeter

5:30  West Allegheny vs Wilson

7:00  Mt Lebanon vs Fleetwood

Saturday, August 31st

10:00  Wilson vs Mt Lebanon (PSN Facebook Live) 

11:30  Exeter vs West Allegheny (PSN Facebook Live)

1:00 Fleetwood vs Quaker Valley (PSN Facebook Live)

Here’s a closer look at the three teams from Western PA and more from each coach:

West Allegheny

Head Coach: Kevin Amos

The defending PIAA champions return only four starters, and will be seeing a lot of roster turnover, but Amos is very confident that his program and community continues to produce quality players.

We know West Allegheny will have ability to score with talented midfielders and a top-notch goal scorer at the top of the attack with Amos’ son, Fletcher, who scored a pair of goals in 2-1 win in its PIAA semifinal rematch against WPIAL champs Franklin Regional a season ago.

“We’re young. Only be starting four seniors — while last year’s (PIAA champions) had nine seniors. I’m sure they’ll make mistakes, but it’s important that we play through those. We have a lot of sophomores (12) who will be very much a part of what we’re doing. Even when the majority of (former West A standout/captain) Nate (Dragisich’s) group were sophomores, we had a lot of 1-0 losses.” 

“A bunch of our younger players are very technically skilled and have been playing together through our community and club teams so that helps.  What will help is having two of our four seniors returning to our back line. We’ll play a lot of three in the back and they’ll (Caleb Miller and Gavin Chappel) will be our anchors.” 

Ironically, despite all of its success in recent years, Amos pointed out West Allegheny has struggled in games at Highmark Stadium, including losing the in the WPIAL finals the past two seasons to Montour (2017), and Franklin Regional (2018).

“Never really played well there. Not sure why. We played in WPIAL finals in four of the past six years. Not sure if it’s the dimensions or what. In past years, never played there before the WPIAL finals, so this will be a good experience, and may help this group down the road when hopefully playing there again.” 

West Allegheny will be without Jaxson Ervin, who was a key player on the state championship team as a freshman, as he tore his ACL and will miss his sophomore season.

Mt. Lebanon

Head Coach: Bill Perz

Wilcher started the program more than 30 years ago. His son took over for a number of years and now Perz enters his fourth season at the helm. Historically, the Blue Devils have produced a strong program, winning 10 WPIAL titles, but in recent years, rival teams in its section (‘South Hills Derby’ rivals Canon-Mac, Peters Twp and Upper St. Clair) have overtaken Mt. Lebanon. 

This year, Mt. Lebanon are optimistic, as Perz believe his squad has more depth, quality players and athleticism to not only return to the playoffs (they lost to eventual champions Seneca Valley, 2-1 in quarterfinal round in 2018), but be a dangerous team come October and November.

Perz, who played under Wilcher from 1999-2003, said among his top returning players this year include:

#5 – Croce Giuseppe (Sr – MF)  – plays for Hounds Academy, great with his left foot, speedy — and has played all four years with Lebo’s varsity team, which Perz said has been both tough and good. 

#10 – Danny Simboro – (SR – MF/F) – another attacking player, big body, athletic 

#12 – Zach Nellas – (JR – MF) – expecting big things from this year. Key midfield player for team that will be possession-oriented. 

Perz said: “The East-West Classic ‘is the ultimate litmus test to see how we’ll do vs top teams in section play.” 

“It’s the best way to put our guys in uncomfortable position. We’ll already know what it will be like when we have to play C-Mac, Peters, etc. It won’t be as much of a surprise.  It can be a grind in the South Hills Derby.”

Perz said they like to play a possession-based system, building things up out of the back, through the midfield and to the final third. 

“We defend from the top — with our forwards and wide players pressuring the ball as soon as they lose it.” 

Quaker Valley

Head Coach: Andrew Marshall

The Quakers return to the scene of the crime, if you will.

The past two Novembers, at Highmark Stadium, Quaker Valley were on the verge of winning WPIAL titles, only to have Class 2A rival Shady Side Academy pull off consecutive miraculous finishes to walk away with District crowns.

Despite graduating a number of seniors from that have played in WPIAL finals at Highmark the previous three seasons, this year’s Quaker Valley squad should be as strong as ever.

“It’s been awesome with this group. It’s such a great atmosphere to be a part of,” Quaker Valley head coach Andrew Marshall said recently. “It’s an enjoyable experience from a coaching standpoint. It certainly looks like they are enjoying themselves, minus (running) all the hills.”

The Quakers return six starters: senior striker Franky Fernandez, senior left back Nick Kriebel, junior central defensive midfielder Brody Jones, senior central midfielder Fritz Reiter and senior center backs Tommy Guild and Dom Reiter.

“Each team has a little difference to it. It’s not always just the seniors or the captains. One of our identities this year will be our athleticism. We probably have the athleticism similar to some of the bigger schools,” he said. “The mentality of this group is a strength. If things are not going our way or the ball is not bouncing our way, I think this group will find a way to stay determined and persevere and get something out of each game. I am excited to see that.”

Quaker Valley went unbeaten (12-0) to claim the Section 4-AA title last year. The squad hopes it can run the table again. But, playing against competition in the East-West Classic will help prepare them for the most challenging opponents that will be yet to come down the road this season when they’re aspiring to reach Highmark Stadium for the fourth straight season in the 2A WPIAL Final.

This time around, they’re hoping to win it all once again.

 

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets including Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the United States. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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