At one point four years ago during a dismal season which Penn Hills boys soccer team would finish with a 1-17 record, one of the freshman on the squad had significant doubts when Head Coach Ryan Hankey said they would make the playoffs by thier senior season.
Fast forward to October 12, 2021.
Penn Hills were on the precipice earning the school’s first boys soccer playoff berth since 2004. but they needed to beat section rival Woodland Hills in a return match.
“Since I’ve taken over (in 2015), we’ve had a few rough years. We put in a lot of work,” Ryan Hankey, Penn Hills Head Coach, said.
“I was telling them (before Woodland Hills) that they deserve it. But they had to go out and earn it.”
Hankey found a way to positively draw inspiration from the family members of his players.
“A lot of parents sent me notes, so I decided to read them before the game,” Hankey added. “It was very emotional.”
Sharing words of encouragement from their loved ones worked, along with outstanding defensive play and an opportunistic goal coming from Josh Lee on Alinur Zhamaldinov’s assist which led the way to a 1-0 victory.
WE DID IT!! Penn Hills HS Boys soccer clinched playoff berth for the first time since 2004 by beating Woodland Hills 1-0 tonight!!!!! So proud of these guys!!! @pghsoccernow @TribPennHills @PH_Athletics @TribLiveHSSN @PittsburghPG @PennHillsSD @wpialsoccernews @soccer_wpial pic.twitter.com/d3SLwE75Si
— Coach Ryan Hankey (@CoachRyanH) October 13, 2021
Penn Hills’ victory vs Woodland Hills was emblematic of a never say die season.
After a rough start, losing seven of its first nine matches, Penn Hills were in a familiar place, looking at its season being over at the halfway point.
Following their first loss to Woodland Hills (2-1), Hankey’s squad were 2-5 in section and would have to climb past both West Mifflin and Woodland Hills in the standings to have a shot at earning a playoff berth.
First came a non-section, confidence-building 3-0 win against McKeesport, then came rematches against West Mifflin and Gateway, who they lost in those first two matches by a combined 8-1 scoreline early in the season.
In each rematch, the Indiana faced more adversity.
After making a few halftime adjustements, Josh Lee and Alex Monteque scored for Penn Hills to give the Indians a 2-1 victory over the Gators.
“That was the first win against Gateway since I’ve been coach (at Penn Hills),” Hankey added. “The boys started buying back. Knowing that, we do have a chance.”
Around the section, other teams also started to take notice.
“Ryan has done a phenomenial job with his players,” Plum’s Head Coach Raf Kolankowski said. “They have responded to his style of play. His energy and excitement can be seen in the way his players perform on the pitch. He doesn’t get the players that some of the powerhouse schools , but he’s able to get everything out of the players he has.”
With a squad with six sophomores that start or play extensive minutes, the Indians are a team that has built momentum heading into the postseason.
One of those sophomores is Landon Hankey, like his father, a 1995 Gateway grad who played at West Virginia, is an outstanding goalkeeper, who earned a spot in Class 3A, Section 4’s Finest 15. In addition, junior defender Owen Williams landed an honorable mention in the Section’s postseason honors.
Hankey said that strong senior leadership from Lee, Charlie Rosemeyer, and Tyler Stewart has helped pull this team through some tough times.
“They’ve been around through some tough times,” Hankey added. “To see that they get a chance to make it to the playoffs, that’s special.”
In addition to the younger Hankey and Williams, the elder Hankey praised some of his key contributors including juniors Eric Cronin, David Hogan, Alex Montegue, Lenny Duncan and Zhamaldinov, the team’s leading scorer (12 goals), along with sophomores Mack Byrnes, Connor Lehman, Jeremy Safran and Luke Hoolahan.
“The sophomores really stepped it up,” Hankey added. “There were times last year, when we were starting nine freshman. I am just glad that they can continue to grow. To develop, while we can make the playoffs this year so we can continue to raise that expectation and standard.”
Next up, the Indians return to the playoffs having to face the same school that they last played in 2004, Hampton.
“Experience will be on their side,” Hankey said. “In one of the games I caught, they had 11 seniors in the starting lineup. The experience. The talent level is going to be there. The coaching level is going to be top notch.”
Still, Penn Hills enters its first postseason having won five of its final seven section matches, with only losses coming to Class 3A title contenders Plum and
“It should be fun,” Hankey added. “I keep telling our boys, we have nothing to lose. They have everything to lose. If we go out and play hard and strong, like we know how to play with less mistakes, it should be a good game.”
Interview with Ryan Hankey on Pittsburgh Soccer Now YouTube Channel