Fuel for the fire
WPIAL title loss motivation for Mars this fall
Eagle Staff Writer
Written by:
September 6, 2017
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Mars midfielder Cory Ferguson (18) was Section 1-AAA co-Player of the Year in 2016. Now a senior, he is a big reason why the Planets have high hopes this season.

Last year’s disappointment has turned into this year’s fuel for the fire for Mars’ boys soccer team.

The Planets reached the WPIAL Class AAA title game in 2016 before falling to Chartiers Valley.

It was an otherwise successful campaign for Mars, which went 17-5-1 overall, won a section title and played in the state quarterfinals.

“The boys have set a goal of doing better than last year’s team. There’s only one way to do that,” Mars coach Chris Knauff said of winning a WPIAL championship.

Leading the charge will be senior midfielder Cory Ferguson, last year’s Section 1-AAA co-Player of the Year after scoring 18 goals and adding 13 assists.

“He’s a special player and someone who we will lean on,” Knauff said.

Joining Ferguson in the midfield will be senior and returning starter Shane Lisman. Corey Heim is back at forward.

Senior Dan Feathers and juniors D.J. Carter and Garrett Riddle return to the defense.

“I’m happy with how the team has come together so far,” Knauff said. “I think we’re going to be a very offensive team. It should be exciting to watch.”

Knauff sees Section 1 shaping up as it has in the past.

“It’s going to be the same cast,” he said. “Hampton, Knoch and Greensburg Salem, they will all be tough teams.”

The Planets have made the WPIAL playoffs in each of Knauff’s 10 seasons with the team.

“I’ve been blessed to have a lot of good players,” he said. “Many of them play soccer year-round. I think the success that happens before they get here helps. It’s a motivating factor. They want to carry on that tradition.”

Seneca Valley

2016: Finished 19-2-1 overall, won section title, WPIAL Class AAAA runner-up, reached state quarterfinals

There are years when a team brings back a lot of experience.

This is not one of them for the Raiders, who bring back only senior Drew Balla as a starter from a season ago.

“He was a defender last year and has moved to the midfield for this season,” said SV coach George Williams. “He’ll be used as a holding midfielder, but we’re also looking for him to contribute to the attack as well.”

Two other letter winners — senior midfielders Caleb Cekella and Louis Newell — are also back.

The rest of the players are looking to make a positive impression with the team.

“Some people might refer to this as a rebuilding year, but we have a lot of strong players,” said Williams. “They are untested at the high school level, but a lot of them have played at a high level in club.”

Williams sees good talent all over the field.

“Two years ago, we were really strong on the attack,” he added. “Last year, other than Matt Happ (2016 Butler Eagle Boys Player of the Year), we were a defensive team. With this group, it could be more of a team effort.

“They are motivated. They want to do at least as well, if not better, than our teams from the recent past.”

With such a green roster, Williams has a plethora of choices at all positions. They include:

Goalkeeper — Tanner Sherry, Will Gallagher, Jacob Fairbend

Defense — Josh Rupert, Josh Balla, Keegan McVicker

Midfield — Wes Bodnar, Jaime DiOrio, Jake Smith, Hunter Gibson, Marco DiBucci

Forward — Jackson Wotus, Austin Myers, Seth Winters, Michael Zahorchak, Luke Rupert

C.W. North Catholic

2016: Finished 19-4-1 overall, won section title, WPIAL Class A runner-up, reached state quarterfinals

Aaron Kelly was greeted with much talent when he took over the Trojans in the offseason.

Eleven starters return from last season’s team. Among them is forward Joe Kearney, who led the team in goals as a freshman last year with 30.

But Kelly, who previously was an assistant coach for four years at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, is also very high on his defense.

The group returns seniors Danny Lynch and Luc Madonna and juniors Anthony Rivetti and Owen Daugherty.

“Our defense is our biggest strength,” Kelly said. “We have six players who can rotate in and they’re also very physical. We won’t be giving up easy goals.”

Other returning starters include forward Ryan Augustine, midfielders Nick Milas, Braiden Wills, Mike Drambel and Bryce Kopchak and goalkeeper Nathan Paras.

The returning experience and ability has the Trojans thinking big in 2017.

“We have high expectations,” Kelly said. “We’re looking to win the section and compete for a WPIAL title.”