Chartiers Valley boys soccer gets back to postseason thanks to strong second half
When the Chartiers Valley boys soccer team lost 2-1 to South Fayette on Sept. 22, third-year coach Garrett McKenzie knew his players could be at an important crossroads. They could decide between two paths: pack it in or keep fighting.
“The guys were disappointed with the loss to South Fayette, but they understood there was a lot of season left to play,” McKenzie said. “As a team, as a coaching staff, we took a turn for the ‘right’ there.”
“I feel as if everyone on the team had a goal after that game, to continue to battle every game,” added senior leading scorer Sean Tinney. “The next round of the section, we came to play every game and battle.”
The Colts responded by winning their next seven games (through Oct. 13) and finish 8-2 in Section 4-AAA, one game behind Thomas Jefferson. More importantly, Chartiers Valley earned its first WPIAL playoff berth since 2009.
The WPIAL boys and girls soccer playoffs begin Saturday, and all four Bridgeville area teams will participate:
• The Chartiers Valley girls, like the boys, improved on a .500 season from a year ago to qualify. The Colts, 9-4 in Section 3-AAA as of publication time, were guaranteed to finish no worse than tied for third in their section.
• South Fayette’s boys and girls nudged their way into the postseason. The boys, who won the WPIAL Class AA title in 2015, stumbled down the stretch in their first season in Class AAA, going 2-3 over their final five Section 4 matches to finish 5-5. That still was good enough for the section’s fourth and final playoff spot.
• The South Fayette girls earned a clutch 4-0 win over Blackhawk on Oct. 10 to move to 7-5-1 in Section 4-AAA and guarantee a spot in the playoffs.
The Chartiers Valley boys, meanwhile, culminated a long journey back to the playoffs in spectacular fashion. In addition to the six-game winning streak that included a 5-0 mark the second time through the section, the Colts have eight shutouts.
Thomas Jefferson was not one of the Colts’ shutout victims, but CV handed the Jaguars their only loss in the section — and of the season through Oct. 13 — 3-2 on Oct. 4.
The seeds of the Colts’ success were sewn last year during a .500 run through a grueling section that included Canon-McMillan, Upper St. Clair and Peters Township. CV defeated the Big Macs and USC last season, wins McKenzie said laid the foundation for this season.
“We have a lot of upperclassmen who battled the last two years in that section,” he said. “Having wins at Upper St. Clair and Canon-Mac gave the guys a sense of belief and confidence that they can win games like that.
“To turn around this year and see the guys win games like TJ at home and South Fayette — games that in the past maybe we wouldn’t have won — the experience we got from those games last year helped our guys.”
“Playing talented teams and winning games against talented teams, it definitely prepared us,” he said. “It’s something that was a program builder, gave everyone some hope for years to come.”
In Tinney, Chartiers Valley already had one of the WPIAL’s premier offensive players. He showed it again this season, recording 19 goals through Oct. 13.
But Tinney had plenty of help. Jimmy Boyle contributed 11 goals through the end of section play, and Josh Dimatteo had 10 goals.
“They’ve all scored goals,” Tinney said about his cohorts on offense. “Big goals in big games. I was the go-to guy last year, but this year, everyone can score goals and produce and get points.”
Of course, most coaches likely are to fall back on the mantra that defense wins championships. McKenzie is no different, and he points to his defense as the “cornerstone” of the 2016 team, and it was formed by some unlikely players.
Senior Charlie Kovach played up front last season but moved to the other side of the field. Juniors Johnny Henderson and Baxter Eckenrode also made the move after playing in the midfield. Lennon Zrimsek, meanwhile, wasn’t even on the varsity last season but has proven to be a valuable performer.
And for the times opposing offenses did get past the defense, all-section keeper Caleb Zajicek was there waiting.
“Our defense is very reliable, extremely consistent,” Tinney said. “I know they can get the job done. They’re hard-working guys who fight for every ball. When we score a goal or two, then we can rely on our defense to go from there.”
The next step for the Colts is avoiding a one-and-done postseason. Getting there is a big accomplishment, but McKenzie has impressed upon the players that just making the playoffs is not satisfactory.
“Since we clinched a playoff spot, the mindset has been the same: We’re not done yet,” McKenzie said. “We’re working to get better and better and, hopefully, in the playoffs make a run.
“Last year, I thought we had a team that could get (to the playoffs) in any other section. But this year, the boys accomplished something that they’ll be able to talk about, hopefully, for years to come.”
“Our goal was playoffs,” Tinney said, “now it’s a championship.”