The Shady Side Academy boys soccer team ended its season with a 12-6 record and advanced to the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals before falling to Quaker Valley.
For first-year coach Graeme Dunlap, it was a successful season.
“I’d say this first year at the helm was kind of a big ball of emotions,” Dunlap said. “We were all so sad to see (former coach) James (Meara) go, but at the same time I had to focus on the season at hand. So it was a little stressful at times.
“Luckily James was there to answer the phone any time that I had a question or needed some advice. I would say overall it was a pleasant surprise for us in the end.”
The coach was happy with his team’s campaign.
“Considering we are the only team in the WPIAL that plays up an entire classification, plus losing our head coach days before the season started in addition to losing seven starters, I would say that making it a couple of rounds deep in the playoffs was a fantastic performance overall.”
Dunlap found the squad’s chemistry to be a beneficial factor.
“I would say that the most pleasant surprise of the season was the team as a whole. It became such a family environment given all the changes,” he said.
“I think we all kind of rallied around that to try and keep the momentum going for a program that we had spent the last couple years re-establishing. I was pleasantly surprised at the ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach that the boys had the entire season.”
Dunlap gave much of the credit to this year’s seniors.
“While we are only losing four seniors, three of them starters. The intangibles and off-the-field losses are going to be massive. Goalie Phil King is leaving SSA as the career and season shutouts leader. He will leave some pretty big shoes to fill next year.
“And certainly Russ Hunt and Conan Smith provided leadership that will be hugely missed. The seniors this year really took on the big brother role to make sure the younger guys were always on the same page, always lending them advice and just making sure we stayed as close-knit as possible.”
Despite the graduation losses, Dunlap is excited about the returning players.
“We do have some great talent returning, led by next year’s captains Gray Garrard and Matt Rytel. We know that the team is in good hands.
“We will be relying on Gray, Matt and Brendan Brazinski to replace the set-up type goals that Russ Hunt helped us so much on this past season,” Dunlap said. “In addition, guys like Pat Hill-Junke, Dipak Krishnan, Will Stewart and Stephen Davis will have to step it up and inherit some of the scoring burden.”
The defense faces an uphill battle to live up to this season’s squad, Dunlap said.
“Defensively, Mac Ference and the Zhang twins will be forced to anchor a defense that is following one of SSA’s most accomplished defensive seasons ever, and that’s not an easy task,” he said. “Mark Antosz will also see his role change for the upcoming season. And we are already turning our attention to some of the incoming freshman that may be asked to cut their teeth in the summer so that they are ready to go come September.
“The boys know that there is added pressure coming off of a successful season, and we have tons of work to do, but I believe that this group can use this past season as a springboard for future success.”
Marty Stewart is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-782-2123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.