Thomas Jefferson boys soccer players earn postseason honors after special season
Thomas Jefferson’s boys soccer team has been a WPIAL semifinalist three times in the last four seasons.
The Jaguars started out 2-2-1 before reeling off a five-game winning streak at midseason. TJ also won five in a row down the home stretch of the schedule, then edged No. 5 Blackhawk and No. 4 Ringgold by 2-1 scores in the first two rounds of the WPIAL playoffs.
TJ lost to top-seeded Franklin Regional, 5-1, in the WPIAL semifinals, defeated No. 3 Mars, 3-2, in the consolation game, and ended its season with a 1-0 loss to Cathedral Prep in the PIAA first round.
The Jaguars, who finished 16-6-1 overall, qualified for the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season by placing third in Section 4-3A with an 8-3-1 record, behind Franklin Regional (11-0-1) and South Fayette (9-2-1).
“In my opinion, our section was the strongest in triple-A,” coach Michael “Doc” Kulish said. “We did extremely well considering we entered the playoffs as a 12th seed and ended in third.
“Our wins throughout the season were usually one- or two- goal wins with the exception of Franklin Regional. We lost to FR twice in the regular season and once in the semifinal game.”
Three TJ seniors were chosen all-section — midfielder A.J. Meshanko, defender Ty Folk and forward Preston Lutz; along with junior goalkeeper Jack Wessel (honorable mention).
Meshanko, who led the team in scoring with 23 goals and nine assists, also was named All-WPIAL and all-state.
“We came into this season not expected to be very good and not (being able to) compete with the teams we were playing,” Meshanko said. “We came in and proved everyone of those comments to be wrong.
“I cannot be more proud of this team and what we accomplished together. Starting with the back line and goalie Jack Wessel, we shut teams down. Through the midfield, we actually connected together much better than in years past, in my opinion. Up top were our forwards, who were able to bag a number of goals this season.”
Folk was honored by the United States Coaches of America with the “Senior Excellence Award,” which recognizes an athlete for his exemplary work in the classroom and on the pitch.
“This season was one of my favorites of the past four years,” Folk said. “We came in with many people not expecting us to do much of anything. But through everyone’s hard work, determination, and ultimately teamwork, we proved everyone except for ourselves wrong.
“Making it to the state playoffs, and placing third in the WPIAL while we were a 12 seed, I think that shows just how underrated we were all year. Unfortunately, we were not able to make it to the WPIAL championship, which of course was our ultimate goal.”
Folk anchored the Jaguars’ defense and served as team captain with Meshanko.
“I believe our best strength overall was defense, starting all the way up from our striker, through the midfield, and of course to our back line and goalie,” Folk said. “We knew we had to defend as a team, and I think we did a phenomenal job all year of doing that.
“Our defensive mentality gave us the opportunity to quickly counter teams, and score very fast. I was really proud of how hard everyone worked to defend as a whole unit this season.”
Meshanko, also a kicking specialist for the Jaguars football team, racked up 60 goals during his four-year soccer career at TJ.
“Personally, I think this was one of my better years,” he said. “I can say this was the year that meant the most to me. I saw a number of seniors go (over the past three seasons), and have seen a few tears because it meant so much to them. Now, I realized why those tears were there. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you know you will not play high school soccer again.
“With this team in my senior year, we accomplished more than any of my other high school teams. I cannot thank my teammates enough on how well they performed, and making it a great season to end on. Also, I would like to thank our coaches, Doc and Mike Kulish, for another great year of TJ soccer.”
For Folk, like Mesanko, leaving behind a solid soccer legacy at TJ was important.
“Personally, I think I had a very solid season,” Folk said. “Playing the competition that we did, I came into every game with the same mentality, and that was to just do my job, and ultimately help my team win in any way that I could.
“We knew our section was one of the most competitive in the WPIAL. Also, since this was my senior season, I really wanted to take more of a leadership role and mentor some of the underclassmen so that we can keep the winning tradition at TJ alive for many years to come.”
Folk intends to pursue a career in nursing, while Meshanko plans to major in business in college then attend a chiropractic school.
Thomas Jefferson scored 57 goals while giving up 31 in 23 games this year. Lutz finished with 15 goals and 7 assists; Wessell and his goalkeeping teammates posted eight shutouts.
The Jaguars will lose 10 seniors to graduation, including five starters.
“We should be competitive next year with the younger talent we have,” Kulish said. “Having postseason games allowed our younger players to receive more experience, either in our extended practices or playing in the games.”
Kulish owns a 364-167-29 record in 560 career games.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.