Upbeat Penn State New Kensington men’s football enters playoffs
After a successful regular season for the Penn State New Kensington men’s soccer team, the Lions look to a quest for gold this week at the Penn State University Athletic Conference tournament.
PSNK (11-4 overall) finished the conference game 8-2 and will be the No. 3 seed for the next playoffs starting on Wednesday.
The Lions will host Penn State’s No. 6 Mont Alto in the knockout format. A win there would put PSNK in the semi-finals on Saturday against Penn State No.2 Lehigh Valley.
The championship game is Sunday at 4 p.m. on the main Penn State campus.
“I think the guys have hit their stride and are in a good position for the playoffs,” said Lions coach Mark Duffield.
Duffield said a 6-2 loss to Penn State Greater Allegheny on September 21 was a turning point in the conference schedule.
The Lions have won six straight conference victories to place near the top of the PSUAC standings.
“This loss kinda woke the guys up,” said Duffield. “We saw a few points in our game that we had to work on, and they worked hard and had a pretty good run.”
PSNK ran into a buzz on Saturday against conference leader Penn State Brandywine, which handed the Lions their second conference loss.
But Duffield believes his team are well positioned to make their mark in the playoffs.
“We have (Kiski area graduate) Nolan (Johngarlo) and (Penn-Trafford graduate) Brady (Braun) as our two seniors who have been here since I started, and there are a lot of young boys who have had an impact throughout the season, ”said Duffield.
Duffield said senior freshman Ben Edwards, a midfielder who played at Burrell, was also a big contributor.
“At the start of the season, in Game 1, only two guys on the team had played a college game,” Duffield said. “We knew we had the talent, but we knew it was going to take a little while to get everyone together and play well. “
Johngarlo said he liked the way the team’s players have blended in after coming from different high schools in the area. Ten team members are part of the Alle-Kiski Valley Schools team, including Kiski Area, Valley, Burrell, Highlands and Springdale.
“We were all pretty skillful players in our high schools, and we all grew up playing against each other, so we knew what each of us had at the start of the season,” said Johngarlo.
“Working together and aiming for the same goals every day was pretty cool. I think we’re playing pretty well and we have a good chance for the playoffs. Everyone is hungry to win more matches. We just have to play like we know we can. “
Jacob Guerrini, a top scorer at Burrell, made waves in his debut season with the Lions. In 15 games, Guerrini has scored his team’s top 20 goals with six assists. He has seven multi-goal games, including four of the season’s best in a 10-5 win over Villa Maria on September 11.
“I didn’t expect to be so successful so quickly since I was a newcomer to the team,” he said. “Every game and every time I scored a goal, I gained confidence. I’m also looking to find open teammates. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win.
Five players have at least seven goals. Guerrini said he knew the offense would have a number of scoring weapons on display.
“We all trust each other to get the job done, whether it’s scoring goals or playing good defense,” Guerrini said.
“It took a total team effort to get to where we are now.
Other members of the Alle-Kiski Valley Schools team include junior Sam Barca (Valley, defense); sophomores Shane Stefanik (Highlands, defense) and Zack Conte (Springdale, midfielder); and freshmen Ryan Wurzer (Burrell, defense), Elliott Weigand (Apollo-Ridge, midfielder), Zack Rudolf (Springdale, defense) and Justin Potts (Burrell, midfielder).
Braun has scored seven goals for the Lions.
“When we play together and play together, we’re honestly the best team I’ve ever played with,” Braun said.