Joseph Schmid (12) and Wyoming Valley West are looking for another District 2 Class 3A championship in 2009.S. John Wilkin file photo/The Times Leader
It’s well-known that when a championship team in any sport begins the next season, everyone else is gunning for a chance to knock the defending champs down.
That’s no different this season as the Wyoming Valley Conference soccer season begins Friday with eight matches on the schedule.
Coughlin, which won the Division I title a year ago, not only returns the league’s leading scorer from 2008 in Brian Suchoski, but has a majority of its players back from last year’s squad and is trying to repeat.
But don’t tell Crusaders coach Rob Havard that his team is the favorite.
“I would say there is (a target on our back) but the talent, the teams and the coaches have gotten better for every team this year,” the fourth-year coach said. “In years past, it’s been the top three, then everyone else. I don’t think it’s like that anymore.”
While Havard thinks D-I will be fairly even, Division II appears to be more wide open than in recent years.
Nanticoke, which won the D-II title last year from Lake-Lehman on the final day of the regular season, has graduated several players but should still be in the mix once again.
The Black Knights, along with Meyers, have been strong contenders over the last few seasons, while Hanover Area, Berwick, Pittston Area and Wyoming Area have all waited a whole year in preparation for the new season. The aforementioned teams all have high hopes and are championship-caliber squads.
“I think the division is going to be pretty even, where many teams are going to challenge for the top spot,” said Nanticoke coach Mark Matusek, who is the longest-tenured coach in the conference, entering his 21st season. “It’s going to be very competitive.”
Coughlin: The Crusaders had enormous depth last season, and although they lost four starters from that team, some key pieces are still around. Last year, they lost in the District 2 Class 2A semifinals to Valley View after winning the Division I title, but a feisty bunch will be out to improve on that mark.
Dallas: Abington Heights dropped down to Class 2A in District 2 last season and the Mountaineers were possibly the team hurt the most, as they lost to the Comets in the district semifinals. Paced by a strong returning class and an always stingy defense, Dallas should contend for the Division I and District 2 Class 2A championships.
Hanover Area: Possibly a sleeper team in Division II, the Hawkeyes finished last season with an 8-8 record but were young. They have a lethal one-two punch with Matt Lukachinsky and Austin Bogart, who tallied 41 and 39 points last season, respectively.
Lake-Lehman: The Black Knights finished in second place in Division II last season and have done superbly since dropping down to the division in 2007. Look for the same kind of success this season and for the Black Knights to continue their winning ways.
Meyers: Last season was a down year for the Mohawks, if a 10-5-1 season can be considered poor. In the previous two years, Meyers was 29-1. Division II appears to be wide open this year and the way Meyers has been a perennial contender, expect the same from Jack Nolan’s bunch.
Wyoming Valley West: The Spartans lost a lot from last year’s District 2 Class 3A championship team, but they also did the past two seasons under coach Aaron Littzi and have rebounded well. This season shouldn’t be much different, especially with a healthy and thriving Joseph Schmid.
Sleeper Teams: Nanticoke won the Division II title last year and should be in contention once again this season. Also watch out for Berwick in D-II. The Bulldogs have a great nucleus returning from last year’s 8-8 squad.
In Division I, Crestwood should give the three teams mentioned above a run for the money. Hazleton Area and Holy Redeemer also start the season with high expectations and have the ability to pull off upsets.
Eric Cannon, Dallas: On a potent Dallas squad last year, Cannon was a great complement to Kevin Pierce who had an outstanding season. Now a senior, Cannon will look to improve on a 10-goal, 19-assist campaign from a year ago.
Nick Despirito, Crestwood: A senior, he is possibly one of the most underrated players in the WVC. Last year, he tallied 18 goals 6 assists and 42 points. Prior to that, he netted 8 goals and 2 assists for 18 points in 2007.
Mike Henger, Berwick: The Bulldogs are a sleeper team this season and Henger is a big reason for that. A senior, he had 12 goals, 6 assists and 28 points last year. In his previous two seasons with Berwick, he combined for 14 goals and one assist.
Matt Lukachinsky, Hanover Area: Of all the returning players in Division II, the junior is the leading scorer returning. Last year, he posted 18 goals and five assists for 41 points. In his freshman season he had seven goals, four assists for 18 points.
Joseph Schmid, Wyoming Valley West: He has been tearing through the WVC the last three seasons and now is a senior. Over the last three seasons, he has averaged 51 points a season, racking up 55 goals, 44 assists and 154 points in that period.
Brian Suchoski, Coughlin: Only a junior, Suchoski has put up monstrous numbers his first two seasons. Last year, he totaled 29 goals en route to a WVC-leading 76 points. In his two years with the Crusaders, he has posted 41 goals, 19 assists and 101 points.
Four new coaches were named to begin the season.
Janet Henger takes over for Bob Bond at Berwick, while Pat O’Boyle replaced Pat Grimes at Pittston Area. Chris Litzenberger is the new coach at GAR, replacing John Mooney.
O’Boyle previously coached Seton Catholic in the ’90s and earlier this decade.
At Hazleton Area, Dan Cunningham replaces James Hearne. Cunningham coached the Cougars for two years prior to Hearne’s four-year term and finished with a District 2 Class 3A runner-up in 2004.
Here are the dates of some key matches for the 2009 season along with important postseason dates:
Division I: Dallas vs. Coughlin (Sept. 14, Oct. 8); Dallas vs. Wyoming Valley West (Sept. 24, Oct. 19); Wyoming Valley West vs. Coughlin (Sept. 21, Oct. 16); Crestwood vs. Dallas (Sept. 28, Oct. 21); Crestwood vs. Coughlin (Sept. 9, Oct. 5); Crestwood vs. Wyoming Valley West (Sept. 4, Sept. 30).
Division II: Hanover Area vs. Lake-Lehman (Sept. 24, Oct. 21); Hanover Area vs. Meyers (Sept. 17, Oct. 15); Lake-Lehman vs. Meyers (Sept. 10, Oct. 7); Nanticoke vs. Meyers (Sept. 8, Oct. 5); Nanticoke vs. Lake-Lehman (Sept. 11, Oct. 9); Nanticoke vs. Hanover Area (Sept. 22, Oct. 19).
Postseason: final day of regular season, Oct. 22; District 2 Tournament begins, Oct. 26; District 2 finals, Nov. 4-5; PIAA Championships begin, Nov. 10; PIAA Championships finals, Nov. 21.