West Xtra: Ambridge prepares for section grind

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After struggling to a 6-12 record last season, the Ambridge Area boys soccer team is going young in 2013.

The Bridgers have only two seniors on the entire roster, returning starters Ryan Bolea and Brett Merritt. The rest of the starting lineup is filled with 5 juniors, 2 sophomores and 2 freshmen.

But Ambridge coach Drew Lewis feels like it will make for a better team this season than the one last year, despite the loss of leading scorer Matt Patterson.

"Matt scored 70 percent of our goals last year, but I feel like this year we'll have more players in the scoring mix," Lewis said. "Last year we probably had more individual talent, but I think this year we have more of a team."

The Bridgers started out the season by splitting two games at their own kickoff tournament. Ambridge defeated New Brighton, 3-0, behind a goal and two assists from Merritt and a shutout by sophomore goalkeeper Austin Gorman. Ambridge (1-2, 0-1) lost Sunday to West Allegheny, the No. 1-ranked WPIAL Class AA team.

The West Allegheny game should help prepare Ambridge for what is arguably the toughest section in the entire state, Class AAA Section 5. But it didn't help enough in the Bridgers' section opener Tuesday, a 3-0 loss to Peters Township.

Last season, the three PIAA qualifiers from the WPIAL in Class AAA all came from that section -- Peters Township, Upper St. Clair and Canon-McMillan. The Indians won the section title, the Big Macs took the WPIAL championship and the Panthers won the state title.

"You have to come ready to play every night," Lewis said. "It's always a battle. There are no easy nights."

Lewis admitted it was a little bit of a shock to his players since 2012 was the first year in Class AAA for the Bridgers.

Ambridge has one of the smallest enrollments in Class AAA and Lewis believes the team will be back in Class AA next season.

"We'll learn from playing in Triple-A and we'll take that experience back to Double-A next season," Lewis said.

The 2014 Ambridge team could be very dangerous with nine starters this season eligible to return next season.

But the two seniors, Merritt and Bolea, are important cogs for the team this season. Bolea is the team's central midfielder and a key to the team's defense. Merritt is expected to be the team's top offensive force.

Bodea's leadership will be key as he will be flanked by two freshmen in outside midfielders Cole Hopkins and Matt Hooks.

With an inexperienced team in a tough section, Ambridge hasn't set any goals this season. Lewis said he just wants his team to give its best every night.

"We just want to compete in every game," he said. "Battle to the whistle and play a full 80 minutes of soccer. If we do that, goals will pop up along the way."



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