West Xtra: Carlynton continuing its magical turnaround


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There are quick turnarounds, and then there is the one performed by the Carlynton High School boys soccer team.

In 2011, the Cougars had what was likely the worst season in the program's history, going 1-14 overall and 0-10 in Section 2-A.

A year passed, and in 2012 things changed significantly for the better. The Cougars rebounded to the tune of a 13-4-2 mark overall, an 8-2-2 record in the section and Class A quarterfinal appearance after knocking off Vincentian Academy in the opening round.

This year has seen much of the same as last year. With a 7-3 mark in Section 2-A, 9-5 overall Carlynton has all but secured another playoff berth. With a lot of help, the Cougars still have a mathematical chance of catching section leader Seton-LaSalle (9-0-1, 8-0-1).

Second-year coach Charlie Dagnam wants to ensure that the school's return to its winning ways is a permanent one.

"Believe it or not, we didn't really set specific team goals out in the open," he said. "Now, it's just understood that anything less than playoffs is just unacceptable. We're striving to be the best."

The simplest way to describe Carlynton's route to success is "positivity." The team strives to generate offense, and deploys tactics that serve that end.

"You can't sit around and let the game come to you. It's usually much easier to take the game," Dagnam said. "When we go take the game, we're more successful as a group, definitely."

Typically working out of a 3-4-3 formation, a rarity in high school soccer and perhaps doubly-so in Class A, the Cougars put heavy pressure on opponents. When turnovers are generated, numbers are thrown forward in attack.

"It's definitely aggressive, but we have certain expectations," Dagnam said. "But as long as our guys give us a high work rate, it's been very successful."

Following an 0-3 start that included a pair of shutout defeats to Class AAA North Hills and Class AA McGuffey, Carlynton has won nine of its past 11 games and has scored 48 goals during that span.

They've done so with 10 underclassmen currently starting, this number following an injury to senior defensive midfielder Brock Hoffman.

Junior Logan Shuler is the team's top goal-scoring threat, and broke the double-digit goal plateau two weeks ago. Sophomore Manny Burton's name doesn't show up among the WPIAL's top goal-scorers, but his all-around play and athleticism is integral to Carlynton's success. At center forward, Jeff Henke provides a boost as the team's lone senior starter.

Dagnam noted that Carlynton's offense is a true team-effort.

"If it wasn't for the guys around them working as hard as they do, there wouldn't be so many chances," he said.

One of the team's biggest "X" factors is center back Ted Ford. A junior defender, he has already bagged nine goals through 13 games this season.

"When Ted [moves to] forward, he gives us a lot," Dagnam said. "He's a ball winner. When you're willing to get on the ends of shots and passes that other people don't have the drive to get to, you're going to get chances."

Dagnam continues to be impressed by his team's improvement. Last year, he said, the senior class took a lot of pride in putting its difficult 2011 campaign in the past. With only six returning starters this season, the process of turning the team into a winner had to start anew in many regards.

"The seniors put the team on their shoulders last year. We really did ride them," he said. "They wanted to show that they weren't that team that won one game. The big difference this year is that we had to learn to win again, We didn't have those seniors to lean on to make a big play."

Dagnam said that not only winning games, but winning them in a section as tough as 2-A has shown him that his team has truly grown this season.



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