West Xtra: Blackhawk adapts quickly to its new coach

HIGH SCHOOL BOYS SOCCER

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With a new coach and a new system, the Blackhawk High School boys soccer team is hoping to get past its previous postseason troubles.

The Cougars, who have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs nine times but are still looking for their first postseason win, have started out 4-0-1 under first-year coach Bryan Vitali.

"We've implemented a new system the kids have never played before, but they've progressed well and are playing pretty well," said Vitali, who was an assistant coach for the Blackhawk girls soccer team in 2012.

The Cougars, who played mostly a 4-4-2 or 4-3-1-2 formation last season, have switched to a 4-3-3 that stresses possession.

The initial transition was not easy.

"When we put it in during our camp in Gettsyburg, it didn't go so well," Vitali admitted. "But since then, we've gotten really, really good with it. The guys have bought into it and I think we'll continue to improve."

Entering the week, the Cougars had scored at least three goals in each of their first four games and were averaging five goals per contest. This despite Blackhawk its top goal scorer from 2012, forward John Rebich, graduating.

So far, the Cougars have had a balanced scoring attack. Senior midfielder Shaun Siton and junior midfielder Steve Sharik both had four goals through three games to lead the way.

"[Siton and Sharik] work very well together," Vitali said. "They are basically the catalysts of our offense. They bring a lot of energy to the field and the rest of the team feeds off it."

Siton and Sharik have gotten scoring help from Damian Palaich, whom Vitale called the surprise of the team so far. The sophomore forward scored a goal in each of the team's first three contests.

The defense returns a few players as well, led by midfielder Zach Medarac. Medarac also lines up at center back at times and is joined in the back by senior Noah Thayer and sophomore Ryan Cerbus. That trio has helped the Cougars pitch two shutouts already this season.

But the Cougars have been successful in the regular season before. Blackhawk has combined to go 30-4-2 during the regular season the past two seasons, including a 22-1-1 record in Class AA Section 4.

But both seasons, Blackhawk fell to Belle Vernon Area in the first round of WPIAL playoffs.

Vitali knows the program's poor playoff track record is on the minds of his players, but he wants his team just taking it game-by-game.

Having said that, Vitali did state he thinks this team has the ability to break the streak.

"We all want to get that [postseason] win under our belt," Vitali said. "I definitely think this team has the talent to be able to do it."

hssoccer


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