North Xtra: Avonworth building off 2013 success

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The carryover effect from a WPIAL postseason berth was noticeable this offseason with the Avonworth boys soccer program.

The momentum of the team's first postseason berth in a half decade carried through the winter when the team played together in an indoor league and then into the spring when the team was able to send two teams to Bethany College in West Virginia and also to Edinboro University where the team reached the finals of those tournaments.

"There is a lot of positive energy going into the season," ninth-year Antelopes coach Tom Angell said.

The momentum is also quite visible with just a quick glance at the team. Avonworth, a Class A program, has 36 players on the roster. While some Class A teams do not have a junior varsity, the Antelopes have enough players for two JV teams.

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"I have three teams," Angell said, joking. "Our numbers have always been good, we have a good feeder program coming in. The program has been growing every year. We have a really good core group that works year-round."

Avonworth finished 10-7-2 last season and went 7-4-1 in Section 3-A to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs. This all happened after a 0-3-1 start.

"I think there is a huge carryover effect," Angell said. "Making the playoffs was a huge step for us."

Avonworth closed the regular season on a seven-game winning streak. In the playoffs it fell, 1-0, to a Beaver County Christian team that eventually reached the WPIAL final.

"Our guys saw just how close we are," Angell said. "We had the better of the play in the second half [against Beaver County Christian], we just couldn't get a goal and then they went all the way to the WPIAL final. It showed us how close we were."

The Antelopes, ranked No. 2 in the Post-Gazette preseason Class A rankings, return nine starters this season including three all-section players, senior center defender Dewey Konopka and junior inside midfielders Cole Pappas and Griffin Geppert. Pappas is the kicker on the football team. Konopka was an All-WPIAL selection last season.

The Antelopes (2-1, 1-0) are prepared for the challenge that comes with playing in Section 3-A, also home of Seton-LaSalle and Carlynton. The Rebels won the section title last season with an 11-0-1 record ahead of Carlynton (7-4-1) while Avonworth (7-4-1) edged Bishop Canevin (6-3-3) for the final postseason berth.

"We come from a tough section, we have tough games," Angell said. "Seton is good every year, Carlynton did really well last year. Clearly, Carlynton and Seton are just always tough games against good teams. And Bishop Canevin is always a tough game especially at their place and Eden [Christian Academy] is always a tough game.

"The games are dogfights. I would say for the three playoff spots it probably comes down to four teams, Avonworth, Carlynton, Seton and Canevin."

"From a talent level, we can see that we are right there with anyone," Angell said. "Coming back with so many of those guys who have experience, playing in a playoff game, they could feel what it was like and I think that is a huge advantage for us and kind of drove them through the offseason."

Junior Jason Stubbs is a returning starter in net for Avonworth.

"He has fantastic ball skills," Angell said. "He does all the ball skills everyone does in practice. We pass back to the goalie more than anyone else. He doesn't just kick a crazy ball out of bounds. He will hold the ball and send a long ball to a midfielder. He is really comfortable with the ball at his feet."

Konopka and senior Joe McDonough start as center defenders with sophomores Patrick Deiger and Patrick Cronin starting as outside defenders. Pappas and Griffin anchor the midfield.

"They are not big players but they have fantastic ball skills," Angell said.

Left outside midfielder, junior Ben Nahum is a returning starter playing with a new starter at right outside midfield, senior John Deiger, Patrick's older brother.

"John gives us a lot of energy," Angell said. "He is a four-year letter-winner."

Avonworth will employ mostly a 4-4-2 formation with senior Sam Bassinger moving from outside midfield to forward this season to play alongside new starter junior John Oddo.

Avonworth only conceded 16 goals in 18 games last season and Konopka was a big reason for that. A 5-foot-5 senior, he plays much bigger than his size.

"His footwork is phenomenal," Angell said. "We do summer scrimmages and college guys come back and guys who do not know Dewey see a smaller guy playing defense and they will try to dribble around him. No one can dribble around Dewey. His work ethic is unmatched. Every drill, he just drives himself so hard. He has an absolute unmatched drive to succeed."

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