West: Veteran Montour loads up for a run at honors
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The disappointing 2010 season continues to serve as a reminder to the Montour High School boys' soccer team to not look ahead.
In 2009, when the current group of seniors were freshmen, the Spartans overachieved, finishing 11-6-2 overall and going 9-3-2 in the section to finish third and qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.
"When people thought we had lost a lot [after the 2008 season], we had some success when the current seniors were freshmen," Montour coach Alex Hobbs said. "Going into their sophomore year we might have been overconfident."
Montour failed to make the playoffs in 2010, finishing with a disappointing 4-5-1 record in the section, finishing in fifth place.
"That is sort of what we have gone back to," Hobbs said of the sophomore slump. "Whether we have a lazy practice or if I see a lack of effort, we refer back to two years ago. The guys know one fluky goal can really change a season. We try to stay focused, maybe the best team doesn't always win, but we just want to be the team that is best prepared."
Last year Montour bounced back, finishing 13-5-1 and going 7-3 in Section 5-AA to finish third and reach the postseason. Montour won its first playoff game since 2005 to reach the WPIAL quarterfinals.
With 14 seniors, 13 lettermen and five starters back, expectations are ramped up again along Clever Road and Hobbs hopes to avoid a similar letdown like the one in 2010.
Montour returns three four-year starters who experienced success as freshmen and juniors and disappointment as sophomores. The four-year starters back are forward Jason Menni and defensemen Ian Stewart and Nathan Dearth.
"We look at this season as a continuation of last season," Hobbs said. "We thought we had a successful season, we lost some quality players but we have quality players ready to fill their spots. We return guys who are familiar with each position."
Dearth is one of the premier players in the WPIAL. He was an All-WPIAL selection a year ago and in the offseason he played on the Beadling club team that reached a national championship tournament for the second consecutive season. Dearth anchored a defense last year that had 10 shutouts and only allowed 17 goals. He is also the placekicker on the Spartans football team.
"Nathan is our leader," Hobbs said. "He provides experience along with our other seniors who have started for four years. They know what the expectations are, they know the message. Having those seniors has made our job a little bit easier as far as relaying things and we have stuck with the same system, so the guys are very familiar with what they need to do. We haven't made too many changes."
Montour opens its regular season on Friday in a non-section contest at Sewickley Academy. The Spartans then open Section 5-AA play on Tuesday at South Fayette before hosting section newcomer Obama Academy on Thursday.
"I think no matter what, our section is one of the most difficult," Hobbs said. "If you look at the scores from the past two years, it is a defensive section. One goal can determine so many games.
"We don't know about [new section member] Obama Academy, that is a little scary. Quaker Valley and South Fayette are returning key players and West Allegheny is always very competitive."
Hobbs said there were plenty of growing pains with this group through the days of starting three freshmen in 2009 to the sophomore slump to finally getting to 2012 with a mature group of experienced seniors.
"I always want to put the best team on the field, whether it was freshmen or seniors" Hobbs said. "Yeah we looked toward this year when, but to be honest, I plan on winning every year, whether it goes your way or not, that is a different story."