The 2015 season was a challenging one for the Port Allegany High School soccer teams, with the Gator boys fighting through injuries and a difficult schedule while the girls tried to find replacements for the top two goal-scorers in the history of their program.
Despite all that, both squads managed to finish the regular season at .500, then push a higher-seeded opponent to the brink of an upset in first-round District 9 Class A playoff matches. And with several key contributors set to return, both coaches are optimistic about next year.
The Port High boys (9-10) stepped up in class for several games this season, facing New York Class B teams Olean (twice), Hornell, and Wellsville, as well as Pennsy Class AAA school Bradford in a schedule that 10th-year head coach Aaron Clark called “the most aggressive of my tenure.” That would’ve been a tall enough task without missing as many as four starters at a time due to injury/illness.
“This team, I feel, was just as talented as any of the last several we’ve had. They were just a bit snakebitten at times due to injuries,” he said, adding, “We played more top-notch opponents than we had in one season and were rarely outclassed. The problem is at A for boys soccer, you have to pile up wins to get a high seed and despite the moral victories we had, we had too many close losses that hurt our record.”
Just four seniors depart from this year’s team, but along with Daniel Bishel and Steven Bressan, that number includes four-year lettermen Garrett Talkington and Gage Caulkins.
“They were both longtime stalwarts on some extremely talented teams and they both had some big moments on the field for us,” Clark said. “Garrett has put up some impressive numbers in goal over the last few years and he set the bar high for any goalie that replaces him. Gage, despite his injury, had a pretty good year. Even though he wasn’t quite the same after he came back from his knee injury against Smethport he scored more goals this year (7) than he had the rest of his 3 years combined. I think if he doesn’t hurt his knee in the Smethport game he probably would have been in the discussion for league MVP and could have scored a lot more goals.”
Talkington leaves with a career 1.95 goals-against average and the program records for wins (37), shutouts (17), and single-season saves (160), but Clark expects junior-to-be Josh Mealy to step right into his place between the pipes.
”We’ll be bringing back a lot of offensive talent in MacKenzie Elliott (10 goals), Brandon McCaslin (team-best 12 and 9 assists), and Calvin Burleson in the three attacking positions in the middle along with every other regular starter,” he added.
“Our defensive group was a concern coming into the year and they probably became our strength. Every last one of our defenders will be coming back and they’ll continue to get stronger. I like our chances to make a push in the district next year.”
With Lady Gator 50-goal scorers Somer Buchsenschutz and Lynae Delacour departing via graduation and a young defense/midfield corps, many observers might have expected “three or four” wins, coach Travis Cowburn said.
Instead, with playmaking midfielder Autumn Buchsenschutz taking on more of a scoring role to finish with a team-high nine goals, the Gator girls doubled that total. Their final 8-9-2 record included the program’s first-ever wins at Bradford and Elk Catholic.
“I am so proud of the effort our team put forth this year,” Cowburn said, “and hoping to greatly expand on the season for next year. The experience that will be back on the team will be the key to any success we encounter.”
But to shoot for a fourth consecutive postseason berth next year, Cowburn knows he’ll need to replace several players, led by four-year starting goalkeeper Laura Fox.
“My seniors for the year were incredible. It seems like when we needed big plays, it was a senior who did it,” he said. “Kylie Bosworth and Emily Conklin were a vital interchangeable part of our team. Their versatility makes a coach’s job a lot easier. Ashley Anderson, although having ankle issues, played beautifully. Her abilities let us change out defensive personnel without losing skill. Samantha Metzger was one of our biggest surprises this year. Playing or not, she stepped up to be that leader that teams can rally around for any cause. Being a very driven coach, she and several other players such as Sydney Fitzsimmons, Brianna Roys, and others helped me keep the mood light when the pressure was mounting.
“As for Laura, she has been my rock for four years. She has grown as a player and more importantly she has matured into a fantastic person. Much of our success has depended on her for a long time and I am saddened to not have her next year.”
The cupboard isn’t bare, though, with Buchsenschutz back for her senior year and younger players like Leah Garzel (5 goals) and Autumn Freer (3) already showing a knack for finding the back of the net.
“We are a team who all seem to match each other and are very well rounded,” Cowburn said. “With an indoor intramural camp starting and several players joining into the Southern Tier Futbol Club training camp, we will have big expectations next year.”