Hardly a day goes by that Josh Kruczek doesn’t encounter someone wanting to talk about the Canon-McMillan boys soccer team’s improbable run to a WPIAL Class AAA title last season.
At the same time, Kruczek understands that unexpected push doesn’t give the Big Macs a seven-game head start on anyone this fall.
“We talk about it every day,” Kruczek said. “We have to keep a high standard in training and keep it game-like. We know that everyone’s going to be coming for us because of last year and what we did.”
Canon-McMillan graduated seven seniors from a team that finished 19-5 after taking the No. 13 seed in the WPIAL playoffs and parlaying it into victories over Central Catholic, Franklin Regional, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair, the final one garnering the school’s first and only WPIAL title.
That seven-player group includes several defensive-minded players and the Big Macs’ All-WPIAL goalkeeper, James Hathaway, who stopped more penalty kicks (two) than he allowed goals (one) during the first five games of Canon-Mac’s postseason run.
“We lost some good players last year,” senior Corey McCurdy said. “But we know we can step up and play to our ability. With what we have, we have the ability to do it again this year.”
The Big Macs return four players who scored double-digit goals a season ago: McCurdy (13), Kruczek (11), sophomore Nick Sodini (11) and junior Jake Wilcox (10).
That, coupled with the losses of players such as All-WPIAL defender Alec Brumbaugh and Jake Alauzen, should give Canon-McMillan more of an offensive flavor this season – at least until the defense gets sorted out.
“We’ll be able to score goals,” Canon-Mac coach Larry Fingers said. “We’ll have to figure out how to defend.”
One thing Kruczek pointed out is that no matter who steps up in the back, the Big Macs won’t change the way they do things.
“We’ll still have the same style of play,” Kruczek said. “There may be some different players out there now, but we’re still going to be aggressive, ambitious and try to do what we do.”
Competing to take Hathaway’s spot are sophomore Christian Snatchko and senior Alex Hannigan, a field player the past two seasons.
“I think it’s going to be tough,” Fingers said. “The good news is we have two very good goalkeepers.”
Seniors Ivan Viveros and Bryan Sontag will be important pieces defensively, with the versatile Viveros bumping up to the midfield as he often did last season. Junior Jake Trainor and Hannigan – even if he doesn’t start in goal – will be impact players.
“(Sontag) is a solid defender, but I don’t think we had the leadership we had last year with Alec Brumbaugh,” Viveros said. “He’s hard to replace.”
So are the memories Canon-McMillan created last season by upsetting Section 5-AAA powers Upper St. Clair and Peters Township – teams the Big Macs went 0-4 against during the regular season, all of them by one goal.
The competition doesn’t figure to be too different this season – outside of perhaps Central Catholic or Seneca Valley – and a date to circle will most certainly be Sept. 10, the night Canon-Mac hosts Upper St. Clair.
And there won’t be any special preference given to the Big Macs after their 1-0 win over the Panthers in the WPIAL final a season ago.
“We know what it feels like, so we’re striving to get back to where we were,” McCurdy said. “That has given us a little better of an idea of where we have to be to win a championship.”