Boys' soccer prepares for playoff showdown with Clearfield

PUNXSUTAWNEY — On Monday night, the Punxsy boys' soccer team traveled to Clearfield to battle the Bison in its regular season finale.

The Bison left the game with a 2-1 victory, which had no significance when it came to the standings.

If the same thing happens tonight, well, the Chucks go home without a rematch.

Yup, that's right, Punxsy fans.

It's officially playoff time for fall sports, and the boys' soccer team kicks it off with its District IX first-round game against Clearfield.

While the outcome of the game on Monday may make you nervous, just know that when a team is playing an opponent for the first time leading up to a rematch, it won't show its full hand.
Isn't that right, coach?

"No, we didn't," head coach Phil Shenkle said. "And I doubt they showed us everything either."

Shenkle said that he's glad to have the Clearfield program come back to prominence in the district.

After all, playing teams that are struggling kind of waters down the competition.

"They'll be bringing it as a physical team, and I'm excited that Clearfield is back in the mix. The program as a whole was struggling a little bit, and they've missed the playoffs the past couple of years.
It's great to have them back in," said Shenkle. "They are a power player
in the district. I like the idea of a strong district and a strong
playoff field. No one wants to mosey their way in. You want to get
tested at every level. Clearfield will do that."

Clearfield and Punxsy have quite a history, according to Shenkle.

While the Bison mainly play a non-District IX schedule, the two teams have traded blows over the past decade.

"We used to play them twice a year. They are a District IX, Double A team, but play mostly a non-District IX schedule. They get thrown into the mix with us, Bradford and St. Marys. We only play Clearfield once, but we've been playing each other for as long as I've been here, so 10 years or so," Shenkle said. "For the first few years I was here, they used to beat the snot out of us. About two to three years ago, we got the upper hand. I'd say that they have the series edge on us, overall, but it's been a good rivalry. There's nothing too contentious, and it's always been a physical game."

With a down year this season, St. Marys won't be joining in on the playoff fun, which means the top-seeded Bradford Owls are waiting in the
wings for the winner of the Clearfield/Punxsy matchup.

"Bradford is the the No. 1 seed and is waiting for the winner of our game. That would take place next Tuesday at a place to be announced," said Shenkle. "If we beat Bradford, I believe we move on to Somerset for a regional play-in. If you win that, then you move on to states."

But that's a long ways away, well, at least the thought of playing in the state tournament is.

Not overlooking the Bison at all — they present a serious challenge — but Punxsy has faced Bradford for the past three years.

So expecting a rematch isn't too far to reach.

"We won the District Title in 2011. We lost to Bradford last year, so
Bradford has the upper hand. We've faced them in the finals the last four years. They've won two, and we've won one. So, we're here to get this one," Shenkle said. "It's an exciting game. We know what we're going to have with Bradford. We know how they play, and they know how we play.

"They are a very well-coached team. Right now, we aren't even worried about Bradford, though. Right now, we have Clearfield. We are making sure that we can continue to work on the things that we need to work on. It's going to be a tough game. There's no question about that."
It won't just be a tough game because of the opponent that will be squaring off against the Chucks, but Mother Nature may have something to say, as well.

If you look at Page 2 of today's copy of The Spirit, you will see that the forecast for tonight doesn't look all that promising.

If you're watching the game, be prepared to bundle up.

But remember, it could be worse.

You could have to play in the conditions.

"The weather report looks terrible. It's crazy. Last year, we had extremely cold weather with some snow in the air. There wasn't enough to stick, but it just got us wet," Shenkle said. "It was cold, and the turf was wet. It's not going to be an ideal situation to play in."

But battle on the team must.

What is on Punxsy's side is the fact that the feature a bevy of seniors who have a lot of playoff experience.

"It should help us. It's one of those things where the veteran presence and the maturity should help us. Every one of these guys has been to a district final every year they've played," said Shenkle. "They should understand and know the pressure that comes with it. They know it's fun, and it's a blast. We're just sort of looking to see if they show up and realize, as seniors, that this is it. They're done. This is their last crack at it. If they do, we'll have a good night."

One of those seniors who has been around the program for the past four years is Ryan Presloid.

Similar to the Baltimore Ravens changing their offensive coordinator midway through last season en route to a Super Bowl title, the Chucks changed up their scheme this year, and Presloid was a big part of that.

Now, if only the results could be the same.

"It's been Presloid in the back. He's been a fullback in virtually every year he's played. He's also a dynamic player that can play anywhere on the field. We looked at it as a team, and he had the desire to move up to be an impact player from a scoring perspective. We moved him up, and it's one of those things where some people are meant to be at that certain position. And Presloid is a fullback," Shenkle said. "He is extremely good at it. That and getting Tyler Baer back has been huge. That allowed us to move Brycen Lunger up, and he has energy. He has boundless energy, and he's tall. That helps in the midfield."

Also helping the midfield attack is the return of Kevin Hughes.

Hughes missed some time with tight hamstrings, which Shenkle smiled when saying they are finally back to normal.

"We have Hughes coming back healthy, which is nice. He's been out for several portions of games, as well. Now, Hughes is back and they are getting used to what he does, and he's getting used to what they do," Shenkle explained. "You hate making big changes in the middle of the year, but we certainly weren't getting where we needed to go doing what we were doing."

Throughout the season, Shenkle has said that his team needed to improve its on-field communication.

At times, it appeared to the coach that they weren't always playing together as a team.

Well, the time is now, coach.

Are they on the same page?

"I'll know tonight if they are. Are they working together? Yes, they are. Are they always putting together a great performance? No. At the beginning of the season, they weren't always working together. Now, they're working together, but the chemistry is off," said Shenkle."We got it right late in the season, so you'll still have those chemistry issues. We didn't do what we're doing now all season. You'll have some miscommunications out there. If they go out there and work very hard, I like our odds in any game that we play."

Tanner Evans — another one of the seniors that Shenkle has talked about — has been the go-to weapon for the Chucks all season.

The team has playmakers all over the field, but when it comes time for a big goal, it's Evans who delivers.

If Shenkle and Evans' teammates know that, it's likely the opposition does, as well.

Luckily, Punxsy has prepared for the others who try to take Evans out of the game.

"That's been something that we've been focused on. Throughout the last several weeks of practices, we said that this was going to happen. Anybody that has looked in the newspapers at all sees Evans scoring goals. There's no question," Shenkle said. "So, if they want to double him, that's fine. We have enough other guys that can score. We're comfortable there, but we also prepared our mindset that if they do that, that's fine. We'll send the ball over to other guys and be very comfortable doing it."

Shenkle said in order for the Chucks to win their match against Clearfield, they need to work hard, play together and play with passion.

At 7 p.m. tonight in Brockway, we'll see if the Chucks respond to Shenkle's request.