Seniors lead way for boys' soccer this year

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Senior night will be special this year for the Punxsutawney Area High School boys' soccer team. Each one is special in its own way — if you were involved in an organization in high school, you understand.

But this year's team is driven by the 12th-graders.

They're the seniors who have led the program to a 15-4-1 record, a district title and a 15-5 record in three consecutive years.

You can use the Tomlinism "The standard is the standard" and "The next man is up" if you want, but the senior Chucks will be misssed both on and off the field.

As Punxsy prepares for the Indiana Tournament over Labor Day weekend, you can see the work they put in each practice.

The plays are being called out, and coaching is taking place.

The funny thing is, it isn't always Head Coach Phil Shenkle giving the direction.

"What we're seeing, even on the practice field, is that I'm talking less and less. The guys are coaching each other and saying all of the right things," Shenkle said. "Guys that we have come in from Europe over to coach say that one of the goals is to not say anything during a game. As a matter of fact, there are some leagues that you aren't allowed to say anything during a game as a coach.
"If I could stand by the sidelines and just listen to them talk to one another and give each other the coaching points that I ordinarily would have been yelling across the field, that would be a dream come true. With this group, it's a realistic possibility."

A silent treatment that is actually welcomed.

The group of seniors — going into their fourth year under Shenkle — will be all over the field.

Shenkle said that there may be as many as 10 seniors starting for the Chucks.

Shenkle's approach with his team can stem parenting.

No, I'm serious. The thing is, it makes perfect sense.

"I compared it to someone the other day like parenting. It's really ideal," Shenkle explained. "When you send your kids off into the world ,you hope they do all of the things you taught them so you don't have to keep lurking over their shoulder trying to micro-manage their lives. Soccer is really the same."

The same indeed.

And like any parent, Shenkle has high expectations for his team this year, especially with what they've done the past few years.

"They are high. We've kind of had a nice rise. We've been staying where we want to be in the district finals every year," Shenkle said. "It's good. We've had three really solid years, and we're building. A lot of it is on the back of these seniors. They've really come up through and worked really hard to help build the program. The others that came before them did as well. Expectations are very high."

With high expectations, come high goals.

Well, what are they, coach?

Is it winning the district again or maybe making it to the state playoffs?

"Our goal we didn't just leave at one place. Our main goal is that each one of us would achieve their absolute best. If we are individually achieving our best, maintaining what we believe is proper team communication and building up each other, we feel we will reach our goals at the end of the season," said Shenkle. "We don't want to just say, 'Let's win this many games' or 'Let's win this certain game.' There's going to be ups and downs to each season. We want to overachieve and look back to say that we did better than we even thought we could."

Led by senior captains Kevin Hughes, Tristan Acre, Ryan Presloid and Tanner Evans, the Chucks are looking to continue the success this year and beyond.

Do the seniors work well with the underclassmen and more importantly, do the underclassmen respect the seniors?

"Absolutely. That's going to help as we do have a big exodus of seniors leaving; it's going to leave big gaps," Shenkle said. "I think they're going to leave a legacy with these younger guys of how we operate, how we work, what a practice should look like and how we need to work in game because these seniors are investing in these underclassmen."

If the past is any indication, that's quite an investment to make.