Sep. 4—Blue Mountain has won the Schuylkill League boys' soccer championship 19 times.
No other program has won it more than three times.
The Eagles have won three straight, and five of the last seven.
They are perennially strong.
It should come as no surprise that, as the 2023 season gets rolling, they're favored once again.
For certain, there will be challengers. Being labeled a favorite always places a big target on your back.
And, certainly, there is talent around the league capable of challenging.
Blue Mountain returns the league's most dangerous player in senior Ryan Mundy, part of an 11-player senior class. Last season, Mundy scored a program-record 56 goals. He scored six goals in a game once, and five in a game five times. No doubt, he's a leader and a special talent.
Also back are All-Area second-team selections Shawn Batory and Owen Gretsky, both juniors this season, along with a large group that experienced varsity time on the pitch last season.
"We have a large senior class that is expected to provide leadership and results," fifth-year head coach Chris Brauer said in his preseason prospectus. "We also have a talented group of younger players that will add depth.
"This team is a hard-working bunch who understands out tactical approach to the game."
Pine Grove finished as the runner-up to Blue Mountain in the division last season, sustaining its only two league losses to the Eagles by scores of 2-0 and 1-0.
The Cardinals, however, graduated 15 seniors, including seven starters. But, like Blue Mountain, the program has a record of success. Junior Nate Frankenfield, second on the team last year as a sophomore with 11 goals, is back and should emerge as a team leader.
"We have some key returners that should help the newer players making their first starts," Pine Grove head coach Marv Weber said. "We had 15 seniors and seven of them were starters.
"We will need some of our younger players to step up this year and be ready to go. We expect to compete for one of the three playoff positions this year. Blue Mountain will be the team everyone is chasing for the division title."
Around the rest of the division, Lehighton returns a pair of All-Area selections from last season in junior keeper Bryce Miller and junior defender Jaxson Strauss.
"While the program lost nine seniors to graduation, this year's group is hungry to prove that they are ready to make their own mark on Lehighton soccer," head coach Dave Yob, now in his 14th season in charge, said. "We're optimistic we can put together a solid season."
North Schuylkill finished just under the .500 mark last season, but looks to step up this year and qualify for the postseason. Among the returning leaders are senior captain Noel Drum, senior Emanuele Bagnasco and senior Bryce Cuthie.
At Pottsville, head coach Zach Reichert simply looking to gain ground with a youthful team.
"Young, and in a rebuild mode," Reichert said of his 2023 squad. "The team looks to build chemistry.
"We need to build that chemistry, play simple soccer and continue to grow and develop throughout the season."
The biggest change in the league this season is atop Lawton's Hill in Pottsville.
Nativity, last season's Division II champion, Schuylkill League runner-up and District 11 Class AA semifinalist, is no longer involved in a cooperative program with Shenandoah Valley. The Blue Devils are now a first-year program playing a non-league schedule.
No doubt, this will bring about change. However, it would be foolish to simply write off the Hilltoppers in what will likely be a very competitive Division II race this season.
Nativity has a very athletic roster, brings back some very talented players and should again contend for division honors.
Topping the list of returners are junior Michael Kadziela and senior Nolan Kokitus. Both were All-Area selections last season, Kadziela at forward and Kokitus at keeper.
Other seniors who will be important to the Hilltoppers' effort include Ethan Grabowski, Cole Wagner, Michael Quirk, Spencer Mathers and Dylan Higgins.
Schuylkill Haven, Williams Valley and Lourdes could also be teams in position to contend for league and district playoff berths.
The Hurricanes finished second in the division last season, falling to Blue Mountain in the semifinals. They followed that up by reaching the District 11 Class A semifinal round before falling to Palisades.
"The 2023 team features one of the more talented goalkeepers in the league and a senior-laden strong back line," Hurricanes' coach Andre Georgevic said. "Inconsistency in scoring goals up front needs to be improved upon for the Hurricanes to have a real shot at winning the division or competing for a league title.
"As always, health will remain one of the biggest factors that determine the team's success. Any loss of a key player or two could really pose severe challenges at the smaller schools."
Williams Valley, after struggling for a couple seasons, began an upturn last season, reaching the District 11 Class A playoffs and advancing to the semifinals before falling to Moravian Academy.
The Vikings return 13 letter winners from that team and have a solid roster that lists 26 players, a big upturn from just a few seasons ago.
"With our numbers, we're hoping to both get back to districts and continue to build for the future," head coach Seth Shuey said. "The current senior class has seen two bad years and one good, rebuilding year in which they qualified for districts and won a quarterfinal match, only to have to face the eventual state champion in the semifinals.
"Our hope is to once again qualify for the district playoffs and hopefully get back to the semifinals."
At Lourdes, head coach Earl Reed has a strong group returning, led by junior Hobi Forti, an All-Area selection last season. The Red Raiders had a successful season last year, winning 10 games overall, finishing above .500 in the division and reaching the District 4 playoffs. Seven starters were lost, but quality athletes return.
"We will have depth this year, which could help us in close games," Reed said. "As always, you want to improve on your record from last year, which will take some team play with a lot of heart, which can help propel you to victory."
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