HILLERS FACE CHALLENGE OF BEING BACK-TO-BACK CHAMPS

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by Greg Starks

The Springside Chestnut Hill Academy boy’s soccer team comes into this year facing more pressure than ever after winning back-to-back state titles. Dating back to the ’80s and ‘90s, SCH has been known to have a winning tradition when it comes to soccer under coach Jim Talbot. In Coach Brian Zalasky’s first year, which was 2016, his team boasted only an 8-9-3 record. In only his second year coaching, he led his team to a 19-3-2 record with an Inter-Ac championship and the school’s first PAISAA State Championship. They repeated as PAISAA State Champions in 2018.

“My coaching staff bought into the same idea and the same premise that we’re all working toward, building brotherhood together,” said Head Coach Brian Zalasky on what helped him rebuild the winning culture at SCH. “There’s a lot of different pieces and personalities that we have to put together, but all these guys are going to work toward that one goal.”

After winning two consecutive state titles, one can imagine just how much pressure the team is facing coming into this year.

“I try to get ahead on classes,” said junior center back Connor Koschineg on how he deals with the pressure. “I can focus on working after school on my weaknesses, looking at game film to study the game, looking at what we can improve, looking at our opponents and how to dissect them.”

Senior left wing, Scott Bandura was a part of the last two state championship teams at SCH. He gave his input on how the team deals with the loss of key players.  

“You have to embrace that next man up mentality,” said Scott. “In the last couple of years we’ve graduated key players, but there’s been no drop off in the intensity level or the level of play from year to year.”

Ben Hayes, center midfielder, is a new student at SCH. He’s played with some players currently on the SCH roster for his club team. Ben also attended the state quarterfinals game last year.

“The first practice was definitely a lot more demanding especially fitness-wise,” said Hayes. “First day of preseason we did the Hillers’ fitness test, which if your not familiar with it, it’s very hard. And I just know it wasn’t even the coaches saying, you guys gotta get more fit, everyone was yelling at each other. Like, let’s go get on the line or you’ll get water later get ready to run.”

There’s always a chance that a team may completely collapse after they suffer a loss. Last year, SCH faced that problem when they were eliminated from contention for the Inter-Ac championship after losing to Episcopal Academy 1-0, but still were in contention for a second straight state title.

“It was the moment in the season where it could go one or two ways,” said Bandura. “Even though we were out of Inter-Ac contention by that point, we still kept going and we were able to pull out the state tournament. There definitely are times where you feel like after a loss your season could either go really bad or really well from that point on, depending on how you make it.”

SCH opened this year with an 8-3 record with their only losses coming against LaSalle, the Hill School, and the Haverford School. Once a team with high expectations starts the year, one can think that everyone on the team is thinking championship or bust. For SCH, they know that you can’t always constantly be looking ahead.

“Preseason your end goal is to win a state title and your league,” said Koschineg. “But when you get into the season, you have to focus on one game at a time. Take your opponent very seriously and prepare as much as possible for them.”

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