Coach Larry Fingers and the nine returning starters for the Canon-McMillan High School boys soccer team know playoff heartbreak.
Having back-to-back seasons end in the WPIAL semifinals will do that to you. The Big Macs were hammered in the 2017 semis by North Allegheny, 9-0. Last year, it was a 3-2 loss to Seneca Valley.
“We had kids balling after it was over,” Fingers said about last season’s playoff loss. “We felt we deserved better. Last year was the hardest because we felt poised and ready to get (to the championship). We felt like we left a little on the table.”
Now, considered the favorite by many in Class 4A, Canon-McMillan is hopeful a clean mind continues to lead to clean sheets. Through five games this season, Canon-McMillan (2-0, 5-0) has leaned on experience and diversified its lineup to outscore its opponents 27-0.
All three goalkeepers, starter Alex Hilbert along with Jeremiah Beaver and Dan Yarosh, each have pitched in on shutouts. The scoring in the first five games has come from a variety names.
“I think we are a lot of different things that you have to deal with,” Fingers said. “We can score by possessing the ball. We can score directly off set pieces. It’s all been very fluid. We have so many guys who can do so many things that it’s just hard to plan against.”
Joey Fonagy and Nino Civitate are players at the top who provide a lot of scoring for the Big Macs. The goals have had a trickle-down effect to Anderson Jones, Luke Gladden and Tommy Samosky to make Canon-McMillan the balanced team that Fingers envisioned when 62 players tried out at this year’s camp.
Fonagy had 21 regular-season goals last year but the Big Macs were edged out by Upper St. Clair for the Section 2-AAAA title. They finished the season with a 16-3 record.
Samosky provides a threat with his height to win headers and an ability to throw the ball into the box from the sideline, which can create havoc around opposing goalkeepers.
Fingers called Gladden “the glue that holds everything together” from his midfield spot.
The defense that has kept shutout streak going consists of Kyle Katreeb, Aiden Walsh, Mason Le and Aarik Yetter. Owen Maher and Mike Hillebrand have provided solid minutes.
“We are pretty deep in terms of talent and ability,” Fingers said. “I couldn’t be happier with the results that we’ve had.”
The results have primarily been positive since Fingers took the Canon-McMillan job nine years ago. It has provided the Big Macs with an annual goal of being in the mix for a WPIAL championship, something that has eluded the Big Macs for the last three seasons.
Fingers admits how important it is for things to fall into place to make a long postseason run.
“It takes a lot to happen for any team to win, whether that’s being good, having a little luck or avoiding injuries,” he said. “It’s normally all three of those things. We are not unbeatable.
“When you get to the playoffs it’s one and done. These kids know that. There are no “rah-rah” speeches. The sting of losing resonates with a lot of them. They remember what it feels like. Our goal is just to continue to get better, and when the dust settles hopefully things go your way.”