Last season, girls soccer teams in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference looked at Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School as a break in their schedule.
That attitude has changed drastically with BG having an entirely new look and the respect of everyone in the LHAC. The driving force behind the incredible change at BG has been the phenomenal play of freshman Alyssa McGhee, who has caught the attention of every coach in the LHAC. McGhee, through this portion of the soccer season, has had a hand in 42 of the team's 46 goals - notching 38 goals herself to date and dishing out four assists.
McGhee, with a perfect blend of experience - much of it coming from her classic play with the Keystone Krew - strong technical skills, speed, field presence and a strong shot has shredded defenses, many to the tune of five or six goals per game. It is difficult for teams to double-up coverage on her because she has the rare ability to shoot as well with her left foot as she does the right, and when this happens she has the presence of mind to find her unmarked teammate for the open shot. McGhee is a lock for all-conference and a definite candidate for all-state honors, even as a freshman.
BG girls coach Harry McGhee takes his team's success beyond the accomplishments of Alyssa. He has been impressed by its defensive speed and the strong play of goalkeeper Gabby Smith. The BG midfield, led by Delaney Hallinan and Jessica Rudolph, has kept the ball pushed forward allowing BG strikers some outstanding shots on goal. BG should continue to improve and is likely to peak around playoff time.
n Penn Sate Altoona men's coach Maurice Taylor has been making his run at an Allegheny Mountain College Conference championship with 11 returning players seeing past action, two seniors and 13 freshmen on board. Mike Robinson has provided fire power for the Lions at striker as a returning all-conference choice, and team captain Dan Kennedy is coming back from the injured reserve list.
Taylor even sports a player from Italy in Ben Gerard. Garrett Stern, the Lions' other returning senior captain, anchors the midfield where Taylor believes the team strength will be in controlling the ball with a good possession game. Taylor believes that so many teams are so close to one another that every game is a challenge.
n Kelsey Swanger, stand-out defender from the 2011 Altoona Area High School Lady Lions, has traveled to Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., to continue her playing career. She will help to anchor the flat-4 defense. They play in the formidable Great Northeast Athletic Conference.
n Emma Blair, niece of former BG standout Bill Karnes and Peggy Karnes, has earned a Division 1 starting slot with Mount St. Mary's in her freshman season. Blair hails from the perennial state championship contender Governor Mifflin High School and gave area fans some excitement in an early season matchup with St. Francis.
n Mount Aloysius is attempting to make some changes in its program with the hiring of Tyler Sheikh from Connecticut to head up both the men's and women's programs. The Mounties are looking to change their soccer fortunes as Sheikh brings strong playing experience as a two-time all-state player, leading his school to a state championship. He played at Stonehill College and Division 1 Quinnipiac University and also served as boys head varsity coach at Brookfield High School and a U-17 premier coach.
A huge changing of the guard will take place as U.S. national team women's coach Pia Sundhage coached her farewell game against Australia, and her squad sent her off in style with a 6-2 pounding of Aussies.
Sundhage led the American ladies to back-to-back Olympic gold medals in their Olympic three-peat and the top ranking in the world. Sundhage was given the opportunity to take over the head coaching spot with her native Swedish national team.
Who will follow her is a hot topic, but there is a big push for American World Cup star Mia Hamm to take the reins of the American squad.
Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column for the Mirror.