ST. CLAIRSVILLE – When the Wheeling Park men’s soccer team lost to Bridgeport last Saturday, coach Mario Julian knew something had to change. Julian thought his team were playing too selfishly and knew they couldn’t win a title if they kept playing like this.
âWe got a wake-up call last Saturday with a tough loss and we had to regroup,â Julian said.
The Patriots have spent the week training to play as a team and it paid off with two full team wins in the OVAC tournament over Steubenville on Thursday and Dover on Saturday to win the OVAC 5A Championship.
âWe talked after Thursday’s win (against Steubenville) that it was all about team effort and sharing the ball, not selfishness,â Julian said. âI think that was another example, we have several guys scoring goals. It’s more fun to play soccer this way when everyone is contributing.
The Patriots defeated the Tornadoes 5-2 at Red Devil Stadium in St. Clairsville on Saturday morning with a hat trick from senior forward Alex Canestraro.
Within a week, the Patriots have gone from selfishly losing a game to sharing a championship together.
“I love the way our team comes together, especially after the loss to Bridgeport,” Canestraro said. âWe all got together and worked hard together to start playing in a less selfish way.
âA lot of it was about positioning, we looked at a lot of the positioning issues that were happening. We fixed them and it’s like night and day now.
The Patriots struck on the first Saturday morning when Brody Wall sent a shot past Dover goalie Joey Jones at 7:17 in the first half. Canestraro added his first goal of the game a few minutes later at 5:34 pm with an assist from Tresz McLeod.
Dover controlled the ball for most of the remainder of the half and had several scoring opportunities, but failed to outsmart Park goalkeeper Dannen Foraker.
âI think we just came out a little soft, a little too relaxed. They are a good team and they made us pay early, âsaid Dover coach Austin Wade. “I think in general we just didn’t do the simple things as well as we should have.”
Leading 2-0, Julian was content to take that lead at half-time, but the Patriots managed to score two more goals in the final two minutes of half-time.
The first came on an impressive individual effort from Canestraro assisted by Matteo Gattesco and the second came when a shot from midfielder Manuel Juanez glanced at a Dover defender and deflected into the net.
âWe had a 2-0 lead and I felt really comfortable with our game,â said Julian. âAlex made an individual move there to score and then the fourth got a little bit of luck. But in this game sometimes you need the bounces to go your way. “
Dover controlled play again to start the second half but still couldn’t crack Foraker. Julian credited the Park midfielder for how the team was able to play strong on both sides.
“Our midfielder was strong today, all three of us,” said Julian. âWe knew Dover had good players and that they are a good strong midfielder. We took it upon ourselves to make sure our midfielder was up to the challenge. “
Canestraro added his third and final goal at 7:57 p.m. to make the game a frost for the Patriots.
Dover added two goals in the final seven minutes from Ethan Kopp and Nick Castricone after both teams made mass substitutions.
âI couldn’t be more proud of the seniors, it’s two (OVAC Championships) in four years for them,â said Julian. “It’s really good for them to be able to lift this trophy.”
âIt feels good,â Canestraro added. âI think of the guys I’ve played with in the past. It’s a bit like continuing their legacy, winning this title.