Kiski School 2023 PAISAA Champions. (Photo/ Kathy Leister for PSD)
BY JEREMY GOODE
(PHOTOS BY KATHY LEISTER FOR PSD)
PHILA.,--Not one… not two… not three…
On Nov. 15, the soccer powerhouse Kiski School defeated The Phelps School 5-4 to capture their fourth consecutive PAISAA title. The Pittsburgh suburban prep school traveled to La Salle University in Philadelphia to defend their title against a similarly talented Phelps team.
“They’re gritty and resilient,” Kiski School head coach Jonty Loukes said. “I don’t think we have standout guys so to speak, but I think we have goals, a lot of hard work, and a hell of a lot of heart.”
Loukes continued that this was one of the more team-orientated squads he has ever coached. What he may have been missing in supreme talent, he made up for with a mix of contributions from the depth of his team.
“The last two teams I’ve coached had some serious, serious talent,” Loukes said. “And we recognized very early that we were not going to be able to replace those individuals, but rather, we’d have to become a better team to win games, and that’s what we have done.”
The idea that Loukes viewed this PAISAA title team as less purely talented than some in the past just tells you how successful Kiski soccer has been year after year.
And don’t try to tell Mamadou Tall, a sophomore from Dakar, Senegal, that there was any gap in talent. He recorded a hat trick in the scoring parade for Kiski, and every goal was needed to overcome a strong Phelps performance.
“That was a tough game…the finals are never easy,” Tall said. “I’m happy I scored three goals, but I’m really proud of the team; we did a good job.”
From Senegal to the school just east of Pittsburgh is quite a distance -- over 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. What is most compelling about this Cougars team is that the majority of them are international players. Of the 38 players listed on the team, only three of them, or seven percent, are from the United States.
Just to stress the diversity of Kiski’s talented squad, several players come from Spain, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Guatamala, Dominican Republic, Mexico, as well as several other nations.
When asked how he is able to manage a team with so many backgrounds at such a young age, Loukes has seemed to find the secret to completely recruit internationally without there being many bumps and setbacks during the season.
“Futbol is a universal language, when you step on the field, we all speak the same language,” Loukes said. “It’s hard work at times with the boys being from all over, some egos to manage, but really, my responsibility is bringing those cultures and philosophies together and helping it blend to produce a winning team on the field.”
The actual game breakdown was interesting; it almost had a tennis vibe with a back and forth pace. Even with their tradition of winning and dominance, Kiski had to hold on against Phelps until the last seconds of the match. The Cougars jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead only six and a half minutes into the match. Their first goal was a minute and sixteen seconds into the title game, and they followed up with another goal by using their speed less than five minutes later.
Phelps would respond. After all, it was the PAISAA title game. Phelps’ Junior Diouf was fouled in the box, and Lucca Saad put home a penalty kick with 31:19 remaining in the first half. Phelps would score 90 seconds later, tying the game at two with still nearly 70 minutes of game time still to be played. With the match tied at three with just over two minutes remaining in the half, Kiski would add their fourth goal, going into the half up 4-3.
Both teams would settle down defensively in the second half. A Kiski goal seven minutes in gave the Cougars a 5-3 lead with 33 minutes remaining. Phelps would cut the lead in half with 17 minutes to go. At that point, it was a race to the finish line, and both teams were unable to score again.
From the perspective of Kiski’s goalkeeper, Oscar De Blas Pumar, he was glad the scoring simmered down in the last 40 minutes, helping the Cougars earn another state title. In reference to the second half adjustments, De Blas Pumar saw how his teammates in front of him improved defensively.
“We were better in the back and with our marks,” De Blas Pumar said. “I think in the first half, we were a little bit nervous because it was a final, but we were much better at finishing it off.”
It was an uncharacteristic match for Kiski. According to Loukes, they are used to scoring a lot of goals, but all season long they had also not given up many goals. Going into the week after winning playoff games to get them to the PAISAA title game, Kiski was having difficulty finishing and scoring on net. Defensively they were fine, but the team put in a lot of work on the offensive side in preparation against another skilled offensive team in Phelps.
It paid off just enough.
“We were creating a lot of chances, we just were not putting the ball in the back of the net,” Loukes said. “Going into this week, it was just about putting the ball in the net, so we just went over some stuff in the final third of the field, really working towards cleaning up the box play, and to be clinical in front of goal.”
In terms of execution, they converted five times. Kiski probably could have finished with double digit goals. Loukes thought his team was strong offensively for the first 60 minutes of the match and could have put the game away during the last 20 minutes, but were unable to.
For Kiski, this was their second time playing Phelps this season. Earlier in the season, they tied Phelps. At La Salle, they had just enough to surpass them.
“Well, we knew it was going to be a tough game,” Adrian Alvarez said. “We know how they play; their fullbacks were good, their midfield was awesome, but we practiced for this; we practiced all year for this trophy.”
The Cougars were able to analyze their opponents earlier in the season and applied their findings in the title game.
“We learned from the first game and came out of it better,” Tall said. “They are good around free kicks and throw ins, so we just played without making a lot of fouls while moving the ball quickly.”
Winning is not new for this Kiski team. After all, it is their fourth consecutive state title. Nonetheless, with a team that did not have the level of fire power as in years before, the team is perfectly content in earning another state title. For them, it seems like an annual occurrence. Maybe something that even belongs to them at this point.
“I feel like we deserve this trophy; the way we practice, the way we go into every game is incredible,” Alvarez said. “I am so proud of these boys… these boys made me a three-time state champion.”
“These guys are the superstars; they’re the real heroes behind all of this. I just throw them a ball and give them a little guidance, and they go out and show everybody what they are capable of, which is extremely pleasing to be a part of,” Loukes said.