The Windber boys soccer team is no stranger to playing Conemaugh Township. After all, the Ramblers ran into the Indians twice during the regular season and came away with one victory and one draw.
What’s different about today’s game is the stakes.
Windber (15-4-1), the second-seed in the District 5 A boys soccer playoffs, plays top-seeded Conemaugh Township (15-2-3) at 6 p.m. at Somerset Area High School.
The winner advances to the PIAA tournament and, for Windber, the game marks its first district final.
“Those first 15 minutes will definitely be important for us,” said Windber coach Brett Hoffman. “But it’s still an 80-minute game and a lot can happen between those first 15 minutes and the end. We’d like to set the tone early.”
The game is one of five district championship soccer matches today involving area teams.
Conemaugh Township plays North Star in the District 5-A girls title match at 4 p.m. at Somerset.
The top-seeded Forest Hills girls play in the District 6-AA championship against Juniata at 3 p.m. at Hollidaysburg.
The Bishop McCort girls face Richland for the District 6-A title at 3 p.m. at Johnstown’s Trojan Stadium followed by the District 6-A boys match between Bishop McCort and Westmont Hilltop.
Windber, which defeated HOPE For Hyndman 2-0 in Thursday’s semifinal match, played the Indians to a 2-2 draw at Conemaugh Township and defeated them 1-0 in a home match earlier this season.
“The players are very excited. It’s the first time the Windber boys are in a district final,” Hoffman said. “They’re excited, but they have it in perspective. They’re looking at things one game at a time. Making the final was a huge stepping stone for us, but their mind set is in the right place.”
During most matches, the Ramblers’ mindset is on playing aggressive defense.
Windber has 10 shutouts on the year.
A mainstay of that defense is goalkeeper Garrett Walerysiak.
“He definitely is a rock in the back,” Hoffman said. “He’s been a three-year player for us and a starter for 21⁄2 years.”
Hoffman credits goalkeeper coach Frankie DiLoreto for helping develop Walerysiak into one of the area’s premier goalies.
The Ramblers’ back four is pretty solid too.
Adam Feather, Nick Napora, Steven Thomas and Jake Forish form a defense that limits scoring opportunities and often clamps down on high-scoring forwards.
Lucas Leitenberger and Jake Hanley each have scored more than 20 goals on the season.
“I would say this is a matchup of the two best defensive teams in (District 5). There shouldn’t be a lot of goals going into the net for either team,” Hoffman said.