It was a difficult season for the Pittston Area boys soccer team last year. Following a 1-12-1 season under now-Pittston Area School Board Director Pat O’Boyle, the Patriots welcome back experience, and an experienced coach.
James Bell begins his first season at the helm for Pittston Area. Bell graduated from Pittston Area in 2006 and most recently served as the Penn State Wilkes-Barre head soccer coach since 2013. He founded the Electric City Shock soccer team a few years back, and now serves as a general manager to the club.
At Pittston Area, he was a four-year letter winner in boys soccer. He spent his collegiate career playing for Penn State Worthington Scranton and Keystone College.
It’s his turn to try and turn around a program that’s qualified for the district playoffs each year since 2009, but hasn’t won a single playoff game.
“These kids are really used to losing and they’ve accepted it,” Bell said. “It’s going to take a little bit to break that mentality.”
The Patriots will welcome back a quartet of juniors to lead this year’s team. Shane Syms, Mike Mikitish, Dominic Stella and Nick Barbieri all have a significant amount of experience for Pittston Area. The Patriots lost four seniors from last year’s team: Colin Tracy, Nick Terpak, Vince Shea and Nick Allardyce.
The four returning starters for Pittston Area were all selected as Wyoming Valley Conference Class 3A First-Team All-Stars following last season. Barbieri and Mikitish made the team on defense, while Stella was a forward. Syms was Pittston Area’s keeper last year and will serve many different roles this season.
From a leadership and experience standpoint, Bell said his batch of juniors can provide some pop this season.
“Nick Barbieri is a really good kid and a good player,” he said. “He runs his butt off and Mikiitsh holds down the back line and communicates well.”
Bell said Syms’ different roles this season will allow for full-time keeper Kyle Mildjeski.
“(Syms) is an outstanding player,” the coach said. “He’s a hard worker and his mentality has changed to where he doesn’t have to do everything himself and can rely on his teammates.”
Much like recent years, the district tournament will be open to all teams following the PIAA’s realignment. The Patriots will be competing in the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1, along with Coughlin, Crestwood, Dallas, Hazleton Area, Tunkhannock, Wyoming Area and Wyoming Valley West.
The Patriots will play each of those opponents twice this season, making for a 14-game schedule.
Pittston Area opened its season on Wednesday, Sept. 7 with a loss to Tunkhannock.
“I’m looking for 110 percent,” Bell said. “We’re looking to do better than last year’s mark.”