For the last two-plus seasons, Dallas has been far and away the best boys soccer team in the Wyoming Valley Conference.
The Mountaineers began their season on Saturday riding a 30-game winning streak in the conference. In that stretch, the team has strung together the victories mainly by playing potent defense only giving up a total of 15 goals in those matches and holding opponents scoreless 18 times. Since its last loss on Oct. 19, 2009, there have been times that teams in the conference have allowed 15 goals in one game.
With nine starters back from last year's team, which includes players who have been a part of an unbeaten junior high team going 35-0 at that level, the Mountaineers are once again the favorite to claim the Division I championship and contend for the District 2 Class 2A gold. The district title has been elusive for Dallas in that time and this year the standards are high.
"We knew coming up the last few years they did very well and we expected to do very well in the league and the conference," Dallas coach Chris Scharff said. "We're a little disappointed that we didn't win districts the last two years but that's the breaks you get. We really want to win districts the next two years and that's our goal so we'll see what happens."
The road likely won't be easy for the Mountaineers in the division as rival Coughlin appears to be back on track after a down 11-3 season a year ago. Lake-Lehman is now in Division I and will play its Back Mountain rival twice this season instead of just once when the Black Knights played in Division II. And don't forget about Crestwood, which gave Dallas fits in the district semifinals a year ago before the Mountaineers pulled away for the victory.
Top returning players
Justin Okun, senior, Coughlin – The Wyoming Valley Conference Division I scoring leader a year ago finished with 25 goals, 10 assists and 60 points. He was also selected as All-State by the Wyoming Valley Conference coaches.
Danny Saba, senior, Dallas – He was second in Division I in points tallying 39, consisting of 14 goals and 11 assists.
Dallas Defense – Anchored by senior Brian Stepniak and junior Brandon Scharff, who were starters last year on a unit that allowed just nine goals in the regular season, the Mountaineers defense should be stingy as usual. This duo also helped on offense last year with Stepniak registering eight points and Scharff netting 14.
Alex Machalick, senior, Crestwood – He finished fourth in Division I with 34 points in 2011, consisting of 15 goals and four assists.
Jordan Consagra, junior, Pittston Area – The Patriot tied for the Division II lead with 30 goals, 12 assists and 72 points in 2011.
Kenny Kocher, senior, Lake-Lehman – A stellar defender and one of the top in the league last year, he helped the unit, which only allowed 23 goals, the third-fewest in the entire WVC.
Richard Umana, senior, Berwick; Pat Malone, senior, Coughlin; Josh Tarnalicki, senior, Coughlin; Steve Rerick, senior, Crestwood; Dante DeAngelo, senior, Dallas; A.J. Nardone, senior, Dallas; Chris Edkins, senior, Lake-Lehman; Cal Lisman, junior, Meyers; Ryan Wisnewski, senior, Wyoming Valley West; Eric Whited, senior, Wyoming Valley West
With nine returning starters back from last year's team, Dallas should be the top choice. But the team also has a target on its back now and teams will be looking to knock the Mountaineers off their perch.
Coughlin also has nine starters back from last year's team and Lake-Lehman advanced to the District 2 Class 2A semifinals, as did Crestwood.
With a new coach and several returning key players, Hazleton Area should be able to improve on last year's one-win season and should be watched as an upset pick.
And don't forget about Wyoming Valley West. The Spartans are always a force when it comes to the postseason in Class 3A and in the division. They also return a lot of players from last year's squad and has the ability to improve on an 8-6 season.
"I think Dallas is still the team to beat and Coughlin has a lot back," Lake-Lehman coach Mike Kostrobala said. "The rest of the division, you have to be on your toes every game because there are no easy games."
With Lehman moving up to D-I after consecutive division titles, the division could be anyone's to win.
In 2011, Pittston Area finished in second, but Tunkhannock, Wyoming Seminary and Holy Redeemer were close behind. Meyers was at the bottom of the very even division in 2011, but the Mohawks appear to be much improved after that down season and could make things more interesting.
The Tigers could climb to the top of the standings once all is said and done. They only lost two seniors from last year's club and have a successful veteran coach in Mark Stroney, who is back for his second year after a 10-year hiatus from the high school game.
"It's a lot easier for me in the second year because I don't have to explain everything to the players that I'm looking for this time around," Stroney said. "So that's a bit of an advantage."
The last two division titles have gone through Hanover Area. The Hawkeyes have had a lot of turnover from those two teams and may be in a bit of a transition. Berwick took second in the division both years to Hanover and may now be the favorite with many several returning players from a year ago that won a play-in game to advance to the District 2 Class 2A tournament.
Another team that could give Hanover Area and Berwick fits in Wyoming Area. The Warriors enter with a first-year coach in Nick Hufford, but their numbers are up and like the Bulldogs they return several key players from a year ago.
Up-and-coming teams are GAR, Nanticoke and MMI. The Grenadiers are still in the midst of rebuilding a program and are starting to see the light with a few successful junior high seasons.
Nanticoke has only won twice in the last two seasons, but veteran coach Mark Matusek has his young team ready to snap that skid. If the Trojans can get a win or two, it can begin a winning stretch because no players were lost from last year and a few standouts were added.