PRICE HILL – One would think the last week to 10 days would’ve been total chaos for Elder High School soccer coach Tony Gray, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case.
Gray was named coach of the Panthers after former coach Dave Ruehl stepped down Aug. 7, just 14 days prior to the team’s 2014 opener at Sycamore. While he admits day one was a little chaotic, once he took to the pitch, everything settled right into place.
“Obviously it’s an amazing opportunity,” Gray said, who becomes the seventh soccer coach in school history. “This is a great school and these are great kids. The staff at the school is great and they’re all helping me out and helping me through it. Day one was stressful because you don’t know what’s on your plate, really, but Dave’s still helping me out and keeping me in the right direction, so it’s great. We’re all real excited about moving the program forward.”
What Gray’s guys lack in age and experience, they make up for with talent and composure. His roster boasts just three seniors and a handful of guys with major varsity experience, but early on the inexperience hasn’t shown thorough like most would anticipate.
“The thing that’s been awesome with the younger guys in composure,” Gray said, who previously spent time coaching at Clark Montessori, McAuley High School and St. Ursula Academy. “Just how composed they’ve been in some tough situations already against some good teams and experienced teams. That makes a difference out here when the speed gets up. The speed is so dramatically different (from junior varsity to varsity) and what the best players can do is they can play quick at their feet and slow things down in their head.”
Some of those young guys include freshman defender Eric Groll and junior Jake Helphinstine, who will take over in net this season. Look for juniors Adam Deuber, Stephan Deutenberg and Lenny Belew to make an immediate impact as well.
One player Gray isn’t concerned about is junior Joey Sabato. The forward was second in the Greater Catholic League South last season with 29 points (11 goals, seven assists) and was named co-captain this season along with senior Nick Pangallo, who was named second-team All-GCL South in 2013. Gray has no doubt in his mind that Sabato will produce another special season, even with the added responsibility of being a team captain.
“Joey’s a special player,” the coach said. “He made varsity as a freshman and he’s always been an exciting player for us to watch as coaches. He changes games for us, and they say you’re only as good as your forwards in a lot of cases and when you got a guy like Joey on your team that can be that difference-maker for you, you can sleep a little better at night.”
“Now we’re getting to see a different side of Joey. To see that side of him, accepting responsibility and taking on the leadership role, he’s been great to watch and he’s stepped right into it.”
As for Gray’s philosophy on the pitch; his guys are going to work, take advantage of what their opponents allow and have fun.
“The beautiful thing about this team is we have a bunch of guys that can just fit in,” he said. “We’re allowing them to be creative. We do have that one guy, but we also have plenty of other options.”