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Devin Bierly on boys soccer: Dowell’s getting healthier for Lancers

Brady Dowell went on a dead sprint from midfield all the way down to the end line where the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone at Montoursville’s Memorial Field for a goal kick. The play was pointless and had no affect on Loyalsock’s 3-1 victory. But it did show something to Lancer coach Ian Scheller.

It showed that his speedy forward is getting healthier and that his straight-line speed that made him an all-league selection last season is making its way back.

Dowell broke his leg the Monday after school let out last June at a team camp at Lycoming College, where Scheller serves as an assistant coach on the women’s soccer team. It was the first day of pick-up soccer for the Lancers and it was the last day Dowell touched a soccer ball for nearly three months.

“It was a freak accident,” Scheller said.

It’s been a long process for the lightning quick Lancer and he’s just starting to get his legs back under him. The senior didn’t practice until Aug. 20 and then started to have more added to his plate as preseason wrapped up.

It started with light jogs and matured to half contact drills. Dowell played about 20 minutes in the opening scrimmage against Sullivan County and has continued to get stronger on his surgically repaired leg.

“It’s like ripping a band-aid off. You don’t what he can take until you get him into action,” Scheller said.

Dowell is not back to 100% yet, according to his coach, but he’s getting close and should be there within the next week or so.

On Tuesday, Dowell tallied two goals and an assist in a 9-1 win over undefeated HAC-III foe Bloomsburg. He’s starting to look like the Dowell of 2018 and a healthy Dowell getting added to an already loaded front for Loyalsock spells trouble for the rest of the HAC-III.

“We kind of started with, OK, here’s 15 minutes. He’s such a physical specimen, so it was like, OK, he can play more than that right off the bat. That’s unbelievable. I’ve been working closely with the trainer and his parents saying, ‘hey, what do you feel comfortable with?’ It’s just working him back in. I bring him off after a 10 minute shift and it’s, ‘OK, how do you feel?’ Right now, it’s not so much the leg, it’s everything around it. When you don’t play for eight weeks, the rest of the muscles around it are weaker. He’s kicking for football. He’s on his way back and I’m looking forward to getting him back here fully in the next couple of weeks.”

Justis system

Hughesville’s Justis Leighow was one of the best midfielders in the area a season ago for a team that was a goal short from advancing to the district semifinals.

This season, the senior has taken his game to another level. Leighow already has three goals and three assists but his impact goes far greater than numbers. He’s an unselfish and calming presence in the middle of the field, has some of the best and most accurate free kicks around and at any time can take over the game without scoring a single point.

In a 3-2 defeat to Loyalsock, the Spartans found themselves down 3-0 midway through the second half, but Leighow then took over, scoring twice within 10-minute span and nearly knocked off the undefeated Lancers. Though Hughesville has lost four straight, with a little more help and experience from his younger teammates, Leighow can lead Hughesville back to the district tournament.

“I’ve seen it time in and time out. Senior year, something just clicks. He was a fantastic player the last three years for us, but senior year, he just knows this is it,” Hughesville coach Jim Dennis said. “He’s putting everything out there and I think what makes him such a great player is that he tries to make those around him better. He knows we have inexperienced on the outside mids and he’s bringing them along and if we keep building on that and he keeps working with them, we’re going to be a dangerous team come playoff time.”

Morphing Millionaires

Last season, Williamsport could just give the ball to Sam Hillman, JR Confair or Tom Pombor and get out of the way and something good would come from it. Any of those three could create their own shots at any time. Even Leo Daverio and Liam Ferry were talented goal-scorers, but now Williamsport doesn’t have that one go-to scorer who can go get a goal any time he wants.

Other than Jimmy Pombor’s 10 goals from last season, Williamsport’s top returning goal-scorer knocked in two scores. This season, Williamsport has to be patient, deliberate and not as aggressive. It’s focusing more on a ball-control and team-first approach.

“We liked to use length and width, but again, Game 2, we’re not where we want to be right now and that’s OK,” Williamsport coach Lee Kaar said after Williamsport’s 1-0 win over Mifflinburg. “… I’m proud of the guys for being patient with things and not letting that frustration over take them and let the game go.”

The goals have yet to come. Williamsport has just one in three games but the team is growing and learning together. The Millionaires are seeking a team-first approach and it’s only a matter of time before that unselfish play starts to translate into shots into the back of the net.

“This team, and Coach (Dave) Confair and Coach (Phil) Marrie and I, have noted that this team is probably less selfish than any other group that we’ve had. While sometimes you need that gritty, selfish person to just go, it’s really beneficial that in the long run that they play together,” Kaar said. “That’s the one thing we stress: we don’t want 11 individuals out there. We need to be one team. We were pleased with that tonight. I think the first things are mindset, patience, communication.”

DEVIN BIERLY’S TOP 5 SOCCER RANKINGS

1. LEWISBURG (5-0) — After a relatively down season, Lewisburg is back to its dominating ways. The undefeated Green Dragons already have impressive wins over Dallas (5-1) and Camp Hill (5-0) and are outscoring opponents, 33-4. The defense has been impressive, led by Logan Moore, allowing only 16 shots against, but the offensive attack has been equally magnificent. Lewisburg features the top-two area point-scorers in Ben Liscum (28) and Anthony Bhangdia (20) and the rest of the squad is plenty dangerous with players like Alan Daniel (4 goals, 4 assists) and Sawyer Fisher (3 goals, 1 assist). Lewisburg has had a staggering 11 players score. Big games against State College and Midd-West linger, but Lewisburg looks ready for anything thrown in its path.

2. LOYALSOCK (6-0) — For the second straight season, the Lancers are off to a blistering start. Loyalsock recently routed undefeated HAC-III foe Bloomsburg and it looks as strong as ever, outscoring opponents in the first two weeks of the season, 22-7. The Lancers opened the season with a first-place finish in the Central Mountain Tournament as they defeated District 4 Class AAA finalist Selinsgrove, 2-1, and Central Mountain, 4-2, to clinch the tournament title.

Connor Albaugh is causing havoc up front, Brady Dowell is starting to work his way back from a broken leg and Alex Hesier is one of the fastest strikers around. Sam Rosario is putting together another all-conference season as a defensive centerback and Caleb Albaugh is settling in nicely in goal. A player to watch as the season progresses is Oliver Matz. The senior reserve is earning more playing time and tallied three goals and an assist in the 9-1 win over Bloomsburg.

3. WILLIAMSPORT (1-2) — Williamsport’s offense is off to a slow start, scoring just one goal in three games. The Millionaires are trying to replace a skilled senior class that accounted for 48 goals last season. Sophomore Jimmy Pombor is a star in the midfield and scored the Millionaires’ lone goal of the season in a 1-0 win over Mifflinburg. Kinks in the front still need to be worked out but Wes Engle and Jon Cramer anchor a strong defense and Elliott Wannop is one of the best goalies around.

4. WARRIOR RUN (3-2) — The Defenders have played a demanding schedule against defending Class A state champion Millville, HAC-I teams Jersey Shore, Shamokin and Mifflinburg and against HAC-II rival and undefeated Lewisburg. The schedule doesn’t get much easier with Midd-West and Central Columbia coming up, but Warrior Run is battle-tested and will be ready. Alex and Tyrese Hazzoum form one of the best 1-2 punches around with Alex posting seven goals and an assist and Tyrese pitching in three goals and two assists. Those two can wins games by themselves, but players like Zach Schaeffer and Brendaan Geiger have also been stepping up their game lately and Keegan Jenkins is off to a nice start in goal.

5. MILTON (3-2) — After two straight losses to Millville and Lewisburg, Milton is back on the right track with wins over Hughesville and Montoursville. Tyler Hendershot has scored three goals in the two-game win streak, including the game-winner in the 76th minute against Hughesville, and Owen Yoder posted two scores in 4-0 win over Montoursville. The Black Panthers have been playing strong defense and have allowed just one score the last two games and goalie Colton Loreman has allowed a goal or less in three games.

After struggling in close games last season, Milton is already 2-0 in one-goal games this year, including a season-opening 2-1 overtime win over Southern Columbia where Carter Lilley tallied the game-winning score.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Ben Liscum, Lewisburg and Connor Albaugh, Loyalsock:

After missing most of last season with a foot injury, Liscum is healthy and back to being one of the area’s best talents. The Lewisburg forward is second in the area with eight goals — behind only teammate Anthony Bhangdia’s nine — and his 12 assists are six more than the next closest player. Liscum has accounted for at least three points in every game and notched three goals and two assists in a 6-2 win over Warrior Run. The junior also had four assists in a 13-0 win against Shamokin.

Albaugh got off to a quick start when he had two goals and an assist in Loyalsock’s 2-0 opening weekend at the Central Mountain Tournament. Albaugh later scored twice in a 3-1 win over Montoursville and knocked in the game-winning goal in a 1-0 overtime win against South Williamsport. The Loyalsock senior finished off a strong opening two weeks to the season with two goals and an assist in a 9-1 defeat of Bloomsburg.

Devin Bierly covers boys soccer for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached by email at dbierly@sungazette.com.

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