Tony Lougee knew this season was coming.
The Mechanicsburg girls soccer coach is set to begin his 20th campaign leading the Wildcats, but long before it began, Lougee had to make a choice. With girls soccer moving to the fall after this school year, Lougee had to choose if he wanted to continue coaching the girls or stay with the boys, who he has coached since 1995.
In the end, Lougee decided this would be his final season with the Wildcat girls.
“It was really difficult (to decide),” Lougee said. “I’ve been with both for quite a long time. I enjoy coaching. I’m looking forward to some time with my family and seeing (assistant coach) Sean Cochran take the girls team. He’s a great coach, used to play for me. I’m excited for him.”
Soccer players and coaches from across the region are forced to decide if this will be their last season suiting up for their school soccer teams or if they will be moving on to a sport they love more. It’s all part of the impending transition of girls soccer from a spring sport to a fall sport.
Under the current format, some parts of the state play girls soccer in the fall, while others play in the spring. Starting this fall, the entire state will play in the fall.
Most of the state switched two years ago, but a few districts, including District 3, got a two-year waiver to continue their season in the spring while working out logistical issues.
“We share equipment, facilities and coaching staffs,” Lougee said. “Some teams were able to consolidate better. From a conference standpoint I think it was good for District 3 to have a plan in place. A lot of refs did both, too, and now there’s going to be games on the same nights.”
The biggest challenge facing athletes is deciding if they’d rather continue to play soccer or stick with a sport they’re already committed to in the fall. While field hockey is one of the main sports soccer players gravitate toward in the fall, athletes could also participate in cross country, tennis or volleyball.
Red Land girls coach Jamie Miller — who now won’t be able to coach the JV boys or be an assistant for the varsity boys — could potentially lose players from her girls team to different sports in the fall.
“We have players that have to make choices,” Miller said. “I could lose my starting keeper to field hockey, and that’s a huge hole to fill. And I could lose some other possible starters and key players and we need them.”
Miller and Lougee said many girls have already decided what they want to do in the fall, while others will decide after the season ends. Both coaches are supportive of whatever decision their players make.
Surprisingly, small schools may have the most to benefit from the transition.
While schools like Camp Hill have fewer kids to spare, the Lions will benefit in the long run from this switch because the spring season currently features fewer teams. Spring teams are either Class AAA and AA, meaning the Lions — who are usually Class A in sports — must play teams larger than it.
The fall format for District 3 will feature three classifications — classes AAA, AA and A — to mirror the state tournaments. With more teams playing in the fall than the spring, the PIAA could make an extra class to further divide the schools.
“That’s why I’m sort of indifferent to the change,” Camp Hill coach Justin Sheaffer said. “It’s going to hurt our talent pool, it’s going to hurt initially that girls have to choose, but in the long run, it’s going to be great for soccer because we will be playing schools our size come district time.”
Northern saw first-hand the consequence of not having three separate tournaments in the postseason.
After winning the Mid-Penn Colonial title, the Polar Bears fell to eventual state champion Cumberland Valley 9-0 in the Mid-Penn semifinals. Northern then fell 3-0 to Hershey in the first round of districts a week later.
When soccer moves to the fall, Hershey and CV will be Class AAA, while Northern will likely be Class AA.
“Obviously our goal at Northern is to become as competitive as possible in the playoffs and facing some of those teams that are strong programs,” Northern coach Mindy Smith said. “But I think it’ll be exciting and motivating for our players to know in the playoffs they’ll compete with teams closer in size for us. It is definitely a challenge when you’re faced with being one of the small schools in the area.”
Smith said she prefers the fall anyway, but the Polar Bears will be hit when a few key players have to decide. Senior captain Lauren Berry is also a tennis star for the Polar Bears, and she wouldn’t be able to do both if she were back in the fall.
There is a flip side to changing seasons.
“One thing that is nice, that a lot forget, is we have some track athletes who may decide to play soccer now,” Sheaffer said. “Great runners, they’re in shape. That’ll be a benefit from going to the fall. We’ll have some of those girls involved in sports.”
The article is featured on Cumberlink.com and was written by Sentinel author Kurt Bopp