Calm Zim­me­man builds state pow­er­house

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS -

With a fierce wind blow­ing an un­re­lent­ing down­pour of freez­ing rain on Satur­day evening at Her­shey­park Sta­dium, David Zim­mer­man was calm and com­posed, as usual.

The vet­eran Con­estoga boys’ soc­cer coach’s low-key de­meanor be­lied the high stakes of his pro­gram’s sec­ond ap­pear­ance in the fi­nals of the PIAA State Tour­na­ment. And even af­ter the Pi­o­neers se­cured the Class 4A state ti­tle with a 1-0 tri­umph over El­iz­a­beth­town, Zim­mer­man’s cel­e­bra­tion was heart­felt, but more on the re­served side. “I’m barely alive,” he laughed, when asked about his de­meanor.

“The im­age I try to project is calm. Our play­ers look to the coach­ing staff. If you are los­ing it or are an­gry, they are go­ing to feel that.”

Zim­mer­man is not a screamer – never has been. A teacher and a tac­ti­cian, yes, but not the kind of fire and brim­stone you com­monly as­so­ci­ated with the coach­ing pro­fes­sion. As a re­sult, his team’s plays a cere­bral, mea­sured style, with a fo­cus on prepa­ra­tion and trust­ing the process.

“He is very low key. He doesn’t raise his voice very of­ten,” said se­nior Gabe Harms.

“If we are not play­ing well, he will give us a stern talk­ing to, maybe even a few choice words,” added another se­nior, Blaise Mi­lanek.

Now with a pair of state cham­pi­onships in the last six years, Zim­mer­man and his staff – Blake Stabert, An­gelo Capetola and Jamie O’Neil – have de­vel­oped the ’Stoga pro­gram into one of the true gold stan­dards in Penn­syl­va­nia. In the last seven sea­sons, for

for ex­am­ple, the Pi­o­neers have made five ap­pear­ances in the quar­ter­fi­nals of the PIAA State Tour­na­ment.

“That whole staff is phe­nom­e­nal. They get the kids to buy in,” said Con­estoga Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Kevin Pechin.

“This staff has been to­gether for seven, eight years,” Zim­mer­man pointed out. “Our goal is to try to set an ex­am­ple of com­po­sure, and the play­ers on the field read that.”

The Pi­o­neers’ as­cent into a state power wasn’t ex­actly a quick rise, but more of a steady, grad­ual build -which kind of fits Zim­mer­man’s no-frills per­sona.

“Dave will out­work you,” Pechin said. “He is very calm, al­most flat-lined. He doesn’t get too high or too low. As a re­sult, his teams are very poised.”

Zim­mer­man’s first sea­son as the head coach came back in 2002, and it took eight sea­sons for Con­estoga to make its first deep post­sea­son run in 2010. The fol­low­ing sea­son, the Pi­o­neers cap­tured the District 1 ti­tle and went on to notch their first state crown un­der Zim­mer­man. It was the school’s sec­ond over­all, with the first com­ing back in 1988.

“The coaches talk about the 2011 team a lot, we think of them as role mod­els,” said se­nior Ma­son Miller. “And I’m so ex­cited that a pic­ture of this team will go right up next to that one.”

There was another quar­ter­fi­nal run in 2013, when Harms, Mi­lanek and Miller were fresh­men, and then last fall ’Stoga ad­vanced to the state semi­fi­nals. And along the way, the Pi­o­neers have been the dom­i­nant pro­gram in the Cen­tral League, with six con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships since 2010.

“This is why we put all the hard work in,” Zim­mer­man said. “We have high ex­pec­ta­tions, so for us to meet them, I can’t say enough about this team.

“The first state ti­tle (in 2011) was re­ally un­ex­pected. It just sort of hap­pened. This time, at our first prac­tice, the goal was set to win the state ti­tle. In a lot of ways, this was harder, be­cause we are not sur­pris­ing any­body.”

Through all of the suc­cess since 2010, the only con­stant has been is Zim­mer­man and his coach­ing staff. They’ve nur­tured this cul­ture of suc­cess.

“We are en­tirely de­pen­dent upon the club sys­tem and the play­ers that come to us,” Zim­mer­man said, de­flect­ing much of the credit. “Within the last 10 years, our club sys­tem gives us a sta­ble of good play­ers ev­ery year, so as much as I’d like to take credit for the suc­cess we’ve had over the years, we have very good play­ers.”

His play­ers, how­ever, aren’t buy­ing it. Zim­mer­man is a teacher at Con­estoga, teach­ing his­tory and psy­chol­ogy, and quite a few of his play­ers have seen him in ac­tion in the class­room. He gets rave re­views as both a coach and a teacher.

“He’s a deep thinker and very in­tel­lec­tual both on the field and in the class­room,” Miller said.

“I don’t re­ally like psy­chol­ogy much, but he made it my fa­vorite class,” Mi­lanek added. “It’s just the way he teaches. There are def­i­nitely a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties to coach­ing. He kind of em­pow­ers us and makes it easy to com­pre­hend what he is try­ing to get across to us.”

Zim­mer­man has been pre­par­ing this squad to make a se­ri­ous run at the state ti­tle for many months. Cur­rently ranked sixth na­tion­ally by USA To­day, the Pi­o­neers went 25-1 over­all by stay­ing level-headed and per­form­ing with poise when the pres­sure was the great­est. Nine times this sea­son, Con­estoga found a way to pre­vail with a goal in the fi­nal 10 min­utes of reg­u­la­tion or in over­time.

“We’ve had a lot of close

games this sea­son,” Zim­mer­man said. “At the half, it was 0-0 -- well, we are used to that. It’s noth­ing for us.”

That kind of even­keel for­ti­tude has been on dis­play all fall. Dur­ing an early sea­son Cen­tral League show­down with Lower Merion in mid-Oc­to­ber, ’Stoga was vic­tim­ized by an own goal. But it didn’t faze the Pi­o­neers, who came back to win it, 2-1.

It was one of 24 matches – out of 26 played this sea­son -- in which Con­estoga lim­ited its op­po­nent to one or fewer goals. On Satur­day, El­iz­a­beth­town just be­came the lat­est vic­tim.

“As this sea­son started wind­ing down to the end, (Zim­mer­man ) made it clear to all of us that this is a once in the life­time op­por­tu­nity,” Mi­lanek re­called.

“Coach (Zim­mer­man ) is the main rea­son we got this far and won the state cham­pi­onship. As a se­nior there is no bet­ter what to go out.”

Neil Geoghegan Colum­nist

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