Puhala Discusses Brockway Rovers Soccer Tradition and PSAC Soccer

LOCK HAVEN, Pa. – Brockway native Zane Puhala has gone from Brockway boys soccer fanatic as a youngster to starter for the Lock Haven University Bald Eagles men’s soccer team.

(Photo provided by Lock Haven University Sports Information)

Brockway is one of the premier boys’ soccer programs in all of District 9 and has the accolades and college talent to back that up. At just four years old, Puhala played the game for the first time, and from what his parents say, it was love from the first time he played.

“My parents tell me I was hooked from the start,” said the college junior. “Starting that young and then in late elementary school always kicking the ball around with my brother (Zach) and his friends and seeing their success helped me get better and motivated me to eventually be better than him.”

In middle school, Puhala decided he wanted to be a college player but did not want the commitment of a club team located several hours away. What he decided was to continue his time in basketball and football while eventually deciding to join the baseball team in high school, something that helped him develop as a well-rounded athlete while not allowing for a full burnout as a soccer player.

Instead of club soccer, he went to some showcases and played sparingly on an ODP (Olympic Development Program) team in some tournaments to gain some exposure and get his name out there. Mostly, he relied on his success in the high school season, something that was enough to help him get noticed by a collection of Division II and Division III programs before deciding to head southeast to Lock Haven.

“My coaches, teammates, and some of my professors really made it an easy choice for me,” said the former Rover standout. I went to some ID camps in Lock Haven and met some of my future teammates there. I also cannot say enough about how awesome of a person my coach (Patrick Long) is and also how well my teammates and I have bonded out of soccer as well.”

His college career got off to a strong start in 2019 as he played in 18 games and made five starts for the Bald Eagles. He was shaping up for even more time, going into college season number two, but unfortunately, COVID-19 disrupted any momentum he was bringing into the 2020 season. A lost season was tough for many, including Puhala, and the Jefferson County native spoke about how the pandemic impacted his drive as a student-athlete.

“I was very affected by COVID-19. After hours on the computer with classes and Zoom, I just did not have a lot of motivation. During the summer, I would go to the high school field in Brockway and get some touches, but even when we got to come back, we were limited in the types of drills we could do and we still had to distance and keep the same ball for most of the individual drills during the spring semester.”

After over 600 days without a college game, Puhala and his teammates returned to action on September 4th, a game that ended in a draw against California (Pa.) 1-1 and saw Puhala contribute the assist for the Bald Eagles lone goal of the match. Earlier this month, the program also took down fellow PSAC East rival and nationally ranked Millersville 2-0, a big win for the program moving forward in the 2021 season.

“Coach (Long) said something that stuck with me after the Millersville game. He said this is the kind of thing that he expects. He said that this group should be able to play like this and do this against good teams. Talking to my teammates and fellow upperclassmen, we all think this is the best team we have played on.”

While this may be the best college team he has been on, the best high school team he has been on is the 2017 Rovers team that fell just short of the PIAA state title game in 2017 after a narrow 1-0 double-overtime loss to North Catholic. It was the farthest a Brockway soccer team had ever made it, something Puhala and company can hang their hat on.

“Normally about 10 minutes into a game, my high school teammate and one of my best friends, Hunter Allenbaugh, look at each other and know if we should win this game. In that game, we knew we were in for a fight. We really gave ourselves a great chance to win and almost pulled it out in the first overtime, but we gave ourselves a really good chance to win and it has been a learning experience. I have watched the film from that game so many times to figure out what I need to work on.”

Overall, in his high school soccer career, Puhala scored over 75 goals, led his high school team in goals in two separate seasons, was a three-time UAVSL All-Star, and a two-time UAVSL MVP.

“I just miss it like crazy,” he said. “I did not go out there trying to score all the goals, but it just happened, and we came together as a team and went on a great run my junior year. We made it clear to teams in our area that we are capable of winning games at the state level. Looking back, I even miss the hype of getting ready for a basketball game. It is a feeling I will never experience again, and that is still weird to me.”

To become the person and player he is today, the Brockway Area High graduate thanks his entire family, teammates, his coaches, and even his teachers for keeping him motivated and pushing him to do his best in school.

As for his studies, Puhala originally entered Lock Haven University as a biochemistry major, but he has since switched to become a nursing major and completes several hours of clinical each Wednesday prior to the program’s usual Wednesday afternoon or evening game. His goal at Lock Haven is to complete his associate’s degree and registered nurse distinction with further plans to become a bachelor of science in nursing down the line.

While nursing school and soccer are a lot to ask, Puhala has put his best foot forward and continues to be one of the key players for the Bald Eagles in 2021. It has been a magical and unique ride from District 9 to the Division II level as a soccer player, but Puhala would not have had it any other way. His love for soccer started at such a young age, with more appreciation and knowledge for the game being accumulated each day.

 

 


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