Waluszko stepping down as Pittsfield girls soccer coach
PITTSFIELD — Andy Waluszko grins over a cup of coffee on a cold Saturday morning. He's never been to Dottie's Coffee Lounge, but after sitting and talking soccer for an hour, the longtime local coach hops back to the counter for a second cup. One for the road.
Waluszko will have a lot more time to drink coffee and chat on weekends now. After a decade as varsity head coach of Pittsfield High girls soccer, he announced in a Facebook post this week that he is stepping down. A coaching career that began back in 1985 as a junior varsity coach at Saint Joseph Central under Mark Brazeau, and included six seasons as varsity head coach for the Crusaders, will come to a close. For now, at least.
"I've been doing this a long time. It was something I talked to a lot of people about this last year. A lot of coaches on the sidelines, officials, the family obviously," said Waluszko, whose travel schedule as an auditor with General Dynamics can get tough. "For now, I am stepping away, but down the road if there was an opportunity, or to help someone out, you never know."
Waluszko amassed a career record of 153-102-39 as a varsity head coach, including a 117-55-24 mark at PHS, where he won four Berkshire County North Division titles — three straight from 2012-14 — and earned two trips to the Division I Western Massachusetts championship game. The high-water mark for what became known as LG Nation was a 49-game unbeaten streak against Berkshire County foes that spanned from 2011 to 2015. His teams reached the tournament in nine of his 10 seasons, including 2017, when they needed to win all of their final three games against North opponents to earn a berth.
Though that most recent run ended with a first-round loss to West Springfield, the enduring memory of Waluszko as a coach is much greater.
"We started Pittsfield Soccer Club in 2001 with Tom Alfonsi and Eddie Robinson. It used to be the YMCA, a team called the Piranhas, the Panthers and the Bulldogs," said Waluszko of the city's youth soccer scene. "That was the thing. Bringing everyone together in one club in Pittsfield."
Pittsfield High went through some lean years, not winning a single North title in the 1990s. The Generals won it in 2001, but then the drought continued until Waluszko took over in 2008. Pittsfield claimed first place a year later in 2009. The turning point was an overtime win over cross-town rival Taconic. Since then, the Generals have yet to lose to the Braves.
Through 2010, Waluszko was an integral part of the youth program in Pittsfield, planting and fostering the seeds of what would become LG Nation.
For the last 10 years, LG Nation has been marked by elite teams and players who went on to join collegiate programs. Waluszko estimates more than 40 of his former players have played in college.
"That's one thing I'm especially proud of," he said. "When we used to go out and play at Ludlow or West Side, I would contact college coaches, saying 'hey we're coming out and I have some players who are very interested in playing collegiate soccer.' I'd always tell the players and parents that you never know who is going to be there, and I'm proud a lot of them got to play, some even Division I."
There are too many names to list. From to top level of girls like Carrie Holland — whom he coached at Saint Joseph — and Shaina Alfonsi, who played at NCAA D-I programs, on through the excitement of watching Williams freshman Ilana Albert win a Division III National Championship this past fall. That number also includes the coach's daughter, Amanda, who played at Western New England through 2013.
While the accolades, wins, college-bound players and having not lost a city game since 2009 all mean a great deal to Waluszko, who grew to love the game while playing under Tom Kinne at Monument Mountain, the record he's most proud of is one you won't find on any scoreboard, stat sheet or standings. In 17 years as a varsity head coach, not a single one of his players has ever violated the substance abuse policy or become academically ineligible.
His top memory is a win over Belchertown that nobody saw coming in 2013. The Orioles were unbeaten and rolling through the Western Mass. tournament. They had beaten Pittsfield 4-1 earlier in the season, but in the 78th minute of a scoreless semifinal, Amanda Wright — who plays now at Springfield College — took a feed from Nicole Alfonsi and buried it to send the Lady Generals to the title game.
"It's a video I still go back and watch some times. It was just awesome. The tournament director told me he thought it was the biggest upset in their history," said Waluszko. "We played them earlier and knew we couldn't match up straight-up, so [assistant coach] Tom Alfonsi and I watched a lot of tape and changed some things up and were just waiting on that play to open up."
Unfortunately, in the finals, they ran into the one persistent thorn in Waluszko's side: Minnechaug.
The Falcons remain his last piece of unfinished business, having bounced PHS three times in the postseason, twice in the championship game.
The team that stands out definitively, though, is the 2009 group that started LG Nation, a moniker, battle cry and program all rolled into one.
"I hope the tradition carries on. We were known as one of the strongest D1 teams. We beat Ludlow, West Springfield, East Longmeadow. Before, you would never compete against those schools. But when Pittsfield Soccer Club started, and we got more and more kids playing, it improved," said Waluszko. "I was just fortunate to be coach at that time."
The goal at Pittsfield High went from making the tournament to winning the tournament. That is the lasting impact left by Waluszko.
"I'll still keep an eye on the program. I still haven't lost that passion. Even games down stretch this fall I still got butterflies in my stomach," he said. "At work on game days I'd be off. There are still some strong girls in the program. I'm going to miss the players, the coaches and officials, the competition."
There has been a dimming of the 100,000 volts of LG power, but the Nation will live on.
Mike Walsh can be reached at email@example.com, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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