For the better part of a generation, Upper St. Clair has been a WPIAL boys soccer powerhouse.
As such, it's not surprising the Panthers are off to an undefeated start three weeks into the season a year after winning the WPIAL Class AAA championship.
Upper St. Clair has a lineup strong enough to earn the Tribune-Review's No. 1 ranking in WPIAL Class AAA.
But where would the Panthers' reserves rank? To hear the team's coach and starters tell it, they'd be a competitive WPIAL team, too. Upper St. Clair is just that deep.
“We're not just 11 kids,” senior defender Wes Burdette said. “There's 22 of us — and anybody can step up in any game.”
“We've getting everybody a lot of playing time,” coach Uwe Schneider said, “and we've found out we have a very deep bench. We can replace whole parts of the team and still be very competitive. Down the road, that will help us as we go into the playoffs.”
The Panthers returned more than half of their starters from a team that went 20-2-2, won the WPIAL and was the PIAA runner-up last season. That group includes a four-year starter in Burdette and the player he shares the team captaincy with, Ethan Dysert.
Dysert, a forward, is in his third season as a major contributor to Upper St. Clair.
“Every single game we go into, we have a target on our backs,” Dysert said. “Other teams come in and they're out to beat us because that could be the highlight of their year because we won WPIALs and went so far last year. It motivates us to play even better than we did last year because we have a title to defend.”
It's much easier to defend a championship when your steady goalkeeper is back. Schneider said senior Joe Conlon — also a baseball player for Upper St. Clair — is even better than he was last season when he allowed three goals in eight postseason games.
“He's become more athletic and become more of a vocal leader of the defense,” Schneider said.
But Colon, of course, isn't the lone reason why Upper St. Clair (6-0-1, 4-0-1 in Section 5-AAA) had allowed only one goal through its first six games before a 2-2 tie with Peters Township Saturday.
Physical senior Jon Erdman and junior Garrett Blake (the only sophomore starter on last season's title-winning team) serve as solid fullbacks, and junior Troye Kiernan and senior Kevin Mack are top defensive midfielders.
Schneider said that this is one of the largest rosters Upper St. Clair has used in his 13 years with the program (11 as head coach). This despite no freshmen playing varsity.
“We're trying to find a balance between keeping everybody happy getting enough playing time and, at the same time, being a very competitive team,” Schneider said.
Perhaps the competition among teammates for roster spots and playing time is part of what keeps the Panthers so hungry despite coming off such a successful season. Only a handful of this season's players were not part of last autumn's postseason run.
“It's more of a burden than a bonus to have been successful the previous season,” Schneider said. “There's no privilege for it; you have to go out and you have to earn anything you get.”
“You haven't won anything yet this year unless you work hard for it and you go out and take it for yourself.”
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