Both Belle Vernon Area soccer teams prepared for WPIAL semifinals
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It isn't often that the WPIAL soccer committee has it as easy as they had it in picking the times and location for both the Belle Vernon Area Leopard and Lady Leopard soccer teams for their respective Class AA semifinal matches Tuesday.
That's because both teams face off against Mars, and they are two of only five districts remaining with both the boys and girls teams alive.
The contests are back to back at Gateway High School with the girls opening up play at 6 p.m. and the boys are scheduled for 8 p.m.
For the fifth-seeded Lady Leps (17-2-1), it is their first-ever trip to the WPIAL semi's while the 11th-seeded Leps (14-3) are becoming regulars as it is the third straight season that they are appearing.
Both teams will have their hands full as the girls team from Mars (17-1-1) are the top-seed, the two-time reigning WPIAL champions, the 2011 PIAA champions, and are 66-2-2 since the start of the 2010 season.
On the boy's side, Mars (17-2-1) is seeded second and their senior class was part of a WPIAL title-winning team in 2009.
In the opener, Paul Sasko knows that his Lady Leps will have to be on the top of their game as Mars has outscored its opponents 155-10 this year.
“We need to play with confidence and it is important for us to come out strong,” he said. “Mars has so many weapons that we cannot just focus on one or two players.
“We have to limit their chances while taking advantage of ones we get.”
Ashly Gagliardi has been strong in goal all season for BVA as she has 13 shutouts, and the defense as a whole has only given up ten goals all year.
Karli Paracca (32), Lydia Dennis (28), Amber Fichter (20) and Bethany Perri (19) have combined for 99 goals this season for Mars while Hayden Pascoe (27) and Lauren Kovalchuk (15) combined for 42 tallies for BVA.
Pascoe has 72 for her career.
The Lady Leps downed Southmoreland in the first round, 1-0, and fourth-seeded Hopewell in the quarterfinals, 2-0 while Mars had a bye in the first round and downed eighth-seeded Quaker Valley in the quarterfinals, 2-0.
Sasko is thrilled that his team finally got over the quarterfinal roadblock.
“It's kind of been a glass ceiling for us,” he said. “We had been to the quarterfinals four previous times so it is good to finally break through.”
In the other Class AA girls semifinal, second-seeded Moon (19-1) takes on third-seeded Chartiers Valley (16-0-2).
What does making the semi's for the third straight year and playing for the chance to make the WPIAL finals for a second consecutive season mean to BVA boys coach John Kerekes?
“It means that the goal that we put in place eight years ago when I started coaching (as an assistant) has finally started taking shape,” he said. “Building a program instead of a team is so important.
“It gives the younger kids in the district something to look forward to becoming a part of.”
Mars is led by Spencer Posey who finished the regular season seventh in the WPIAL with 27 goals and limiting Mars' chances will be key for the Leps.
“I think it comes down to our defense remaining solid and taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves in the offensive end,” Kerekes said.
“If (goalkeeper) Alex Robinson and our defense continue their excellent play and we continue to play our brand of soccer, we will have a good chance.”
Robinson has had two straight double-digit save shutouts in the playoffs and has seven shutouts on the year.
The Leps upended sixth-seeded Blackhawk in the first round, 2-0, and third-seeded West Allegheny in the quarterfinals, 1-0.
In the other Class AA boys semifinal, fourth-seeded Quaker Valley (16-3-1) takes on eighth-seeded South Fayette (14-4-1).
While both programs are flourishing, both BVA head coaches keep close tabs on each other.
“My entire time here I have been impressed with the consistency of the girls program and that is what we have always wanted with ours,” Kerekes said. “Paul puts in a lot of work behind the scenes working with younger kids in the area and I am trying to follow in his footsteps in that regard.
“The girls had to navigate a really tough section on their way to winning it and I am so impressed by their play in big game situations.”
Sasko has been impressed with Kerekes before he replaced Chris Stasicha as boys coach before last season.
“John has really done a good job with the boys and I joke with the boy's team all the time that they keep putting pressure on us,” Sasko said while laughing. “Nothing they do anymore should surprise anyone.”
Regardless of the semifinal outcomes, both teams will have at least one more game after Tuesday.
A win qualifies them for the PIAA tournament but if either loses, they will play in a consolation contest with the winner advancing to the PIAA tournament.
The WPIAL title contests and consolation matches will take place Saturday.
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