Even with a relatively inexperienced roster that, by its own admission, might not have the collection of pure elite-level talent other recent teams at the school have had, the Seton-La Salle boys soccer team doesn't get rattled.
Not when it had to replace so many starters.
Not when it gets down early in a game.
Not when a key player is out with injury.
These Rebels stay the course. It's a big reason why, despite returning only three starters from last season, Seton-La Salle remains in contention to win its third consecutive WPIAL Class A championship.
“Three times we've come back from being down a goal to start a game,” coach Mike Thomas said. “It's hard to (even) get an experienced team to do that. But they don't hit the panic button. They play well together.”
Seton-La Salle is 12-2 overall and 9-1 in Section 3-A play heading into the final week of the season. Its game against rival Bishop Canevin Thursday will decide the section title.
That might not seem significant for a team that has played in either the WPIAL or PIAA championship game (or both) at the end of each of the past six seasons — winning four WPIAL titles and two PIAA crowns.
But Thomas said this isn't the typical uber-talented Rebels team. Whereas in some years of the recent past, Seton-La Salle's lineup would feature several club soccer players and multiple Division I recruits, this season the Rebels have only one club-level player — defender Eric Albright.
“We're winning by playing together well, hard work and effort,” Thomas said.
Albright is one of four senior captains setting that tone for Seton-La Salle. Striker Rocco Gagliardi leads the team in goals with 14, center midfielder Tony Pecone has a team-high 18 assists and goalkeeper Nick Parkes has been a central figure in many shutouts for Seton-La Salle this season.
“I think what it is, basically, is that we all just want to win games,” Pecone said. “We all make sure we practice hard. A lot of teams take practice as a joke — but it's real serious here. We practice as a team because, simply, we all just want to win and that's the best way of making sure we do.”
The Rebels survived a scare when Parkes was out of action for more than two weeks because of a shoulder injury. But Seton-La Salle went 5-1 without him, and he was cleared to play earlier this week.
“He's the heart and soul of our team,” Pecone said.
Parkes is back just in time, too. The most recent game he played was a 2-1 victory at Bishop Canevin Sept. 22. That is the Crusaders' only defeat in section play heading into a game Tuesday. A victory against Eden on Tuesday sets up a winner-take-all section rematch with Seton-La Salle Thursday.
“It's going to be huge,” Parkes said. “I'm really looking forward to that game. We've won the section title the past couple years, so we don't want to lose it. And if you have to lose, you don't want it to be to them.”
Under a coaching staff that includes Rich Sunseri, Mark DelGreco, Bob DelGreco and Nick Balzer, Seton-La Salle has built up quite the tradition. It's one that the current team doesn't want to let down.
“For Seton, that tradition is something you play for,” Gagliardi said. “You're playing not just for that night, it's for all the players who wore that jersey before you did, to make them proud.”
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