Lady Leps return experienced bunch
The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to the Belle Vernon Area girls' soccer program.
There are the 10 straight playoff appearances, the six section titles in the previous eight seasons, and the numerous players who have gone on to continue their careers in college.
But the one thing that had always eluded the team and ninth-year Coach Paul Sasko, until last year, was a berth in the PIAA playoffs.
So what will the Lady Leps do for an encore?
The team returns seven starters from last year's team that went 18-4-1 and shared the Section 4-AA title with South Park, lost in the WPIAL semifinals to eventual champion Mars, and lost in the first-round of the PIAA playoffs to Mercyhurst Prep.
“The first goal is to always make the playoffs,” Sasko said. “We want to win the section title, make a deep run in the WPIALs and make the states again.
“Expectations are always high. The team has potential but has to work hard to realize it. The most important aspect is that we work together as a team.”
Leading the way for Sasko will be a pair of All-WPIAL players a year ago in senior Ashly Gagliardi and senior Hayden Pascoe.
Gagliardi recorded 14 shutouts last season while Pascoe had 30 goals and has netted 74 for her career.
The other returning starters include senior defenders Maggie Lewis and Stephanie Morgan, senior-midfielder Kelsy Lawson, and junior-midfielders Caitlin Caldwell and Samantha Mendicino.
According to Sasko, the other starting positions are not set, but that is a good thing for the team.
“We have several positions open and with some depth,” he said. “There is experience returning and it is very competitive, especially in the back (on defense).”
Midfielders in the mix to start include senior Sarah McCullough, junior Ally Demko, and sophomore Meghan Lovett.
Other defenders vying for a starting position include junior Carley Askin, and sophomores Courtney Hryko, Sarah Sepesky, and Marissa Zetty while sophomore goalkeeper Kaity Watson will also see time in goal.
Sasko said a trio of seniors, midfielders Emily Gagliardi and Shannon McCulloch and fullback Elizabeth Durigon, will also see some time. There are several sophomores and freshmen who will push for playing time.
So what will determine if they Lady Leps can replicate last year's success?
“We need new leaders to step forward and lead us, on and off of the field,” Sasko said. “We are in a tough section with South Park and EF, who has two Division I midfielders.
“The section is going to be solid.”
Joining BVA, EF, and South Park in Section 4 AA is East Allegheny, McGuffey, Thomas Jefferson, and West Mifflin.
The Lady Leps open in the South Fayette Kickoff Tournament Saturday at noon when they'll play Waynesburg.
Bill Hughes is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.