Five soccer teams will make their debuts in WPIAL title games
Peters Township's soccer teams have their bags packed, per program tradition.
The Upper St. Clair boys and Greensburg Central Catholic girls will also make their seemingly annual appearances at this weekend's WPIAL finals, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Highmark Stadium.
But along with the crowd of regulars will be a large contingent of first-timers, schools known more for that other kind of football; Hopewell and Central Valley meet in the Class AA girls final, West Allegheny and South Fayette among Class AA boys. Beaver County Christian is the year's fifth first-time entrant opposite Sewickley Academy in Class A boys.
“I think it's an advantage to have been there before because you're not as nervous,” said Greensburg Central Catholic scorer Fran Crouse, a Penn State recruit with 199 goals over the past four years, a majority of them coming in the playoffs. “But I would definitely say, outside of the inexperience, it's all an equal shot for everyone.”
A year after the Canon-McMillan boys were the lone new face and two years after just two teams broke through, five teams will make their inaugural appearances in 2013.
The uprising of squads such as West Allegheny (Trib Total Media's No. 1 all season) and Central Valley (the only undefeated team in the girls field) underscore the significant parity in WPIAL soccer, something South Fayette forward Brian Coyne is happy to see.
“It's nice to see some of these other teams developing, getting better,” said Coyne, whose Lions had three wins in 2011. “It makes everyone better because now you have competition.
“I know I like to see the competition increase to see how good we are compared to everyone else.”
Coyne has 23 goals, but the Class AA boys matchup is more about defense; if it's not Indians defender Zach Graziani — perhaps the state's best — then it's about a Lions defense that has allowed two goals to Class AA teams, six total.
Top-seeded Upper St. Clair clashes with No. 7 Peters Township in a rematch of the 2011 final for Class AAA. But while that's part of an 11-year stretch in which the Indians have made it to this stage eight times, West Allegheny will play in its first-ever soccer final Saturday.
“Our school is more of a football school, and on the side of the school there are all these WPIAL football championships,” West Allegheny forward Collin Wurst said. “For our practice, we always get to see those, and there are never any soccer things up there.
“This year we want to have that number and that sign up on the side of the building, to be the first team in West Allegheny history to win a WPIAL championship.”
Sewickley Academy has won four Class A titles since the classification was formed for the 2000 season, but the Panthers' opponent hasn't even witnessed a postgame celebration on the season's biggest stage.
“Once you get to the WPIAL final, especially since it's at Highmark this year, everyone's going to be anxious to play,” said Sewickley Academy senior J.P. Bowell, who has 25 goals. “It's a bigger stage.”
The girls teams from Peters Township and Seneca Valley met on this stage last year, with Indians striker Veronica Latsko sealing the win late in the second overtime by finishing a header. They've accounted for three of the past four championships in Class AAA.
Crouse's Centurions have won two consecutive titles, a year after Shady Side won it all.
But in Class AA, the eighth-seeded Vikings and second-seeded Warriors enter new territory thanks to respective upsets of No. 1 Mars and No. 3 Moon, perennial powers who met in this game last year.
One of the Warriors' captains, defender Ashley Mutkus, said she'll talk to her team about the importance of scoring the first goal.
“Being one of the defenders, one of the things I'll tell my defense is to stay composed and relax because a mistake back there is crucial,” Mutkus said. “Whether that's blocking out the audience or taking it in, it's different for everybody. It's hard to tell someone to ignore it because, what if it makes them play better?”