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Sewickley Academy girls soccer seniors cap special season, careers in PIAA playoffs

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
New Brighton's Maya Watkins battles Sewickley Academy's Mackenzie Pryor for a header during their WPIAL Class A consolation playoff game Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, at Moon High School.

When the Sewickley Academy girls soccer team fell to Wilmington, 2-1, in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, it marked the end of a special era as 11 seniors will graduate.

“For four years, they have been the backbone of this program,” coach Jessica Peluso said. “Even as freshmen, they contributed greatly. Some of my fondest memories of coaching have come from there four years. These seniors had great personalities and were good players.”

The group — Maggie Dewitt, Melina George, Jordan McClain, Mackenzie Pryor, Katelyn Ripple, Paige Simakas, Kennedy Stine, Liz Thomas, Ali Torrence, Sophia Werner and Liz Wilson — had a four-year run that will be hard to match.

When the players first took the field as freshmen in 2010, the team went on a trek to the PIAA Class A title game before falling to Warrior Run, 4-0.

While the Panthers were unable to reach another state title game, the team followed up the run with three years of accomplishments, including two section titles and trips to the PIAA first round and quarterfinals.

In all, the seniors won 63 games.

“I am very proud of what we accomplished,” George said. “I will never forget when Sophia Werner scored in the semifinals to get us to Hershey as freshmen. Being with these girls for four years is something I will never forget. They are my best friends. It will be part of me forever.”

The group's senior season started with some struggles as Sewickley Academy started 2-3-2 — two of the losses coming to Class AA playoff teams in Hopewell and Quaker Valley. But the veteran group clinched a second-place finish in Section 1 to earn the team's seventh straight WPIAL playoff berth, thanks in part to a 7-1-1 streak midway through the season.

The team garnered 1-0 wins over Vincentian Academy and Bishop Canevin before falling to Shady Side Academy, 2-0, in the semifinals. Sewickley Academy then faced Section 1-A champion New Brighton in the consolation game. Despite falling to the Lions twice this season, Sewickley Academy pulled through for 1-0 win thanks to a George free kick to Werner in the second half.

“I knew from day one this was going to be a good season,” George said. “After playing together for four years and with a lot of the girls starting since they were freshmen, we all knew each other's weaknesses and strengths and were able to use that.”

Knowing the skills of the other players is what helped the team find success. Even when the team struggled to find the net, the Panthers were able to pull out six one-goal wins — three in the playoffs.

“We were really good at not having just one thing we were really good at,” Dewitt said. “We didn't have one or two star players. We all had a chance to contribute this season.”

Looking at the future, the team will rely on underclassmen from this season to contribute in 2014. And while it will be a tough task to match the talent from this year, the returning players will do their best to match the legacy of the 2013 seniors.

“We will have a rebuild next year because we lose the core of the team,” Peluso said. “We will be looking to groom younger players to step into positions. We have some talented girls returning. We hope to bring in a motivated freshman class.

“Sometimes a fresh start can be exciting.”

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at nsmith@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.

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