Upper St. Clair boys soccer cruises to 2nd PIAA title in a row
Joel Hart's PIAA medal ripped away from the ribbon that hung from his neck while he and the rest of the Upper St. Clair boys soccer team chased coach Uwe Schneider around Hersheypark Stadium with a bucket of ice-cold water.
Hey, something had to go wrong for the Panthers, right?
Taking advantage of a wider field that gave its many talented forwards room to work, Upper St. Clair did just about everything right during a 4-0 win over Conestoga Valley in the PIAA Class AAA championship game.
The title was the second in a row for Upper St. Clair.
“We came out strong from the start,” Hart said. “I think that's what set the tone for us, and we just kept on scoring.”
Dom Caruso, Troye Kiernan, Hart and Doug Hapeman scored goals for Upper St. Clair (23-1-1), which finished with 121 for the season, an average of 4.84 goals per contest.
Goalkeeper Will Petley helped Upper St. Clair record its 13th shutout.
Kiernan's header off a Garrett Blake corner kick moments after Hart's attempt was denied gave Upper St. Clair a 2-0 lead they would not come close to relinquishing.
“We played our hearts out,” Kiernan said. “We got those early goals, and I think we caught them a little off guard.”
After suffering an upset loss to Peters Township in the WPIAL Class AAA final, Upper St. Clair responded by winning its four PIAA games by a combined 18-1.
“I told them, ‘You have to make sure you approach every game like it's the last one — because it is,' ” Schneider said. “ ‘And if you want to get something out of the great season you had so far, you've got to go all the way. Otherwise it would have been a season where you win a section title, and nobody cares about that anymore next year.' ”
Upper St. Clair's 12 seniors — a group that had this same thing happen last year — relaxed. They got more serious. They focused.
And the result was their friends begging to storm the field — didn't happen — and players munching on a five-pound chocolate bar.
It's a scene that's becoming familiar for this team.
“Best experience ever,” Kiernan said. “Last year, I was just hoping we would be able to get here. As a senior, this is the last game of my life wearing USC colors. It's amazing. It's just purely amazing. I can't describe the feeling.”
Upper St. Clair was playing in its third consecutive state final, the second in a row coming off a WPIAL championship game loss — the Panthers won last year's state title 1-0 over Wilson (West Lawn).
Upper St. Clair also won back-to-back titles in 2003 and '4.
“We connect very well,” Kiernan said. “We're a close team this year.”
Caruso finished a feed from Hart in the 21st minute for a 1-0 lead. Kiernan stretched it to 2-0 by heading Blake's corner kick feed in the 34th minute.
Hart made the play happen by dribbling through several defenders, and he blasted a shot to his left. That left Conestoga Valley defender Evan Duffy with no choice but to kick the ball out of bounds to prevent a goal from being scored.
Upper St. Clair took advantage of the larger field and also wanted to attack the Conestoga Valley backs.
“We knew we had to use the width (of the field) to get it behind their backs,” Schneider said. “That was our game plan, to attack them, and I think it worked out pretty well.”
Hart stretched the Panthers' lead to 3-0 by taking a through ball, using his speed to get separation and finishing in the 43rd minute.
After dealing Great Valley its first loss of the season in the PIAA semifinals, Conestoga Valley (23-3-2) figured it still could make a run at the Panthers.
That wasn't quite how it played out.
Conestoga Valley was unable to generate much offensively, as Upper St. Clair dominated possession for long stretches.
“We thought we were in it down 2-0 at halftime,” Conestoga Valley coach David Hartlaub said. “But that third goal really took the wind out of our sails.”
Hapeman tacked on a fourth goal in the 54th minute off another feed from Blake.
“Every ball they touched stuck to their feet like glue,” Hartlaub added. “They found each other very well. And they exploited some of our players who maybe aren't at the level that they are.”
Which comes with experience, Schneider said.
The bulk of Upper St. Clair's starters were here last year, and it showed. They had a couple of productive practices, including one Saturday morning, then put it all together in the evening.
“Conestoga Valley is a good team, but it almost looked like they were a little overwhelmed in the beginning,” Schneider said.
“It took them awhile to settle in. It helps if you've been through it before.”
Sure. Just not with keeping medals intact.
Not that Hart's going to complain.
“It's an amazing feeling,” he said. “I think more this year, though, than last year. Just because we're seniors now. There's no feeling like ending your season on a win, especially your last one.”