Trib Cup: PIAA runner-up West Allegheny reflects on special season
West Allegheny's boys soccer team allowed only one goal all postseason, and even though that lone goal proved to be detrimental, the Indians finished off the best season in school history as PIAA runners-up.
“We only let up one goal throughout the playoffs,” junior striker Collin Wurst said. “Sadly, it had to be in the state finals.”
Holy Ghost Prep was the only team in the state tournament to get a ball behind netminder Spencer Wolfe, as the Firebirds won 1-0 in Hershey. But the Indians' loss didn't damper what was an already successful season.
“One of the best experiences I've ever had,” senior defender Zach Graziani said. “You play high school sports to make it (to Hershey). It was a great year to go out on.”
West Allegheny is this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and the boys soccer squad's success contributed significantly to the school's second-place standing in Class AAA.
But before a game was played West Allegheny had a target on its back, being named the preseason No. 1 team in Class AA.
“I remember at practice before our first game at Ambridge we were No. 1.” Graziani recalled. “We said ‘We have two ways to look at this. We can either take it and run with it or we can let that get to us and get a big head and not play like we're supposed to.' ”
West Allegheny chose the latter and won Section 5-AA outright with a 1-1 draw against rival South Fayette during the last section game of the season.
“From there we set our goal for the WPIAL championship,” Graziani said.
The shutout streak started the last game of the season with a 1-0 victory over Seneca Valley, and every game after the defensive play tightened.
Senior defenders Graziani, Levi Bergset and Josh Kolarac, along with Wolfe, took it upon themselves to win games. As the shutouts mounted, the continuous goose egg became harder to ignore.
“We sort of had some superstition and tried to not talk about it that much,” Wurst said.
Graziani added: “We knew it was there. That was our mindset, and we were able to back it up for the most part.”
Wolfe proved a stonewall in net the entire season, allowing only six goals and recording 17 shutouts, including the Indians' 1-0 victory over South Fayette in the WPIAL Class AA final at Highmark Stadium.
“No one could have drawn it up better,” Graziani said. “We didn't want to play anyone else. That's just the best feeling in the world.”
West Allegheny (21-1-3) won its three PIAA playoffs games en route to the finals by a combined score of 11-0. Wurst paced the offense all year and finished with 22 goals.
“We liked to play possession at times, but we liked to go to the goal,” Wurst said. “We like to get down the lanes and cross balls in.”
Strikers Michael Cummings and Cooper Amos joined Wurst to complete the opportunistic attack, but it was the defense that served as the team's biggest strength.
“We knew all year that we had one of the best, if not the best, back lines in the entire WPIAL,” Wurst said.
Before this year's undefeated run through the WPIAL and into states, West Allegheny's best year was in 2009 when the Indians placed third in the WPIAL and made it to PIAA quarterfinals.
“We wanted to leave a legacy,” said Graziani, who will play next year at Robert Morris. “A benchmark for West Allegheny.”
Wurst, who will return next year to defend the title, echoed Graziani's sentiment.
“We used (the 2009 team) as benchmark to push past that mark so hopefully (teams) coming through will say they want to be better than the 2013 team and win a state championship.”
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.