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Sewickley Academy girls soccer team undertakes overhaul

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Senior Molly Lennen kicks a ball during soccer practice at Sewickley Academy on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Freshman Lucinda Gillespie defends against another player during soccer practice at Sewickley Academy on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Junior Paige Hennion defends against another player during soccer practice at Sewickley Academy on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Junior Paige Rodgers kicks a ball during soccer practice at Sewickley Academy on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014.

From an outside perspective, it might look like just another year of preseason camp, but for the Sewickley Academy girls soccer team, everything is new.

The Panthers have changed sections for the 2014 season, moving to the WPIAL Section 3-A along with perennial contenders such as Avonworth, Seton-La Salle and Bishop Canevin.

The change was mostly a geographic one, coach Jessica Peluso said.

On top of the change in opponents, the team will be filled with an almost entirely new cast of characters this year after graduating 11 seniors — an entire lineup worth of players.

“This is the first time in quite a long time that I will have more underclassmen than upperclassmen,” Peluso said. “This camp will look different than last year since we've got to figure out how we'll fit together.”

This year's camp will certainly be more important to the season's outcome than in years past. Although Sewickley Academy reached the WPIAL semifinals last season, just four starters remain.

Seniors Molly Lennen and Allexa Bartholomew again will control the flow of the team from the midfield, and junior defender Eve Matten and goalie Mackenzie Coles are in place on the back line. Seniors Aja Thorpe and Catherine Anderson also saw playing time last year.

“In many ways it's exciting because it's a fresh start for all of them,” Peluso said. “For the young ones, it's an opportunity for them to play with the older girls and see how they fit in.

“Considering we had such a heavy senior starting class, I think everyone sees this as a great opportunity. We don't know who will play where yet, so my hope is that they'll come in ready to compete for those spots.”

Although Sewickley Academy opens for school a week later than some of the surrounding districts, it still holds two weeks of two-a-day camps like the rest of the WPIAL. The team had voluntary captains' practices twice a week throughout the summer, and nearly the entire team attended a soccer camp July 21-24 at Penn State. The summer practices were an important part of acclimatizing the younger girls to the high school game.

“Based on what I've seen, it looks like I have a pretty strong freshman class,” Peluso said. “I got an opportunity to watch them play at the Penn State team camp, and they're very talented.”

Since the team must be present for a morning and afternoon practice each day during camp, the players stay together between sessions for lunch.

“Not all of the students live in Sewickley, so they can't all go home,” Peluso said. “The mothers that live in Sewickley offer to host lunches often. They'll come and help set up and provide the food. The players get to eat together, which is great bonding time, and we know they have a healthy meal.”

Peluso still expects to be highly competitive, even with the challenge of replacing so many key players.

“Every season is a new opportunity, so that's no different,” she said. “I think it's exciting that we're switching sections, and across the board a lot of talented seniors in Class A graduated, so I think it's wide open for anyone to step up.”

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @GHorvath_Trib.

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