Soccer foes maintain Class A dominance
Even with the WPIAL boys soccer playoffs more than a month away, Seton-La Salle and coach Mike Thomas already have a playoff game behind them.
It feels that way, at least, after they played Sewickley Academy last week and won, 5-1.
"Everytime we play them in the section, it's like a playoff game," Thomas said. "We get two cracks at Sewickley in the regular season, and it prepares us, like, 'Hey, here's a team we'll see in the playoffs.' "
It's a safe assumption to make. Since the Single-A classification was added to PIAA boys soccer in 2000, no two WPIAL Class A teams have been as consistently dominant as Sewickley Academy and Seton-La Salle.
Since then, Sewickley has won four WPIAL Class A titles, one PIAA title and was a state championship runner-up. In that same span, Seton-La Salle has won three WPIAL Class A titles and two PIAA championships. And after Greensburg Central Catholic won consecutive WPIAL titles in 2003 and 2004, Sewickley and Seton have alternated WPIAL championships every year since Sewickley won in 2005.
Now, as Section 3-A foes, they play each other at least twice a year, providing periodical regular-season benchmarks leading up to the real playoffs.
"The first game always shows our progress from the preseason. So, you can rate, by the time the Sewickley game comes, if we're on the right track," said Thomas, who was an assistant under Aaron Panczyk before taking over this season. "Usually, that second game around is who's going to be the section champs. I know the players and coaches love getting ready for one of those games."
Sewickley and Seton play different styles of soccer and, similarly, have been successful in their own ways.
Thomas mentioned that Seton-La Salle plays with unwavering hustle and emotion, but cited the players -- such as David DelGreco and Alex Fischetti, who led the Rebels to a 25-0 record last season -- as the main reasons for the team's year-to-year production.
Meanwhile, Sewickley won the 2007 PIAA championship with a group of players whose top sports weren't even soccer.
"Most of the players, their primary sports were tennis and lacrosse," Sewickley coach Uwe Stender said. "They just had a great attittude and played so hard.
"Clearly, you have to have people who are very talented and can win, but talent has to be (developed) by hard work," Stender said. "If you give me the 11 best players in the world and the 11 hardest-working players in the world, I'll take the hardest-working players."
Seton-La Salle (5-2, 3-0) lost, 2-1, to Class AAA North Allegheny in a non-section match Saturday. The Rebels are tied with Bishop Canevin (5-2, 3-0) for first place in the section. After losing to Seton-La Salle, Sewickley Academy fell to 2-3-1, 2-1. Sewickley hasn't beaten Seton-La Salle in the regular season since 2004.
That doesn't have Stender concerned, though, and for good reason. Seton hasn't defeated Sewickley in either the WPIAL or PIAA playoffs in three tries since 2005.
"They've beaten us in the playoffs, where it matters," Thomas said.
Nonetheless, that's where the teams expect to see each other.
"It'd be hard to believe that Sewickley would not be in a playoff run," Thomas said. "There would be something missing in the WPIAL playoffs for us to look forward to. It's a highlight game."