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Breaking down the WPIAL soccer playoffs

| Friday, Oct. 21, 2011

An in-depth preview of the WPIAL soccer playoffs:

Class AAA boys

Defending champion: Peters Township

Top seeds: 1. Central Catholic (17-1-0), 2. Upper St. Clair (13-1-2), 3. Seneca Valley (12-6-0), 4. Bethel Park (11-5-2)

Outlook: If ever there was a year for Central Catholic to claim its first WPIAL soccer title, this would be it. The top-ranked Vikings, fueled by a balanced offense paced by seniors Zach Johnson, Teddy Larkin and Osas Malkin, haven't lost since dropping a 2-1 decision Sept. 10 against La Salle College and are rated the No. 6 team in the state by ESPN. Upper St. Clair is heating up at the right time, ending the regular season with victories over two heavyweights: Peters Township and a Mt. Lebanon team the Panthers could meet in the quarterfinals. Seneca Valley boosted its resume by winning five of its final six games, including the regular-season finale against Bethel Park.

Finals prediction: Central Catholic over Upper St. Clair

Dark horse: Kiski Area

Class AA boys

Defending champion: Hampton

Top seeds: 1. Hampton (17-1-0), 2. South Park (16-1-1), 3. Blackhawk (16-0-1), 4. Ringgold (15-0-1)

Outlook: Hampton hasn't given much reason to believe it won't make a serious run at a second straight WPIAL title -- maybe even a repeat state championship. The road is paved with obstacles, though. Section 5 teams West Allegheny, Quaker Valley and Montour are seeded fifth, sixth and ninth, but each has the talent to make a long run. One-loss South Park can go far with its tough defense and top-tier goalkeeping tandem of Phil Miller and Zach Palamara. Mars, which won WPIAL titles in 2008 and '09 and was last year's runner-up, is something of a surprise at No. 10, but it won't be a shock if the Planets reach the final again.

Finals prediction: Hampton over Mars

Dark horse: Quaker Valley

Class A boys

Defending champion: Seton-La Salle

Top seeds: 1. Seton-La Salle (15-2-1), 2. Greensburg Central Catholic (15-3-0), 3. Neshannock (17-0-0), 4. Sewickley Academy (10-4-2)

Outlook: Since Class A began in 2000, only three teams have won the title. Seton-La Salle and Sewickley Academy have won four each; Greensburg Central Catholic has three. As talented as ever, one of those three squads would seem a safe bet to win gold Nov. 5. While Seton-La Salle hasn't lost since a defeat to Class AAA Upper St. Clair on Sept. 27, Greensburg Central Catholic is dangerous with two of the top goal scorers in the class in Brad Appelby and Jack Fagan. Sewickley has wins over Seton and Greensburg. Undefeated and untied Neshannock didn't have many challenges in its nonsection schedule, but the Lancers appear to have a favorable bracket at least until the semifinals.

Finals prediction: Greensburg Central Catholic over Seton-La Salle

Dark horse: Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Class AAA girls

Defending champion: Peters Township

Top seeds: 1. Peters Township (14-2-1), 2. Seneca Valley (15-1-2), 3. Upper St. Clair (14-2-1), 4. Penn-Trafford (15-3-0)

Outlook: Since 2001, each of the top four seeds has won at least one WPIAL Class AAA title. Upper St. Clair and Seneca Valley have won two. Seneca Valley is on a 15-game unbeaten streak (13-0-2). Peters Township lost a late-season game to Mt. Lebanon; Upper St. Clair lost to Peters Township less than a week ago and tied South Park on Wednesday; and Penn-Trafford has dropped two in a row after its 15-game winning streak was snapped by Norwin. Peters Township has been the most consistently solid team this season. The Indians also boast a lineup that features topdrawersoccer.com's No. 2 player in the state in the Class of 2014: sophomore forward Taylor Latsko.

Finals prediction: Peters Township over Norwin

Dark horse: Mt. Lebanon

Class AA girls

Defending champion: Mars

Top seeds: 1. Mars (17-0-1), 2. South Park (16-0-2), 3. Central Valley (17-1-0), 4. Southmoreland (13-3-2)

Outlook: Mars gets an interesting start to its postseason title defense: The Planets will take on Beaver Area in a rematch of the 2010 WPIAL Class AA championship game. Mars has put up some incredible offensive numbers thanks in large part to senior forward Mani Brueckner, who is one of the best strikers in the WPIAL. The Planets have scored 169 goals this season (9.4 per game), have reached double figures nine times and have twice topped out at 16. In addition, Mars has allowed only six goals and has 13 shutouts. South Park has an outstanding Pitt recruit in senior midfielder Lauren Yobbi and motivation a year after failing to make it to the final for the first time since 2005.

Finals prediction: South Park over Mars

Dark horse: Knoch

Class A girls

Defending champion: Shady Side Academy

Top seeds: 1. Greensburg Central Catholic (16-0-0), 2. Avonworth (16-2-0), 3. Sewickley Academy (12-4-0), 4. Shady Side Academy (13-3-0)

Outlook: To say that Greensburg Central Catholic is loaded would be an understatement. The Centurions boast one of the most lethal offenses in the WPIAL with 108 goals (6.8 per game). They back up their quick-strike ability with a solid defense that has 11 shutouts, including one in each of its last five regular-season games, and surrendered only six goals all year. Both senior keeper Makenzie Shearson and sophomore forward Malea Fabean have committed to Pitt; sophomore striker Frannie Crouse is the No. 1 player in the state in the Class of 2014 according to topdrawersoccer.com and has received interest from several ACC schools. Defending champion Shady Side Academy was the only team to score two goals against Greensburg Central Catholic in a game this season.

Finals prediction: Greensburg Central Catholic over Springdale

Dark horse: Shady Side Academy

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