PIAA Soccer Championships
The Seneca Valley boys soccer team certainly hasn't wanted for goals this season.
The Raiders have found the net 72 times, including a 6-0 blowout win in the PIAA Class 4A quarterfinals over State College.
But the reason why Seneca Valley will be playing for a state title for only the second time in school history may rest on the other end of the pitch.
“A lot of people say a good defense wins championships,” said Seneca Valley coach George Williams. “That's certainly proven to be true for us.”
Seneca Valley (16-1-1) heads into its state title showdown with District 1 champ Neshaminy at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Hershey coming off back-to-back state playoff shutouts.
The defensive effort starts with senior keeper Adam Davies, who missed the WPIAL title game against Peters Township — one in which Seneca Valley fell behind 3-1 before rallying for a 4-3, double overtime win.
“Adam has kept us in so many games,” Williams said.
The Raiders go 18 deep and rotate some of the defenders in front of Davies. Sophomore keeper Ryan Krumenacker kept Seneca Valley in the game against Peters Township in the WPIAL Final.
Sam DeFabbo, Matt Bickart, Chase Thomas, Josh Kosakowski, Austin Leake, Caiden Oros and Luke Simpson have all played stellar in the back this year.
“Our depth has really paid off so far this year,” Williams said.
It may have to pay off again.
Neshaminy got to Hershey the hard way.
The Redskins trailed for most of their state semifinal match against Emmaus before A.J. Rivera knotted the game at 1-1 with 15 minutes remaining.
Connor Steele scored the game-winner off a header three minutes into the second overtime to send Neshaminy (13-1-2) to a showdown with Seneca Valley in the state championship game.
Steele moved to defensive midfielder this season.
“They look like a tough team; a very talented group,” Williams said. “It's going to be a very difficult game.”
Difficult has come with the territory in 2020 — perhaps the most difficult season in memory for many teams because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Williams said it was just a blessing to play at all, let alone play this deep into the year.
“We feel fortunate to have a season, let alone the playoffs and win a (district) championship and have a chance to play in a state championship game,” Williams said.
In 2015, Seneca Valley advanced to the state title game but lost to Central Bucks East, 2-0, in Class 3A.
“It's very easy to say don't be nervous, don't be awestruck by it,” Williams said. “But the gravity of the event hits you. In 2015, we played with nerves in the first half and I remember how proud I was of the team in the second half. When it looked like we weren't going to win, we were still trying so hard to score, to avoid a shutout.
“I'm trying to impress upon them to try not to be intimidated,” Williams added. “To play our game.”
Class 2A Girls
North Catholic has more history to make.
For the first time, the Trojanettes are heading to the state championship game, where they will meet Bloomsburg at 11 a.m. Saturday.
So, senior forward Jayden Sharpless said, why not win it, too?
“When we won Tuesday (against Bedford), we had made school history — none of the North Catholic girls soccer teams in earlier years had ever made it to the state finals, so this was a big win for us,” Sharpless said. “We are looking for another win on Saturday.”
There Sharpless will see a very familiar face.
Bloomsburg star Paige Temple, who has scored 41 goals this season, is a close friend of Sharpless.
The two were in the Olympic Development Program together and developed a close bond.
Other than Temple's prowess, North Catholic isn't getting too bogged down on what the Panthers (22-1) do on the soccer pitch.
“We watch a little bit of film to get background on the teams we play, but we also don't look too hard into other teams' games because we like just going and playing our game rather than changing anything about us to fit with the other opponent,” Sharpless said.
North Catholic (15-2-1) has been a balanced-scoring team for the most part this season, although Sharpless has raised her game even more in the playoffs.
She drew first blood against Bedford in the snowy and difficult conditions Tuesday in the semifinal.
“It was hard to play the style we are used to playing which is on the ground and playing to the feet,” Sharpless said. “It was a fun game playing in the snow, though. We were freezing. We were happy to make it to the finals that way.”
Weather shouldn't be a factor Saturday.
Sharpless hopes she can be one in bringing home a state title.
“It would mean the world to each and every one of us,” Sharpless said. “We have worked so hard to get where we are now and we are preparing to ring that bell and come home with the state title.”