Flush with top returnees, the Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils are the team to beat in AAA
September 4, 2009 4:00 AM
Mt. Lebanon's Evan Schardt, left, beating Kiski Area's Mike Geiselhart to the ball during a WPIAL playoff match last season, leads the defense for top-ranked Blue Devils.
By Joe Greiner Tri-State Sports & News Service
With two All-Area players returning from last season, Mt. Lebanon is an easy pick to be the top team in the district this year.
High school soccer in Pennsylvania begins today and Mt. Lebanon enters the year as the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked WPIAL Class AAA boys' team.
Seven starters return from last year's team, including junior forward Zach Batteer and senior midfielder Nate Sharbaugh. Both were selected to the 10-player Post-Gazette All-Area team a year ago. Batteer scored 21 goals last season while Sharbaugh had seven goals and seven assists.
Mt. Lebanon should also be strong around their net because of defender Evan Schardt and senior goalkeeper Nate Doctor.
"We have a great group of players, especially among the seniors," said Mt. Lebanon coach Ron Wilcher, who is in his 25th season as coach. "They know they're expected to step up and advance as far as they can this year. It's a fun group to be around."
Here is a look at some of the other top teams in the WPIAL and City League:
WPIAL Class AAA
No. 2-ranked Upper St. Clair has nine returning starters, including junior forward Jimmy Belack (16 goals last season), senior goalkeeper Scott Matthews and senior defender David Steen.
"This is probably the best team we've had since 2004," coach Uwe Schneider said, referring to the Panthers' PIAA championship team that year.
Defense is one of the strengths of No. 3 Bethel Park, which has senior defender Chris Paglia and returns fellow senior defender Adam Gruntz from last season.
WPIAL Class AA
South Park is the No. 1-ranked team.
"We have one of our best teams since I've been here," said South Park coach Jon Cantwell, who is in his eighth season.
Nine starters return, including senior midfielder Josh Tolentino, who scored 25 goals last season. Senior goalkeeper Alec Valenta had 11 shutouts.
Mars won the WPIAL title a year ago and should be strong again, with the return of seven starters. Senior forward/midfielder Ryan McKenzie scored 20 goals last season. Other top returnees are defenders Jack Leslie and Tanner Panza and senior midfielders Mike Page and Alex Perri.
No. 3 Keystone Oaks will be led by Anthony Virgara (18 goals last season) and Bryan Natto (23 goals). Virgara was an All-Area selection.
"This is the most talented team I've ever had," said Keystone Oaks fourth-year coach Mike Gardner. "But I don't want to make the goals too high. I want to challenge them, but make the goals attainable."
WPIAL Class A
No. 1-ranked Greensburg Central Catholic has one of the WPIAL's top goal-scorers in senior forward Tim Wood, who had 44 goals last season and has 84 for his career.
But Wood isn't the only player capable of scoring. Senior Ethan Shula had 20 goals in 2008 and Dan Szekely 19.
The defense also looks to be solid with seniors Chris Brown and Rooney Columbus.
Shady Side Academy was the WPIAL runner-up last season and has six returning starters. Sam Swarts, a junior forward/midfielder, had 26 goals last season.
"Our first goal is to win the section title and then get even further than we did last year. We're excited about this season," said Shady Side coach Harry Fleishman.
Motivated by a first-round playoff loss to Bishop Canevin last year, Quaker Valley is expecting better outcomes this season.
"We were disappointed with that loss last year. That experience hurt," said Quaker Valley coach Vince Burens. "We want to play our best soccer at the end this year."
Top-ranked Allderdice has six starters back from last year's City League championship team. Senior forward Alex Davis and senior goalkeeper Andrew Goleman are reasons for optimism.