Seneca Valley begins its quest for a fourth consecutive section title with a dangerous set of forwards but also a rebuilding defense.
The Raiders return only three starters from last year's squad that went 14-7 overall and 8-2 in Section 2-AAA to claim its third consecutive section crown. The Raiders reached the WPIAL semifinals for the second time in three years as well.
Seneca Valley's returning starters are senior forwards Ryan Vilella and Anthony Crivelli and senior midfielder Liam Jackson, who moved to the midfield this year after playing defense last year. Jackson's move to midfield along with graduation attrition forces coach George Williams to build his flat four defensive formation from scratch.
Senior captain Brock Wagner is expected to anchor the new-look back line from his center back position. Senior center back Colter Cekella is also expected to start and on the outside of the defense senior Brad Hart, senior Sean Edwards and sophomore Danny Wallowicz are expected to be in the mix for playing time while junior Joe DeAugustino is returning from an injury and he could see time at either outside or center back.
"Team defense has kind of been our focus, making sure we are organized back there," Williams said. "The defense is where we have lost the most."
The defense will be playing in front of junior goalie Colton Smith. Last season Smith started in net on junior varsity and saw some limited varsity time.
"The varsity time he did see last year he did a really nice job," Williams said. "The guys were confident with him. The guys would have been confident with him even coming in last year."
Smith was strong in net in Seneca Valley's two scrimmages against Mars Area and Knoch where the Raiders outscored the opposition, 8-1.
"Colton established himself fairly early," Williams said.
Along with Jackson other players in the midfield rotation will be senior Brandon White, senior Alex Kiefer, junior Dylan Hoffman, junior Ben McConahy and senior Anthony Mascio.
If the defense meshes early and the midfield comes together, it could be a special year for Seneca Valley considering the talent up top.
Vilella is a returning all-state player and one of the top players in the WPIAL this season. He plays on a Beadling club soccer team who has reached a national championship tournament in consecutive seasons.
"His experience and his level of play are almost unparalleled," Williams said. "He has played at a high level and this year coming in as a senior, he has taken on a leadership role with the team. They are responding very well to it. He knows what he is talking about."
Vilella, Crivelli and junior forward Jared Myers will key the attack up top of either a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-2 formation. Vilella and Crivelli are captains along with Wagner.
Depth will be another asset for the Raiders. Williams plans on dressing around 20 players for varsity games. The depth was apparent in scrimmages against Class AA Mars and Knoch when the Raiders pulled away in the second half.
Seneca Valley opens the season Friday night at the Intersection Kickoff Tournament at Chartiers Valley when it plays Norwin at 8 p.m. The tournament shifts to Baldwin on Saturday for the consolation and championship games when Seneca Valley will play either Chartiers Valley or Baldwin. The Raiders have been participating in the tournament since its inception in 1997.
Seneca Valley begins defense of its section title next Tuesday against section newcomer Hampton. The game is at Seneca Valley at 7:30 p.m. Hampton makes the move up from Class AA this season to join Section 2-AAA.
"Our first goal is to try and make the playoffs, but we want to win the section [title]," Williams said. "I think that is a tall order this year."