With an offseason roster of 58 players, including 11 returning starters -- five of whom were all-section players -- Moon Area girls' soccer coach Bill Pfeifer knew he had a team capable of playing in Class AAA.
The school's enrollment dictated otherwise.
Based on its enrollment, Moon was scheduled to play in Class AA for the 2012 season. Pfeifer contemplated making a request to "play up," a move that is more common in basketball and football. But becuase he wasn't sure which Class AAA section his team would ultimately end up in and concerns about excessive travel for section contests, Pfeifer decided to play as the enrollment dictated, the first time Moon has ever played in Class AA.
Just like that, the Tigers become a major contender in an already loaded Class AA field.
Moon went 14-6 last season and 10-2 in Section 5-AAA to finish second behind eventual WPIAL champion Upper St. Clair. The Tigers reached the quarterfinals.
"I think expectations are higher off the field from people looking in," Pfeifer said. "The kids know they have a chance to do something special. Expectations are high, but the girls know we haven't done anything yet."
Last season Moon showed it belonged in Class AAA. It defeated eventual WPIAL champion Upper St. Clair during the regular season and lost on penalty kicks to eventual PIAA champion Peters Township in the postseason.
Despite being one of the smallest Class AAA programs in the state, Moon has had an impressive run of success the past decade. The Planets won a WPIAL title in 2004, it reached the WPIAL and PIAA championship games in 2006. It won back-to-back-to-back section titles as recently as 2008-2010.
Now Moon will find itself competing with other Class AA powers such as Central Valley, Mars Area and South Park.
Central Valley and South Park were two of only three WPIAL teams to sweep their entire section schedule last season, both going 14-0 (the other was Greensburg Central Catholic). South Park won three consecutive WPIAL titles from 2006-2008. Mars has won back-to-back WPIAL titles and is the reigning PIAA champion.
In preseason scrimmages, Moon defeated Chartiers Valley, 4-0, and Central Valley, 3-1. The 11 returning starters are a first for Pfeifer. The group is headlined by senior forward Antonia Grese and senior defender Kelsey Schoeneweis, both returning West Xtra All Stars as well as all-section players. Grese led Moon with 18 regular-season goals last year.
Schoeneweis plays alongside junior Sydney Schipani on defense and the two form one of the top central defender duos in the WPIAL.
The other all-section players back for Moon are central midfielders Marissa Clough, a senior, and sophomore Taylor Dornin and senior midfielder/forward Chelsea Leipold
Pfeifer is familiar with his new surroundings in Class AA. Section rivals from last season, Montour and West Allegheny, also dropped to Class AA with Moon and join them in Section 5-AA. South Fayette is also in Moon's section. Pfeifer works at South Fayette High School. Quaker Valley, a team Moon has traditionally scrimmaged, is also in the section and Keystone Oaks was in Moon's Class AAA section five years ago.
"We definitely have some games to look forward to," Pfeifer said.
The Tigers open their season on Saturday at 11 a.m. when they play host to North Hills in a non-section game. Moon will open Section 5-AA play Wednesday when it visits Montour at 7:30 p.m.
Moon's non-section schedule is heavily tilted toward Class AAA competition. Along with North Hills, Pfeifer has also scheduled non-section contests with Upper St. Clair and Seneca Valley.