Though the calendar has turned another year and a new season of WPIAL girls soccer approaches, at least in Class AAA, the theme of the upcoming season may well be continuity.
Remarkably, little has changed since last season.
Standing firmly atop a preseason list of championship contenders are Upper St. Clair and Peters Township, the same squads that squared off for the Class AAA title in 2011, a game that Upper St. Clair won, 3-2.
But, while there are not many stark differences between last season and the upcoming one, there is one major difference-- Peters Township enters this season on top.
With eight returning starters from a team that won 20 games last season, the Indians took the top spot in the Post-Gazette's preseason Class AAA rankings.
Peters Township's strength undoubtedly is on its front line as the team's two leading scorers -- junior forward Veronica Latsko and senior forward Olivia Roberson -- both return.
Last season, Latsko led the team with 45 goals en route to being named the Post-Gazette's girls' player of the year, among a slew of other accolades and awards. Roberson helped complete the team's potent attacking duo with 30 goals.
A speedy, athletic team aided by the experience on its roster, Peters Township will look to reach one of the few markers of success that eluded it last year -- a WPIAL championship.
"We won state, but it still hurt losing the WPIAL title," Indians coach Pat Vereb said.
One significant change to the district high school soccer scene is that the City League is no longer sponsoring that sport.
The four former City schools that are fielding teams this season -- Allderdice and Brashear in Class AAA and Obama and Carrick in AA -- have joined the WPIAL. Here is a look at the rest of the WPIAL.
Upper St. Clair is coming off a 20-win season, as well as a WPIAL title, but finds itself ranked No. 2 in the preseason rankings for a simple reason -- it lost too much, as just three starters from last season have returned.
The talent that has returned for Upper St. Clair, however, is strong. Senior forward Carley Bogan netted 21 goals last season and senior goalkeeper Jocelyn Alfera posted 15 shutouts. Additionally, a strong bench from last year should help prevent too sharp of a drop from the Panthers' championship season.
Pine-Richland returns almost its entire starting lineup from a team that went 12-6-1 last season. The senior-laden roster is led by senior forward Lydia Stewart and senior goalkeeper Haley Wessel.
The Rams will also welcome back Olivia Brandy, a former starter who missed the entire '11 season with a leg injury.
Perfection has long been regarded as one of the hardest goals to attain in sports, be it on a team or individual level, but last season, Mars came close with a 25-0-1 record en route to WPIAL and PIAA Class AA championships.
While there obviously is no guarantee of another unbeaten season, the Fighting Planets enter this season as the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked AA team.
A dynamic offense spearheaded by junior forward Karli Paracca (21 goals in 2011) and junior midfielder Amber Fichter (16 goals) is back, along with junior goalkeeper Sarah Dailey.
"We hope to match where we were last year, but maybe in a different fashion," said Mars coach Blair Gerlach.
No. 2-ranked Moon is in the enviable position of having all 11 starters return, including, most notably, senior forward and Post-Gazette all-area performer Antonia Grese. The Tigers' defense last season was a stout one, recording nine shutouts.
No. 3-ranked South Park, which lost to Mars in the Class AA championship match in '11, has six starters back.
The defense, led by two seniors in Danielle Carmen and Niki Mazur, will help to ease the transition to a new goalkeeper.
If Mars was able to attain a nearly perfect season last year, No. 1 Greensburg Central Catholic was not far behind.
The Centurions went 22-1, a run complete with a Class A title and a berth in the PIAA semifinals
Nine starters will return for coach Ashley Shasko, including a trio of strikers -- juniors Frannie Crouse and Malea Fabean and sophomore Italia Biondi -- who combined to score 122 goals.
Sewickley Academy, checking in at No. 2, has six starters back from a team that went 13-5 last season and boasts a key addition in senior defender Amy Kolor, a transfer from Seneca Valley who should be among the best defenders in Class A.
No. 3 Shady Side Academy, the reigning Class A runner-up, brings back standout junior forward Maggie Scott, who scored 34 goals last season, along with six other starters.
(Records from last season)
1. Peters Township (20-3-1)
2. Upper St. Clair (20-3-1)
3. Pine-Richland (12-6-1)
4. Norwin (16-4)
5. Seneca Valley (16-2-2)
1. Mars (25-0-1)
2. Moon (14-6)
3. South Park (20-2-2)
4. South Fayette (11-8-1)
5. Belle Vernon (17-3)
1. Greensburg C.C. (22-1)
2. Shady Side Academy (16-5)
3. Sewickley Academy (13-5)
4. Springdale (16-8-2)
5. Vincentian (13-4-1)
Veronica Latsko, Peters Township, Junior, Forward
Olivia Roberson, Peters Township, Senior, Forward
Frannie Crouse, Greensburg C.C., Junior, Forward
Carly Seneca, Gateway, Senior, Midfielder
Antonia Grese, Moon, Senior, Forward
Carley Bogan, Upper St. Clair, Senior, Forward
Liana Leja, South Fayette, Senior, Forward
Malea Fabean, Greensburg C.C., Junior, Forward
Lydia Sargent, Pine-Richland, Senior, Forward
Maggie Scott, Shady Side Academy, Junior, Forward