Despite having one of the best players in the state last season in Drew Klingenberg, the Pine-Richland High School boys soccer team was still unable to get past the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals.
Now, Klingenberg is playing at Penn State, but the Rams still have high expectations this season. They came into the season as the Post-Gazette's No. 2-ranked team in WPIAL Class AAA.
"I think last year we relied too much on one player," Pine-Richland coach Jon Conner said. "This year, our whole philosophy is togetherness as a team. We want to stay together as time goes on. It will be easier to do that by winning games."
The Rams (4-0, 2-0) won their first four matches by shutout, including a 1-0 win against North Allegheny in the season opener on Sept. 6 and a 2-0 victory against Butler Area Tuesday in another Section 2-AAA match. They will try to avoid going through the roller coaster ride they went through last season.
P-R went 1-2-3 in its first six matches in 2011 and then won its next six to take the lead in Section 2-AAA. The Rams would eventually finish second in the section before losing to Central Catholic in the WPIAL quarters.
"Last year, we had a lot of talent, a lot of potential, but we just weren't consistent," senior co-captain Tyler McCarthy said. "This year we need to be more consistent and just have the same performance each time out."
McCarthy will be a key to that. Conner said this midfielder's ability to read the game makes him one of the premier players in the state.
In addition to McCarthy, Pine-Richland also brings back senior all-section players Victor Osio at forward, plus Pat Sullivan and Grant Goldberg at defender.
In total, the Rams have 17 seniors on their roster.
"It's nice to have so many experienced guys who can take the younger guys on our team under their wings and teach them the ropes," Conner said.
The senior class has yet to win a section title and taking first in the league this year will be no easy task. In addition to the usual tough games against North Allegheny and 2011 WPIAL semifinalist Seneca Valley, Pine-Richland will have to face new addition Hampton, the two-time defending PIAA AA champion.
"We want to win the conference title so we can get a good seed," Conner said. "But it's going to be tough.
"There are four or five teams that are competing for just three playoff spots."
McCarthy said to get over the hump this year, it will come down to defense.
"It always comes down to the last few games," McCarthy said. "It's going to be even tougher this season with Hampton now in the league. But we finished second my sophomore and junior years.
"I think we just need to be more consistent and play good defense. We need to continue to get clean sheets and we have the defense to do that."