Veteran Moon Area girls soccer coach Bill Pfeifer knows what the PIAA tournament is all about.
He took teams to the 2004 and 2006 PIAA final, however, no player on his current team had played in the PIAA tournament before this season. This fall they made up for lost time and the Tigers got to participate in the state playoffs, in the truest form, traveling all over Pennsylvania and seeing unfamiliar teams from unfamiliar districts.
Moon (23-2) will add some mileage this weekend after routing District 10 champion Mercyhurst Prep, 6-1, Tuesday night at Franklin High School to advance to the state championship match. The Tigers will play Archbishop Wood (18-2-2) 11 a.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium. Mercyhurst finished its season at 18-5.
That trip to Franklin High School brought the round trip total for Moon in these PIAA playoffs to around 600 total miles.
Unlike in other classifications where WPIAL teams often play one another on the western side of the bracket, the Tigers were road warriors in these playoffs.
In Class A Greensburg Central Catholic and Shady Side Academy, section rivals, played their PIAA semifinal game at Hampton. In Class AAA, Peters Township defeated Bethel Park and Seneca Valley to reach the PIAA semifinals without ever leaving the area. After losing to Mars in the WPIAL championship match, Moon hit the road for the PIAA playoffs.
The Tigers made the 200-plus mile roundtrip to Hollidaysburg and they certainly packed their defense. Moon shut out the 19-0-1 District 6 champion Forest Hills, 3-0. Four days later Moon was headed back to Hollidaysburg, this time to play Camp Hill Trinity (22-4), a private school and District 3 champion. The Tigers once again came through with a shutout, winning, 2-0.
Moon had not been past the WPIAL quarterfinals since 2006. It had gone a combined 65-18-1 over the past four seasons, including a pair of section titles but it had been eliminated in the WPIAL quarterfinals each season. This year the Tigers moved down to Class AA and the regular-season success finally translated to postseason success. Moreso than moving down in classification, the Moon defense can be credited with the run in the state tournament.
Against Forest Hills Moon planned to shut down the team's two central midfielders who both had scored more than 100 career goals. Against Trinity the Moon defense shut down their junior standout midfielder, Michaela Oliverio.
"Defensively, we played real well [in the PIAA first round and quarterfinals]," Pfeifer said. "We have been able to possess the ball and play a little more defensive-mindedly in the second half."
Including the WPIAL playoffs, Moon has shut out four of its six postseason opponents. Against Forest Hills, senior midfielders Taylor Dornin and Marissa Clough marked and successfully shut down Casey Gallaher and Briana Kostan, two players for Forest Hills who both have scored more than 100 career goals.
"Taylor and Marissa did a great job on them," Pfeifer said.
Senior forward Antonia Grese led the team with 19 regular-season goals. She scored a goal and added an assist in Moon's 2-0 win against Trinity.
The Moon defense has been just as valuable. Along with midfielders such as Dornin and Clough marking forwards, the defense is led by senior center backs Christine Barthen and Michaela Gutierrez and outside backs, senior Katie Valach and junior Sydney Schipani.
The group plays in front of senior goalie Nicole Falcione.
The defense also helps create offense. Barthen, Schipani and Gutierrez have scored more than 10 goals each this season and added a handful of assists.
"They all play at a high level," Pfeifer said. "A lot of them could play on the offensive side of the ball or midfield.
"They understand the game and what needs to be done. They are skilled and real composed out of the back. They don't just whack the ball and pray we get it. They keep it under control and that is where we have been starting offensively."
First Published November 15, 2012 5:00 AM