In its first season playing in Class AA, Moon Area felt right at home.
The Tigers won the program's first PIAA championship this season with a 1-0 win against District 12 champion Archbishop Wood Saturday at Hershey.
It was the third trip to the state title game for Moon under coach Bill Pfeifer but the first time the Tigers left with gold medals around their necks. They were state runners-up in 2004 and '06.
Moon finished the season 24-2. It won the Section 5-AA title with a perfect 14-0 record. It's only losses came at Class AAA Seneca Valley, 2-1, and in the WPIAL Class AA championship match, a 2-1 loss to Mars Area.
An anticipated rematch with Mars in the PIAA semifinals never happened as the Planets were upset by District 10 champion Mercyhurst Prep. Moon had little problem with Mercyhurst or anyone else on its way to Hershey. It blanked District 6 champion Forest Hills, 3-0, and District 3 champion Trinity, 2-0, before blasting Mercyhurst, 6-1, with the Mercyhurst goal being the only one Moon allowed in the PIAA playoffs.
None of the Moon players had ever played in a PIAA playoff game. The last time Moon even reached the PIAA tournament was in 2006.
The road to Hershey was as long as it was challenging. Moon made consecutive trips to Hollidaysburg to play in the PIAA first round and quarterfinals. It played its semifinal game at Franklin High School. Combined the three round trips required more than 600 miles and that was even before the trip to Hershey Friday night.
If the long bus rides did not make things tough, the opponents sure did. Moon played three private schools, perennial contenders in girls soccer, Trinity from Camp Hill, Mercyhurst and Archbishop Wood from Warminster in suburban Philadelphia.
Archbishop Wood reached the PIAA Class AAA championship game in 2010. Mercyhurst won the PIAA Class AA title that same year.
What stood out most this season to Pfeifer was the way his team handled itself. Involved in many blowout games, his starters often did not get to play a lot of minutes. And when they were in, they were not trying to run up the score. Nine players finished with 10 or more goals.
Senior forward Antonia Grese led all scorers with 26 goals, including the game-winner in the PIAA final.
The Tigers defense also enjoyed a special run, blanking five of their eight postseason opponents and 12 of their 17 regular-season opponents.
The defense was led by senior center backs Christine Barthen and Michaela Gutierrez and outside backs, senior Katie Valach and junior Sydney Schipani. They played in front of senior goalie Nicole Falcione. Senior midfielders Taylor Dornin and Marissa Clough were often tasked with marking the opponent's best offensive weapons.
Moon was able to bounce back from a tough loss in the WPIAL final. The Tigers pushed Mars to a penalty kick shootout. No WPIAL Class AA team has beaten Mars since the team dropped to Class AA in 2009. Both Moon and Mars converted their first five penalty kicks, but Mars was able to convert its sixth and Moon missed, giving the Planets the WPIAL gold.
"We got the kids together right after the game and talked about the entire season," Pfeifer said. "Anytime you can win 20 games, we know we played well. After the WPIAL final, we trained under the lights. We had some good practice sessions and the kids stayed upbeat."
In terms of vying for a PIAA championship, Pfeifer said losing in the WPIAL final makes things easier mentally.
"I have been through these before and I thought we've played better when we didn't win the WPIAL," Pfeifer said. "We've won a WPIAL title and we got lucky just to win the first-round game. You are coming off such a high and then you have a quick turnaround.
"When you lose WPIALs, there is still something out there for you to grab."