The best player on the team, and the best player in the state for the past two years, is likely out for the season. Another top returning starter is on crutches. And the injuries to two-time Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year Veronica Latsko and junior midfielder Laurel Carpenter are in addition to the graduation of all-section players such as forward Olivia Roberson and midfielder Nicole Hume.
While no one in the WPIAL wants to see the high school career of a player such as Latsko end because of injury, Peters Township coach Pat Vereb knows no one is going to be feeling sorry for his team as everyone lines up to take their shots at the three-time defending PIAA Class AAA champions.
"You are never mentally prepared for injuries of this nature," Vereb said. "At the same time, the rest of the WPIAL is not going to feel any sympathy for us."
Latsko was likely lost for the season when she sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee May 19 in a State Cup Championship game. Latsko had scored 107 career goals and was one of the top all-time talents in WPIAL history.
Carpenter has an injury and is being monitored. Vereb said she will return at some point this season.
"The mood is still great," Vereb said. "Our goals will always be the same, maybe not having a senior-oriented or experienced team like we have had in the past, maybe the expectations are a little tempered but we still go in with the same plan."
Peters Township has reached the past five WPIAL Class AAA championship games. Last season nobody in the WPIAL beat the Indians in a 24-1 campaign that saw a WPIAL and PIAA title.
"With tons of graduation a lot of these younger girls are being thrust into more leadership-type roles," Vereb said. "They have seen the graduating classes before do it. If you got a good program, graduation is just a part of the process and so it will be an opportunity to see how the younger players step up."
The returning starters are Carpenter, senior forward Emily Franty, sophomore defender Madeline Lavigna and junior defender Carly Johns. While there has been plenty of bad injury news around the program, there has also been good news. Senior Megan Parker returns to the team after missing all of last season with an ACL injury. Parker's return to goalie will allow Johns to move back into the field. Johns took over in net after the Parker injury last season.
To fill the goal-scoring void left by Latsko and Roberson, Vereb will turn to a number of players including Franty, Carpenter and junior Madison Santo.
"She started a lot of games for us and she looks like she is going to come into her own," Vereb said. "We are looking for a big year out of her."
With Latsko scoring 107 career goals and Roberson scoring 35 goals last season alone, most of the attention around the Peters Township dynasty has been about scoring. But the Indians have also won their past three state championships with shutout performances.
"That is the ironic thing," Vereb said of the Hersheypark shutouts. "There is some unsung talent that doesn't get noticed, they don't put up statistics. We pride ourselves on being a good defensive team. If we win this year, we might just win differently."
Vereb expects to be tested plenty in Section 5, home to teams such as Canon-McMillan and Upper St. Clair. Upper St. Clair was the most recent WPIAL team to defeat Peters Township, doing so in the 2011 WPIAL final
"This is one year of huge parity," Vereb said. "I don't think you will see any team going 18-0 or 17-1. I don't think there is any clear-cut favorite, there is a lot of talent distributed through the whole WPIAL."
Peters Township starts its season in the South Hills Classic at Century United Field in South Park. The Indians will play two non-WPIAL teams, first Mercyhurst Prep at 6 p.m. Friday and then State College at 2 p.m. Saturday. Peters Township defeated both teams by a combined score of 9-0 last season but in 2011, State College opened the season by blanking the Indians, 2-0, in the South Hills Classic.