Despite having to replace 10 seniors from its 2011 team that advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals, the Central Catholic boys soccer team won its third consecutive section title last season.
And yet, with 13 players returning who have varsity experience, the Vikings aren't considered the consensus favorites to win their fourth consecutive Class AAA Section 3 title.
"I think we have a good team and will compete for the section title with Fox Chapel," Central Catholic coach Claudio Morini said. "Every year it's not easy."
The Foxes have nine returning players from last season's team that finished second to Central Catholic in the league. But the Vikings have owned Fox Chapel the past three seasons, going 5-0-1.
Many of the players on this season's version of the Vikings have been a part of the team's success against the Foxes as well as the rest of the conference the past few seasons.
Senior central midfielder Justin Beiriger and senior central defender Patrick Sproule have played varsity soccer since their freshman seasons.
Midfielders Austin Palmer and Nick Rocchi, fullbacks Zane Stiles and Jarrod McDonnell and forward Matt O'Donnell also return after playing key roles for the team in 2012.
The Vikings do have to replace the Post-Gazette East Player of the Year, midfielder Zach Broujos, as well as starters Torey Doaty and Jason Beiriger. But Morini is confident the team won't miss a beat.
"We had such a young team last year," Morini said. "We started six sophomores and now all those players are juniors. We'll miss the speed of Zach and Torey, but we'll be fine."
The Vikings started the season going 2-0-1 at the Hempfield tournament. Central Catholic beat Kiski School and Slippery Rock by a combined score of 14-0 before tying the host Spartans, 1-1, Sunday.
They then defeated Plum, 4-1, Tuesday in their Section 3-AAA opener.
It's the first step for the Vikings as they try to advance further than last season, when they were upset, at least seed-wise, by No. 13 Canon-McMillan, 1-0, in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA tournament. Central Catholic was the No. 4 seed, but was just the first of many high seeds to fall to the Big Macs on their way to the WPIAL title.
"Yes, it is motivation," Morini said. "We had seven starters from that game still on our team this year."
But Morini won't get into grand goals for his team, other than to win another section championship. As Canon-McMillan's run showed last season, the playoffs can be a crapshoot.
"We want to win the section and once the playoffs start, we'll take it game to game," Morini said. "It's a new season once you start the playoffs."hssoccer