North Xtra: Seneca Valley remains in contention

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The 2012 Seneca Valley girls soccer team came within 12:38 of winning the WPIAL Class AAA title in regulation and within 27 seconds of going to a shootout.

But instead, Peters Township erased the Raiders' lead and won in the second overtime, 2-1. The Indians went on to beat Seneca Valley again in the PIAA quarterfinals on their way to their third consecutive state title.

Seneca Valley coach Dave Sylvester said those losses aren't something on which his 2013 team dwells.

"That was a whole different team," said Sylvester, who has coached the Raiders for 13 seasons. "We had some really standout seniors like Misha [Demchuk] and Morgan [Williams]. A handful of seniors, who were around when we won the [2009] WPIAL title and knew what it took to get there, graduated [from that team].

"This year, we have a different mentality and I don't think the girls understand yet what it takes to get there."

Demchuk was a four-year starter at midfielder and Williams was the team's leading scorer, netting 19 goals last season, including the team's lone goal in the WPIAL final. Williams now plays at Kent State University.

Without those two, along with 2012 seniors Rachel Leake and Alex Bilka, the Raiders (8-2-0 overall, 5-1-0 in Class AAA Section 2 entering the week) have struggled to find the net this season. The Raiders have failed to score more than two goals in five of their nine games this season.

"We're finding it difficult to score," Sylvester said. "We're getting chances, but a lot of players haven't been in this position before. We should get better."

The Raiders do have experience in the midfield, with seniors Kayli Kumanchik and Marykate Zahorchak and sophomore Caroline Miller all returning as starters from last season's team.

But the team isn't as experienced up front. Seniors Maya Charles and Rosa Salgado and juniors Kalyn Serman and Emily Wagner have been part-time players in the past, but Sylvester believes all of them have the capabilities to provide the offensive spark the team needs.

The team is also green on defense. The lone senior is Alexis Pucci, but she is a first-year starter. She is joined in the back four by juniors Alesha Hart and Claire Kocur and sophomore Lexus Lambert, who started as a freshman last season.

Luckily for the Raiders, if the defense falters, junior goalkeeper Jessica Neill is usually there to provide the big save. Neill, a three-year starter, already had four shutouts this season and had allowed just six goals in 10 games before Wednesday's match against Hampton.

"She's just so athletic, so quick," Sylvester said. "She understands the game and the different angles. We're so young on defense that it's key that our goalkeeper has a ton of experience."

Both of Seneca Valley's losses this season, to Moon Area and North Allegheny, were by the score of 1-0.

Sylvester expects his team to improve as the season progresses, and is hoping it will reach its potential once the playoffs begin.

"We need to peak at the right time, and that's the playoffs," Sylvester said. "We definitely haven't peaked yet. We're nowhere close to where we could be."



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