West: Moon seniors set high soccer goals

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John Arnold knows all about WPIAL soccer success at Moon Area High School.

He has won a WPIAL title in 1990 as a player and in 2003 as an assistant coach.

He would now like to show his players some of that success.

No player on his current roster has so much as been to the WPIAL postseason.

When the current seniors on the Moon boys' soccer team were in eighth grade, the Tigers won a section co-title. Since they have arrived at the program, the Tigers have not been able to finish higher than fourth in the section.

With a large senior class this year there is certainly a sense of urgency around the program to get the senior class to the postseason for the first time.

"Absolutely, getting this group to the playoffs is something we talk about a lot," Arnold said. "We do play in very arguably the hardest section in the WPIAL, top to bottom."

Moon is one of the smallest Class AAA soccer programs in the WPIAL. The Moon girls' team moved down to Class AA this season while the boys barely stuck around in Class AAA where they play in a section with WPIAL powers such as Peters Township and Upper St. Clair.

The Tigers defied the odds in 2008, going 8-2 in Section 5-AAA to share the section title with Peters Township. But since 2008 it has been 3-6-1, 2-7-1 and 3-6-1 section records good enough only for fourth or fifth place in the section.

Moon's schedule does it no favors this year either. With no non-section games or kickoff tournaments to start the season, Moon opens Section 5-AAA play and its season tonight by visiting Peters Township.

"Open up with a cupcake, ease right into the section," Arnold joked of playing the WPIAL Class AAA runner-up from last season.

With a late start to the regular season, the Moon preseason took three and a half weeks but by opening against a team such as Peters Township, Arnold said it did help intensify the pace of practices.

"It is something the kids definitely have their eye on," Arnold said. "I'll be honest, there is the opportunity to beat Peters or Upper St. Clair, but it is not an expectation and everyone is kind of fighting for third place."

Moon has an experienced group but it has reduced numbers with only 33 players in the varsity and JV program this season.

"We will be relying heavily on our senior class and our sophomore class," Arnold said.

Moon expects to start five sophomores this season. There is no ninth-grade team at Moon, which is not exactly ideal, but with a lot of freshmen seeing time last season, it does help in the regard that the sophomores are battle tested."

The Tigers need to replace four impact players as Arnold described them.

"It is always a bit of a surprise how a team jells," Arnold said. "We are not super deep and this year and we are young."

Senior midfielder/forward A.J. McNairy is a four-year starter.

"He has been the player we have relied on for the past couple of years," Arnold said. "He is the creative one on the team."

Senior defenders Doug Ruffing and twins Matt and Hayden Keefer are returning starters on the back line. All three have started since they were sophomores. Senior goalie Nick Wasson takes over in net for the Tigers.

"[Wason] has probably been one of our best surprises," Arnold said. "He has surpassed where we thought he would be. In our training sessions and exhibitions he has been a rock back there."

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