They won the first state title in program history and they made it look easy, the key word being "look."
Greensburg Central Catholic made easy work of District 12 champion Conwell-Egan, 5-1, Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium to win the PIAA Class A title and cap a 23-1 season.
The game was not as easy as the final score indicated, just as the Centurions' season was not as easy as the final record indicated.
Greensburg Central Catholic and Conwell-Egan were scoreless through 30 minutes as the Centurions overcame early game jitters and adapted to playing on the biggest field they have seen all season.
There was a lot the team had to overcome this season as well. They opened this season with a stinging playoff defeat still fresh in their mind from the previous year.
With expectations of winning a state title sitting pretty with a 22-0 record last fall, Greensburg Central Catholic was shocked by Springdale in the PIAA semifinals, a team it had defeated three times earlier in the year.
Would that loss linger over into this season?
It sure looked like the hangover dragged into 2012 as the year opened up with a stunning 9-0 loss on the road at Class AAA contender Fox Chapel.
Greensburg Central Catholic did not allow its ninth goal of the season last year until its 21st game, the WPIAL final.
Section play opened and the team hardly looked dominant as the Centurions outlasted Springdale, 2-1. The team finally hit its stride and won out in the regular season although it had to rally against South Park in the regular-season finale.
In the playoffs Greensburg Central Catholic had to battle and outlast Shady Side Academy, 3-1, in the WPIAL semifinals and Sewickley Academy, 2-0, in the WPIAL championship game.
Then in the PIAA semifinals, the point of its giant letdown last season, the team was once again handed its biggest challenge -- it faced a 3-1 deficit against section-rival Shady Side Academy with 12 minutes remaining in regulation.
This time Greensburg Central Catholic did not falter, rallying for two goals in 12 minutes and held on to win, 5-4, in a penalty kick shootout.
"Absolutely it was not easy," Centurions coach Ashley Shasko said. "We had to battle for quite a few games and they did a fantastic job. We definitely didn't coast -- it was hard, hard work. They worked so hard in practice."
That shootout victory against Shady Side Academy set the stage for the players to reach Hershey for the first time in their careers. They arrived on Thursday, practiced and took a tour of Chocolate World Thursday night and on Friday brushed aside the scoreless 30 minutes to dominate Conwell-Egan and win, 5-1.
"Our whole team was so excited," senior captain Charlotte Szekely said. "It means so much for our team."
The program has done all this with intense pressure on it, arguably the most of any team in the WPIAL. With a roster loaded with potential collegiate talent and international level youth players, state titles have been the expectation since 2010.
Junior forwards Malea Fabean, a University of Pittsburgh recruit, and Frannie Crouse, a Penn State recruit, are nationally ranked players both in terms of collegiate recruiting and goal scoring. Crouse scored 55 goals this year, Fabean added 33.
There are also players such as sophomore Italia Biondi, a 22-goal scorer this year, sophomore goalie Olivia Binda, who has been in net for 12 shutouts this season, and Szekely, who will be playing at Carlow University next season.
Through it all Shasko has said no outside pressure could match the pressure the team puts on itself.
The team got to experience a pep rally and a sendoff from the student body on Thursday. A busload of students even traveled to Hershey for the state title game.
"Our school was so proud of us, the teachers and students -- it was great," Crouse said. "We have just become so much more of a team this year. This state title is absolutely amazing, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
With only three seniors graduating, defenders Pauline Cole, Rosie Tritschler and Szekely, there is no reason to believe once in a lifetime is going to be enough for this still hungry squad.
As Shasko put it, "The goal is to do it again."
First Published November 21, 2012 5:00 AM