The Upper St. Clair boys soccer team has to replace a few important starters from last season's PIAA Class AAA championship unit, but the Panthers' biggest challenge may be battling complacency.
"I've had to tell them a couple times already this preseason, 'You haven't won anything, so why do you have an attitude?'" said Upper St. Clair's Uwe Schneider, the Panthers' coach since 2002.
"We can't dwell on the past."
The Panthers (22-2-1 last season) have played for the past two state titles, losing to Conestoga Valley in 2011 before beating Wilson, 1-0, to win the 2012 PIAA Class AAA championship.
The Panthers will have to replace goalkeeper Joe Conlon, who had five postseason shutouts, as well as key starters Kevin Muck, Wes Burdette and Ethan Dysert.
But one of the biggest strengths of last season's squad was its depth, which should pay dividends this season.
"We had a lot of players who are now seniors and juniors who played in the state championship game last season," Schneider said. "So there are a lot of guys ready to fill in."
Senior goalkeeper Will Petley will step into Conlon's shoes, while junior Joseph Bell, a transfer, is expected to get significant playing time up front.
They will be surrounded by some very talented returning players, led by all-state midfielder Troye Kiernan. A senior, he led the Panthers with 13 goals and added five assists last season.
"He's a very important player for us," Schneider said. "He has speed and skill and he can defend as well as score goals."
Senior Pat Miller and junior Robbie Mertz will join Kiernan to form an experienced midfield and speedy senior Joel Hart will return up front. Juniors Hayden Bernhardt and Doug Hapeman, who scored the game-winning goal in last year's state title game, are returning starters in the central defense, while seniors Sam Russell and Garrett Blake will see time at the outside back positions.
Russell is also one of the team's captains, along with Kiernan and Mertz.
Kiernan believes one of his main roles this season will be making sure his team is ready to play each and every game.
"My role is getting everyone ready and making sure no one is screwing around," Kiernan said. "I need to make sure everyone is taking each game seriously. Being a senior, I need to have more of a leadership role this year."
The Panthers will start the season as one of the favorites to repeat, but will face stiff competition in its own section from Peters Township and Canon-McMillan.
Despite winning the state title, the Panthers didn't win the section or WPIAL championships, with Peters Township taking the section championship and the Big Macs beating USC in the district final.
Upper St. Clair also failed to win a section or district title in 2003 prior to winning the state title. The Panthers would make it back-to-back state titles in 2004, which is the same way Kiernan wants to end his high school soccer career.
"That's definitely the goal," he said. "We have the power to do it, but it's definitely not going to be easy."hssoccer