For a team that is returning 10 starters this season, Central Valley is about as young as a team can be.
That is what happens when a coach starts up to seven freshmen in a playoff game a year ago.
The even younger 2012 Central Valley team hardly experienced growing pains. It shared the Class AA Section 3 title with Hopewell with identical 10-0-2 section records and the Warriors won 16 games overall and reached the WPIAL semifinals.
This year Central Valley has a 13-player rotation dominated by sophomores and "book-ended" by a dynamic senior duo of Katie Alexander and Ashley Mutkus and freshman Carolina Lucci.
Alexander and Mutkus are two of the top talents in the WPIAL and Lucci has burst onto the scene with all the looks of the next great goal-scorer at Central Valley.
The combination of young and old has helped Central Valley to a 7-0 start, including non-section wins against Class AAA powers Upper St. Clair and Gateway and a 11-2 thumping of section rival Blackhawk.
Central Valley, which defeated Hopewell, 4-3, Monday, was scheduled to play Blackhawk Wednesday night.
"It is nice to have 10 starters back, especially when you have two the quality of Katie and Ashley," coach Mark Perry said. "We are still a young team but having Katie and Ashley, two players who played at a very high level all summer [for travel teams], it brings the whole level of play up."
Sophomore Lauren Hamilton is a new starter in net. She saw some time last season behind starter Robyn Hampe. Hampe is out with an injury and Hamilton has emerged as a solid starter.
"First game against Upper St. Clair, Lauren played very well and we have sort of been riding that," Perry said. "Lauren has some experience, she played a lot last year. So far, that has been one surprise for us this year."
Another surprise has been the emergence of Lucci. A freshman, she led the team with 11 goals through six games. After having 11 freshmen on the roster last season, Lucci is the only freshman on this year's roster.
"She is doing really well, she is going to be one of the next very good players we are going to have with our team especially going forward without Katie and Ashley," Perry said.
"Carolina gives us a threat that teams have to be concerned about. She has stepped up. I knew she was a pretty good player who could help us, but she has performed at a higher level than I expected. Teams are going to start hearing about her and she will start getting attention from other teams."
Alexander and Mutkus are two players who have commanded the attention of opponents for the past three seasons. Alexander controls the midfield for Central Valley while Mutkus moved to defense last season to help shore up an otherwise young unit.
"Just like last year she will play a majority of the games in the back," Perry said. "We wanted to keep pressure off the goalie. It was more of a tougher sell last year because she never played as a defender, but she got a lot of recognition as a defender.
"I think she has kind of adapted to that and we still give her an opportunity to come up to forward. She is one of the best players in the WPIAL no matter where we play her."
Alexander was second on the team with seven goals in five games. She sat out the Sept. 14 game against Gateway with a leg injury.
"Every team is marking Katie very tightly," Perry said. "They know who she is and she is doing a very nice job of getting other players involved."
Mutkus plays on a defense alongside three sophomores, Jessica Henderson and twin sisters Ally and Lexi Delostrino. Alexander plays in the midfield with junior Karina Fratangeli and Sam Fields and sophomore twin sisters Cassie and Olivia Pritt.
Sophomore Hannah O'Connor was a starter who scored 15 goals last season, but Perry is using her off the bench this season to provide a late-game spark.
Junior Sarah Vula is another one of the first players off the bench, she can play defense when Mutkus is moved up into the attack.
Last season the Class AA Section 3 title race was the tightest in the WPIAL with Central Valley and Hopewell tying in both regular-season meetings and sharing the section title with 10-0-2 records.
The Warriors are trying to avoid that scenario this time around, having won the first-round meeting, 4-3.
Blackhawk's Alexis Frank, left, and Central Valley's Jessica Henderson, right, fight for possession during a Section 3-AA match earlier this season. The Warriors won that one, 11-2.hssoccer
First Published September 26, 2013 4:00 AM