The Sewickley Academy boys soccer team features 13 seniors -- a baker's dozen who played a prominent role for one of the most dominant soccer teams in the entire state last season.
The Panthers went undefeated throughout the 2012 regular season. But they did wind up losing two games: in the WPIAL semifinals and in the PIAA final.
So, besides returning with a wealth of experience and talent, those same 13 players now lead another powerhouse Sewickley Academy team into the WPIAL playoffs with a sense of purpose.
"They're hungry," Sewickley Academy coach Jim Boone said. "I'm very proud of how the team played last year. I thought the kids did a great job from start to finish. But it was a little disappointing to work so hard, get so far and not get the gold."
At 14-3 overall, the Panthers don't have quite the dominant mark of last year, but a crisp 10-0 mark in Section 5-A earned them their second consecutive section title. Five of their seven non-section games came against competition from larger schools outside of Class A, posting a 3-2 mark in those contests. They also defeated fellow Class A contender Seton-LaSalle, 5-0.
Boone said the tough out-of-section competition afforded him the opportunity to assess what was and wasn't working and adjust the team's lineup accordingly. In terms of the pieces involved, not much needed to change from last year -- Sewickley Academy returned seven true starters and several other regular contributors.
"We moved some people around, put them in positions where they could work better," Boone said. "It's not adjusting for weaknesses, but more taking advantage of strengths."
Most of the team's inexperience -- which is to say, not much -- can be found in its back line. Anchored by senior defender Jack Matten, Sewickley Academy's defense has put together 11 shutouts, with only Beaver County Christian scoring a goal against them in section play.
At the heart of the Panthers' success is a possession-oriented scheme, which, when things are working, keeps the ball away from their own goal and, ideally, from the other team entirely.
"If we're playing our game, it's very hard for the other team to possess the ball as much as we do," Boone said. "If we can do that, play our game, I think we're very highly successful. Our record shows that. The kids have bought into our system and are doing what we're asking of them."
In the center of the pitch, senior midfielder Steve Munn shines. With seven goals through 15 games, this 2012 All-PIAA selection continues to be a big reason for Sewickley Academy's success. Sophomore holding midfielder Geoffrey Schuchardt has had a breakout season as well, filling one of the few holes on the team.
Senior striker J.P. Bowell has been prolific at the head of the Panthers offense and led the team with 16 goals through 15 games. Fellow senior forward Anthony Stinson has played strongly as well.
Their level of continued success allows Sewickley Academy to maintain the high level of expectation it typically has going into the playoffs and maintain hope that this year they can improve upon what little needed improving.
"We've been successful throughout the years. Expectations are there," Boone said. "We want to do the best, want to win section championships, WPIAL championships, state championships.
"Year to year, our kids want to keep that tradition going. Our expectations are high. I think our work in the classroom and on the soccer field exemplifies that."
First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM