The Serra Catholic boys soccer team "blazed new trails" last season in the words of coach Don Sabol.
This year's edition of the Eagles boys soccer team is hoping to follow in those very same footsteps, and perhaps blaze another trail of their own.
Serra Catholic's run to the Class A semifinals in 2012 was the best playoff performance in the program's history. Now atop Section 1-A for the second consecutive season, and in sole-possession of that distinction this year, Serra Catholic (13-3-1, 9-0-1), which earned the No. 4 seed in the WPIAL playoffs, entered the postseason with two things it didn't last year: experience and expectations.
The Eagles opened postseason play with a solid 3-0 victory against Geibel Catholic Monday night at Laurel Highlands. They'll play Our Lady of the Sacred Heart tonight at 6 at Elizabeth Forward in the quarterfinals.
"After we made it to semis last year, a team goal was to go to the WPIAL championship [match] this year," Sabol said. "But there's still a lot of work in front of them."
Despite only returning five starters, the Eagles maintain a core of well-seasoned players and a number of contributors to last year's success. Although the ingredients may have changed, Sabol said the team has managed to find a recipe for success once again.
"We're not a team that lacks experience," Sabol said. "We have a different chemistry than we did last year. ... But they grind it out. They're right where our expectations were."
One key returning starter is senior forward Tyler Grebur, Serra Catholic's all-time leading scorer with 72 career goals. He finished the regular season with 24 goals and scored all three in the first-round victory against Geibel.
Another returning contributor in the middle of the field is senior Nike Likar, the Eagles' top playmaker.
One of the main reasons for Serra Catholic's success has been excellent team defense, Sabol said.
"The defense has been very strong this season," Sabol said. "It's been a team effort. They've all done well as a group."
Typically operating out of a 4-2-3-1 alignment, the Eagles are able to rely primarily on Grebur and the three attacking midfielders behind him to generate most of their offense. Holding midfielders such as senior Nick Andrews contribute, but their primary objective is to disrupt opposition attacks.
The holding midfielders are encouraged to support attacking movements, but their primary task is setting the plate for Likar and the other playmakers in midfield.
"We've been very good on the attack," Sabol said. "To win in soccer you have to control the middle of the field, so we have an added emphasis on the middle."
Senior Grant Taylor and juniors Sam Almeter and Anthony Rosso have been stalwarts on the back line. Serra Catholic outscored Section 1-A opponents 33-4 over 10 games, including shutouts in its final four section contests.
"We've been through the whole season now," Sabol said. "We know what our strengths and weaknesses are, and we're going to work through them."
Even with a number of upperclassmen starting, Serra Catholic starts three freshmen and a sophomore, lending credence to belief that the Eagles aren't a flash in the pan and that a lot of talent remains in the pipeline.
But 2014 still seems very far away, and this year's Serra Catholic team is hoping that their 2013 campaign extends for a while longer.
"It'd be hard to lose," Sabol said. "Expectation is that they want to go pretty far this year."