North Xtra: Seneca Valley seniors find redemption in winning championship

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In 2009, the Seneca Valley girls soccer team won the WPIAL Class AAA championship, their second WPIAL title in three years.

There were obvious high expectations for the program, including those for the incoming freshmen class the following season.

Those freshmen soon found out how difficult winning a WPIAL title would be. In 2010 the Raiders went 6-7-3 and failed to qualify for the playoffs.

They stayed the course and in 2011 as sophomores they reached the WPIAL quarterfinals. Last year as juniors, they reached the WPIAL final and on Friday night as seniors the Raiders were crowned WPIAL champions, defeating an old nemesis in the process.

Seneca Valley knocked off three-time PIAA Class AAA champion and reigning WPIAL champion Peters Township, 1-0. The Raiders were forced to settle for silver medals a year ago thanks to Peters Township, which defeated Seneca Valley, 2-1, in the final.

The 2012 WPIAL final was decided when Peters Township's Veronica Latsko scored a game-winner in double overtime on a header.

Seneca Valley exacted some fitting revenge.

With the game seemingly destined for overtime again, Seneca Valley sophomore midfielder Caroline Miller drilled home a header off a corner kick to break a scoreless tie.

"I kind of thought that maybe the game was going to overtime," Seneca Valley coach Dave Sylvester said. "[The game clock] was getting down there pretty far. We had kept it in their end for a few minutes and were fortunate to get a corner."

The Raiders (19-2-1) returned to action in the PIAA tournament Tuesday, outlasting Bethel Park, the third-place finisher from the WPIAL, in a 1-0 double-overtime affair.

The WPIAL title was the third in program history for Seneca Valley and third for Sylvester, now in his 13th year with the program.

The matchup of Seneca Valley and Peters Township in the final should have come as no surprise to anyone. The top-seeded Raiders and second-seeded Indians have now accounted for five of the past seven WPIAL Class AAA titles.

Peters Township has played in six consecutive WPIAL finals and four of those were against Seneca Valley.

"It is tough playing them," Sylvester said. "We have been having this little rivalry here for a while and I am glad it is always in the final -- that makes it nice.

"They are a well-coached team and always play tough and solid. There was no surprise to see them, that is for sure. We battled hard and the way soccer goes, it could have gone either way."

Seneca Valley won its third consecutive Class AAA Section 2 title this season. The Raiders were awarded the top seed in Class AAA and, after a first-round bye, they shut out No. 9 Canon-McMillan, 2-0, and No. 12 Upper St. Clair, 3-0, before the shutout in the WPIAL final.

"You are playing pretty quality teams and it is tough -- to not give up a goal is pretty nice," Sylvester said. "Shutting everyone out, that is not one of the goals we really talked about. We just talk about being good defensively and making sure we have one more goal than the team we are facing."

Junior goalkeeper Jessica Neill is a three-year starter in net for Seneca Valley. She started behind a strong defense that featured senior Alexis Pucci, juniors Alicia Hart and Claire Kocur and sophomore Alexis Lambert.

"I am sure Jess would tell you it is nice to have those girls in front of her and the girls would say it is nice having Jess behind them," Sylvester said.

Seneca Valley opened the season with seven first-time starters this season.

"We graduated a pretty big group of experienced girls," Sylvester said. "Our seniors did a good job of keeping us focused and trying to get back to the championship game."

The two senior captains on the team were senior center midfielder Mary Kate Zahorchak and outside midfielder Kayli Kumanchik.

"Every group is different, they all have their characteristics and this group is no different," Sylvester said. "There is no superstar, they are all just really good role players. They play their roles well, they play as a team. That is kind of what makes us who we are."

After last Friday night, who they are are the 2013 WPIAL Class AAA champions.

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