West Xtra: Central Valley girls soak up WPIAL glory

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In its short history, Central Valley High School has shown that it knows how to win WPIAL championships and it knows how to celebrate WPIAL championships.

The latest title for the four-year-old school formed by the merger of Center and Monaca was the WPIAL Class AA girls soccer championship.

The Warriors remained perfect with a 2-1 win against Hopewell on Saturday at Highmark Stadium in Station Square in the WPIAL Class AA final. Central Valley (20-0) added another victory Tuesday in the first round of the PIAA tournament, a 3-2 decision against Somerset.

Saturday, after Central Valley held off a late Hopewell push, the celebration began on the pitch at Highmark and continued all the way to Beaver County.

Riding back to the high school on Interstate 376, the team's bus took the Center Exit and was greeted at a nearby shopping center with a caravan of vehicles, including nearly a dozen fire trucks. The girls disembarked from the bus and hopped on the fire trucks for a 3-mile ride to the high school where even more of the community was gathered.

"They do it first class at Central Valley," veteran coach Mark Perry said. "The administration does a great job, sports is really important to that area. Everyone supports everyone."

Perry has seen WPIAL soccer championships from nearly every possible angle. As a player he played in the 1979 WPIAL championship when there was only one boys classification. His Springdale team lost to Shaler.

He coached the Hampton boys to a 1990 WPIAL Class AA title and the Fox Chapel boys to WPIAL Class AAA titles in 1991 and 1995.

Perry has competed for WPIAL titles at venues all around the area. As a player in 1979 he played at Mt. Lebanon, home to one of the area's only turf fields at the time.

He has also coached WPIAL title games at Shaler, West Mifflin, Elizabeth Forward and even on a grass field at Bethel Park in 1990. Considering his experiences, he was extra appreciative of the venue at Highmark Stadium, the first time the WPIAL championships had been contested at the new facility.

"It is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences to be able to go to the first WPIAL final being held in a real soccer stadium," Perry said. "It was a great experience for the girls, the school, the fans and the community."

The result obviously made things extra special. Perry had come away from his past four trips to WPIAL finals with silver medals, it had been 18 years since he hung WPIAL gold around his neck and he had never won a WPIAL title with a girls team.

This WPIAL final would be anything but easy.

Scoreless at halftime, Central Valley came out after the intermission and made a last-second decision to have Ashley Mutkus take an early shot at the net, a very early shot.

Olivia Pritt touched the opening kickoff back to Mutkus who blasted a shot from midfield toward the Hopewell net. The ball took a high bounce on the wet pitch just inside the 18-yard box and went over the Hopewell goalkeeper's outstretched hands.

"Ashley can really kick a ball far," Perry said. "I thought she should be the kicker on the football team. It was very windy there and we were going with the wind. Olivia touched it back to Ashley and from 55 yards she hit this beautiful ball.

"It is a play we never practiced and doubt we will ever try again. She hit the perfect shot. It was fluky, it was lucky. People can call it whatever they want -- it was a goal. I wish we had film of it we could have gotten on Sportscenter."

Freshman Carolina Lucci added what would be a much-needed insurance goal in the 62nd minute as Hopewell scored with less than two minutes remaining, but Central Valley held on for the 2-1 win.

"This is why you play as players and why you coach as coaches -- to win championships," Perry said. "No matter what happens in the future, they will always be the first ones at Central Valley to win the WPIAL [soccer] title."

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