South Xtra: Panthers stalking state title

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At the beginning of every sport's season the ultimate goal for a team is to win a championship.

That's why the teams play the game, whether it is a section, district or state championship. But in reality, only two teams can make it to a title game and any player would be lucky to reach that point once in their four-year high school career.

Well if that's the case, the juniors and seniors on the boys Upper St. Clair soccer team could be called "spoiled" ... in a good way.

The Panthers reached the WPIAL and state championship matches in the two years prior to this season and they have accomplished that feat for the third consecutive season. Two years ago the Panthers won the WPIAL championship and advanced to the PIAA championship match but came out on the losing end.

Upper St. Clair flipped the script last year, losing the WPIAL championship match but went on to become state champs in Hershey. Well, if that is what it takes for this year's squad to win another state title, they are in good position.

The Panthers (22-1-1 overall) fell short of claiming another WPIAL championship this year, falling, 1-0, in the Class AAA title game on Nov. 1 to Section 5-AAA rival Peters Township.

"We definitely wanted to win the WPIAL final," said Uwe Schneider, in his 13th year as Panthers head coach. "Our goal is set a little higher now and we want to win the state championship. If we get there, it will be a huge accomplishment as a program.

"More people are focused on the [Upper St. Clair] football team, but we still get our recognition. For us it really means everything. It means that all the hard work has paid off."

As fate would have it, the Panthers got a chance at redemption against the Indians in the PIAA quarterfinals and took full advantage with a 3-0 win Saturday at Chartiers Valley High School.

"It was the fourth time we played each other this year," Schneider said, "I think it was easier for us than them. We were hoping to get another shot at them and realized we wasted an opportunity."

Besides facing off twice in the postseason, the Panthers won both games against the Indians, a section rival, in the regular season.

The Panthers had to pass one more test before they could book their trip to Hershey ... and they did. They defeated District 3 runner-up Cumberland Valley, 2-1, Tuesday at Hollidaysburg.

Joel Hart provided the deciding goal, his 36th of the season, to break a 1-1 tie.

The Panthers will play District 3 champion Conestoga Valley (23-2-2) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium for the PIAA championship.

A big part of the Panthers run the past couple of years has been attributed to senior captain Troye Kiernan. Kiernan was named to the all-section, All-WPIAL and all-state team this year.

"He has had a good year for us," Schneider said, "especially in the playoffs."

Kiernan will continue his soccer career at the next level after receiving a scholarship to play at Saint Francis (Pa.).

Also contributing for the Panthers were goalkeeper Will Petley and junior captain Robbie Burke.

"They were here last year and have made it to this point so they know what it is about," Schneider said.

Scneider has continued to make Upper St. Clair soccer a household name in the state since he arrived on the scene 13 years ago.

Before he came here, he coached in Germany and at North Carolina. Schneider was born in Germany and played college ball over there and some amateur ball.

"I only have a little different perspective coaching and playing, but it definitely helps knowing the game," he said.

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