For the first time since 2007, the WPIAL will have a representative in each of the PIAA boys soccer championship matches.
Upper St. Clair, West Allegheny and Sewickley Academy will play for state titles this weekend at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey. Teams representing the WPIAL have never won all three titles in the same season.
It's been nine seasons since a team has won the PIAA title back to back, but Upper St. Clair has an opportunity to accomplish the feat.
The defending champion Panthers (22-1-1) will take on District 3 champion Conestoga Valley (23-2-2) in the championship game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Upper St. Clair has eight players who played in last season's 1-0 PIAA championship victory against West Lawn Wilson and two players -- Garrett Blake and Troye Kiernan -- who played in the 2011 state championship game loss to District 1's Conestoga.
"[The experience] should help," Upper St. Clair coach Uwe Schneider said. "It's not just the eight guys -- a lot of the team has been there. We have an experienced group going to Hershey that has been through the whole procedure of the state final. It should help."
It also helps that the Panthers have great talent, with Blake on defense, all-stater Kiernan at midfield and 36-goal scorer Joel Hart at forward, among others. Hart had the winner in Upper St. Clair's 2-1 victory against Cumberland Valley Tuesday in the semifinals.
The Panthers have outscored their three opponents in the state tournament, 14-1. Now Upper St. Clair will try to win its fourth state title. The 2003-04 teams, coached by Schneider, were the last to win back-to-back PIAA Class AAA titles.
The Panthers will look to do it against Conestoga Valley, which is searching for its first state championship. The Buckskins are lead by Nathan Delgado, who has 33 goals this season and is the school's all-time leading scorer.
West Allegheny had never won a district title, let alone a state championship. On Saturday, the Indians (21-0-3) will try to complete the sweep of both when they play District 1 champion Holy Ghost Prep (19-4) at 1:30 p.m.
"It's just a new journey each time," said West Allegheny coach Kevin Amos, whose team had lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals each of the past two seasons. "Our players just don't like to lose."
The key for the WPIAL champion Indians this season has been goal prevention. Led by all-state center back Zach Graziani and goalkeeper Spencer Wolfe, West Allegheny has allowed just five goals and pitched 19 shutouts. The Indians have an eight-game shutout streak, which includes all seven postseason games.
Amos said the team's ability to keep the opposing team scoreless is a group effort.
"The defense gets a lot of credit for it, but they say the best defense is a good offense and I think that helps us," said Amos. "Our midfielders and our forwards to a good job of possessing the ball and our defense comes out and steps up when it has to."
The offense has been doing a good job of finishing its opportunities lately, scoring 11 goals in three state playoff games. The Indians only got one in its state semifinal victory against previously unbeaten Bedford, and it came late in the first half off the foot of sophomore Cooper Amos, the coach's son.
"It's great," Kevin Amos said. "He had been snake-bitten this year. He leads the team in assists, but has like four or five goals. We've been saying for a while he was going to have a big goal for us."
West Allegheny will be facing a Holy Ghost Prep team from Bensalem, north of Philadelphia, that knocked off the defending Class AA state champion, Pequea Valley, 1-0, in the PIAA semifinals. The District 1 champion Firebirds will be making their fourth state title game appearance, but first since 1993.
Sewickley Academy will play for the PIAA title for the second season in a row Friday night and will see a familiar foe.
The Panthers (20-3) will take on District 2 champion Mountain View (21-0) at 7:30 p.m. in a rematch of last season's PIAA Class A title game, which the Eagles won, 1-0.
"It's not about redemption, but I'm glad we're playing them," Panthers coach Jim Boone said. "We know a little bit more about them and I'm looking forward to seeing their coach again. He's a nice guy and runs a classy organization."
Mountain View reached the final by beating 2010 and 2011 state champion New Hope Solsbury, 1-0 (4-2 on penalty kicks), Tuesday night.
The Panthers throttled North Star, 5-0, as five players scored. One was J.P. Bowell, who notched his team-leading 27th goal.
Bowell is one of 13 seniors and seven returning starters from last season's team. But Sewickley has also gotten contributions from sophomore goalkeeper Jackson O'Neill, who has allowed just one goal in three PIAA playoff games, and sophomore midfielder Geoffrey Schuchardt, who has teamed with all-state senior midfielder Steve Munn to form a terrific tandem in the center of the field for the Panthers.
Sewickley has previously won state championships in 1997 and 2007.