North Xtra: For Seneca girls soccer, it was a season to celebrate

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Last season Seneca Valley may have been the second-best girls soccer team in the state of Pennsylvania.

The Raiders just happened to be peaking at the same time another district team was in the midst of a historic run of three consecutive state championships.

Seneca Valley won 20 of its final 22 games last season.

Its two losses came at the hands of Peters Township, a team that would go on to win its unprecedented third consecutive PIAA Class AAA championship. Those losses to the Indians denied the Raiders a WPIAL title and a trip to the PIAA semifinals.

The Seneca Valley coaches and players never complained about the challenge of coming up at the same time as the juggernaut Indians program, they embraced it.

This year they went right through that same program to win a WPIAL championship and reach the PIAA semifinals for the first time in program history.

After watching the program bring home WPIAL gold in 2007 and 2009 the current group of Raiders finally have a WPIAL championship to call their own.

"It is two pretty good programs," Seneca Valley coach Dave Sylvester said. "I am sure they are tired of running into us just as we are of running into them but we like playing them.

"Their kids play hard. There is no cheap stuff, it is just good high school soccer. We enjoy the challenge of playing them. You don't have to get the kids motivated to play them."

Seneca Valley finished this season 20-3-1. It shared the Class AAA Section 2 title with North Allegheny. The Raiders received the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL playoffs and a first-round bye. It shut out all three of its WPIAL playoff opponents, including Peters Township in a 1-0 WPIAL championship game win.

In the PIAA playoffs Seneca Valley continued its string of whitewashings, blanking Bethel Park, 1-0, to set up a rematch against Peters Township in the PIAA quarterfinals. The Indians were trying to reach Hershey for the fourth consecutive year, while Seneca Valley was trying to reach the PIAA semifinals for the first time ever.

The Raiders prevailed once again with a shutout win, this time 2-0.

Including a 3-0 regular-season win at Peters Township, Seneca Valley finished 3-0 against the Indians this season.

"It is tough but I think Peters is a good team to play," senior defender Alexis Pucci said. "They are a talented team and it is fun [to play them]. It was nice playing them three times, giving us a challenge in the season."

Seneca Valley's season would come to an end in the PIAA semifinals with a 1-0 double-overtime loss to Spring-Ford, the fifth-place team from District 1.

"Getting to the state semifinals for the first time in Seneca Valley history really stands out," Pucci said. "We didn't expect to get this far. I think that was one of our biggest accomplishments along with winning a WPIAL title."

Although the Raiders did not reach Hershey, they managed to play their best soccer late in the season. They entered the PIAA semifinals with a 14-game unbeaten streak and had not conceded a single goal in the playoffs. Both of those streaks came to an end when Spring-Ford's Megan Giannopoulos scored with 6:31 left in the second overtime.

"It was a well-played game," Seneca Valley coach Dave Sylvester said. "We struggled a bit in the second overtime. We should have tried to get to the shootout, especially with the way [goalkeeper] Jess [O'Neill] has been playing."

The defense in front of O'Neill was led by Pucci, juniors Alicia Hart and Claire Kocur and sophomore Alexis Lambert. It was another in a long line of strong Seneca Valley defenses.

"I don't think one specific person on our team was standing out," Pucci said. "We all stood out. We worked together as a team and it was really nice that we got as far as we did."

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