West Xtra: Warriors' inaugural state title in soccer a big deal

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Before the game there was a big pep rally Friday morning followed by droves of Central Valley fans and students making the trip to Hershey.

After the game on Saturday there was a parade of fire trucks with sirens flashing, there was a community party, there was a DJ and music.

Forgive the Central Valley girls soccer team and community for not acting like they've been before ... because they haven't.

Unlike other WPIAL representatives making the trip to Hershey this past weekend, this was an all new experience for Central Valley and it certainly made the most of it.

The Warriors capped an undefeated season Saturday with a PIAA Class AA championship with a 2-1 victory against Trinity High School, a Catholic school located in Camp Hill, just outside of Harrisburg.

"It was a tremendous experience," Warriors coach Mark Perry said. "It was a first-class weekend. The whole school district stepped up and the girls really enjoyed the experience."

Local businesses donated food for the Saturday night postgame celebration. The party was scheduled to go whether the team came back with silver or gold to commemorate what had been the best season in the program's four-year history.

With yet another big performance on a big stage, the guest of honors arrived at the Monaca Polish National Alliance Hall for the postgame party with gold medals around their necks.

"Those other teams have been there before," Perry said referencing other WPIAL representatives playing in Hershey last weekend, including the Greensburg Central Catholic girls, Sewickley Academy boys and Upper St. Clair boys.

"For us it was a brand new thing. The first time is always special to see the magnitude of the event with the TV cameras and press credentials and the stadium."

The support that had followed the Central Valley team around all season, through the WPIAL playoffs and in frigid temperatures in the state playoffs, was there in full force at Hershey.

The drive from Camp Hill to Hershey takes about 23 minutes, from Central Valley it takes nearly four hours. Yet the scene in the stadium made it look like both teams were from near Hershey. Even most of the Central Valley football team and coaching staff boarded a Hershey-bound school bus at 6 a.m. Saturday after having beaten Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL semifinals the night before.

"It was an unbelievable crowd," Perry said. "Everybody was there. We thought we were going into hostile territory. Their fans were shocked by how many people were there for us."

The fans saw a vintage Central Valley performance as the Warriors jumped out to an early lead, behind goals from freshman Carolina Lucci and sophomore Cassie Pritt, and held on for a 2-1 win. It was the first time all season Trinity (22-3) had allowed multiple goals in a game.

Trinity narrowed the deficit to one in the second half and had numerous scoring opportunities in the final two minutes but Central Valley was able to hold off the District 3 runners-up.

Unlike most Central Valley games, the outcome was in doubt until the final whistle.

"We were really hanging on," Perry said. "Those last minutes seemed like days. I can't tell you how many times I looked at the clock and they hit the crossbar and your heart almost stops. Until you see all the zeroes on that scoreboard, you don't have a chance to celebrate."

The agonizing final minutes of the season only added to what had been a long season that was back-heavy with Central Valley playing eight postseason games and 15 regular-season games.

"Feels like we have been through a marathon," Perry said. "You do stuff over the winter and you start in June with some conditioning and then you go all the way to the middle of November. It was a long season and it was all worthwhile in the end."

Expectations were high this season. Central Valley returned two of the top seniors in the area with midfielder Katie Alexander and Ashley Mutkus. Both were elite scorers but Perry made the decision to move the versatile Mutkus to defense.

The move was made possible by the emergence of Lucci. It became evident early in the season that Lucci could become one of the next great goal-scorers in the WPIAL.

Among the section title, WPIAL title and PIAA title, there were other highlights that stuck out during the 2013 Central Valley campaign.

There was a WPIAL semifinal win against defending state champion Moon Area. The Warriors trailed Moon, 2-1, in the second half but found a way to force overtime where they would eventually win.

Then there was the four-game sweep of bitter rival Hopewell, two-regular season wins, a WPIAL final win and a PIAA semifinal win.

"Obviously beating Hopewell four times stands out," Perry said. "Every game was close, it could have been them.

"Beating Moon was one of the dramatic wins we had and playing at Highmark Stadium was special but it all ends when you get to Hershey. The thrill of that tops all the others."

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