As the Class of 2015 climbed through the ranks of the Hopewell girls soccer feeder program, it became apparent the group of players had the talent to make a run at a championship.
Last year the group almost made it happen as juniors, but they kept stumbling against a neighboring rival.
They reached the WPIAL Class AAA title game and PIAA semifinals but four losses to section rival Central Valley denied them a section title, a WPIAL title and a shot at a PIAA title.
The 11 seniors on the team will give it one more shot this year.
The senior class is headlined by senior midfielder Abby Losco, a Duquesne University recruit. Losco went on a scoring tear in the playoffs last year, netting a hat trick in a 3-2 WPIAL semifinal win against South Park and another one in a 4-3 PIAA quarterfinal win against Dallas.
"We are going to go as far as Abby can take us, I don't think it is any question," Hopewell coach Martin Byrnes said.
"She is the engine that runs the team. We rode her coattails last year. She just has a drive and a desire. She scored two hat tricks in the postseason. She kind of took the team on her shoulders."
Losco led the team with 28 goals last season and was named a Post-Gazette West Xtra All-Star.
The team suffered a blow in the offseason when senior Chelsea Sundy, a three-year starter as a defensive midfielder, was lost for the season with a leg injury in July.
"She was one of our top three players," Byrnes said.
Despite the injury, expectations remain high at Hopewell.
"It seems that last year our strength was the junior class and this year they are seniors," Byrnes said. "With as far as we had gone last year in the playoffs, this group has a lot of experience in the postseason and hopefully that will serve us well this season."
Hopewell finished 17-6 last season. Four of the six losses came to Central Valley, the only Class AA team to defeat the Vikings last year. The Vikings also lost to two strong Class AAA teams, Seneca Valley and Canon-McMillan.
"We have had high expectations for quite some time with this group of girls ever since they got into seventh and eighth grade," Byrnes said. "Last year was very special -- it would have been nice if last year was the year. This year we are hoping for some gold medals."
The other returning senior starters are defender Chloe Work and forward Kayleen Schwegler. Work will play at Edinboro next season and Schwegler will likely play in college as well. Junior midfielders Shannon Shawgo and Nicole Grimm, sophomore central defender Lauren Shutak and sophomore goalkeeper Emilie Hovanec are also returning starters.
Hopewell opens the season Saturday at home against Pine-Richland at 3 p.m. Section 3-AA play begins when the Vikings visit Blackhawk Wednesday. The first showdown with Central Valley will be at Hopewell on Sept. 17.
"I think Central Valley is the team to beat," Byrnes said. "Last year we dropped the four games to them. Until we prove otherwise, I think they are the team to beat."
Hopewell has not beaten Central Valley since the program formed in 2010. The Vikings and Warriors are not the only threats in the section to make a deep playoff run. Quaker Valley and Montour both joined the section this season.
"Our section is a 'group of death,'" Byrnes said, drawing a comparison to the group in which the United States men's team competed at this summer's World Cup.
"[In addition to Central Valley] you have Beaver, a playoff team, and Quaker Valley and Montour entered our section. That group is going to be extremely difficult. Blackhawk has an extremely talented freshman class and our games with Ambridge are always tough.
"There are no teams we can take lightly. I really think our section will prepare us for the playoffs ... if we can make the playoffs."