Canon-McMillan girls soccer coach Dave Derrico has approached all 13 of his seasons as head coach of the program the same way -- with high expectations.
Those expectations are turned up a little higher this season and with good reason.
The Big Macs graduated only four seniors from last year. All but one starter is back. Senior goalie Kyra Murphy, a Duquesne University recruit, is one of the best keepers in the WPIAL if not the state.
Also, Derrico has more depth than usual. He says he is comfortable going five deep to the bench with no drop-off in level of play.
"I have high expectations every year," Derrico said. "I don't ever have low expectations but this year I expect a lot out of them."
Canon-McMillan is ranked No. 5 in the Post-Gazette preseason Class AAA rankings. It finished 13-4-3 last season and went 6-2-2 in highly competitive Section 5-AAA to finish second behind Peters Township.
The Big Macs defeated Norwin in the first round before falling to eventual WPIAL champion Seneca Valley in the quarterfinals. Playoff spots should be at a premium in the section once again after perennially strong Moon Area joined this season, moving up from Class AA.
"We have to face Peters Township and Moon in our section, there are no easy games for us," Derrico said. "Peters, Moon and us are going to be slugging it out and you cannot take Chartiers Valley lightly. I don't know where they fit this year but it is usually the four of us. It is always a dogfight in our section."
Canon-McMillan started the season Saturday with a 2-0 win at Bethel Park.
Derrico sounds like a coach with high expectations after assessing his team's performance on Saturday against a Bethel Park team that won 18 games last season and reached the WPIAL semifinals.
"It should have been 6-0, we had chances that we normally put away," Derrico said.
"It was a good start [Saturday] night but it wasn't great. I was looking for great."
The Big Macs (2-0-1, 1-0) battled Yough to a 0-0 tie Tuesday before opening Section 4-AAA play on Wednesday at home with a 17-0 rout against Trinity.
In his 13 seasons as head coach, Derrico has never returned this many starters.
"We have had years where we had seven or eight back, but never 10," Derrico said.
The returning starters are as much a part of the story as the bench depth.
"We have a deeper bench than we've ever had," Derrico said. "We can actually put some players in without dropping off, I think we saw that in the first two [scrimmages] and saw it against [Bethel Park]."
With Murphy in net, the Big Macs will be one of the toughest "outs" in the WPIAL.
"Kyra is a solid, solid keeper," Derrico said. "She is mobile, she has no fear. She is really technically sound. She is bringing it all together.
"We have had good goalkeepers in the past but she is a great goalkeeper. She gives our defense the ability to be a little bit more aggressive in the back, knowing that she is there and she is a great shot stopper. Having Kyra there really settles everything down in the back."
Murphy is in her third year as a starter. She took over as a sophomore for Ashley Hull, another accomplished goalkeeper who went on to play at Miami of Ohio.
In front of Murphy is a defense anchored by senior center defender Abby Gillespie.
"Abby is a big strong center defender and that is another key to our ability in the back," Derrico said.
"Abby is very experienced. She has been a varsity player for all four years she has been there. Abby is a really solid tough-minded center back and a big asset for us."
Offensively the Big Macs have a group of dynamic forwards in senior Lauren Hess and sophomores Aideen O'Donoghue and Sabrina Bryan. Hess scored both goals in the win against Bethel Park. O'Donoghue and Bryan combined to score 23 goals last season as freshmen.
"They give us a lot of mobility, speed and hunger to score," Derrico said.
Leading the midfield are senior Allison Oddi, juniors Allie Thomas and Alena Poljak and sophomore Cheyenne Trest. Senior Sydney Keremes is a returning starter as a holding midfielder.
"[Keremes] virtually never makes a mistake," Derrico said. "She is just a real solid player."