There is a natural byproduct of winning a PIAA soccer championship.
Seneca Valley boys coach George Williams and Moon girls coach Bill Pfeifer know all about it considering the success they have fostered for their programs.
For Williams, that meant issuing a gentle reminder to his defending PIAA Class 4A championship team during the run up to its 2023 campaign.
“We want them to be aware, ‘Hey, you need to be ready to play all of every game because we’ve got the target on our back,’” said Williams of his players, who are part of a program that also captured a state title in 2020 and played for the PIAA championship in 2021 and 2015. “We know that being the defending champion, people are going to be out to prove things against us.”
It’s an issue Pfeifer has been dealing with for quite some time as well.
The Moon girls team is in the midst of a 37-match unbeaten streak, with 34 wins during that span, and is a two-time defending PIAA champion. The Tigers won the Class 3A state title in 2021 and the 4A crown in 2022 for their program’s sixth PIAA championship.
“I think people want to beat Moon,” Pfeifer said. “It’s just like people want to beat Mars. There’s always somebody, and right now that cycles through [Moon].”
Both teams are dealing with an added byproduct this season as well.
Moon entered the 2023 campaign as the No. 2-ranked girls team in the nation as part of the United Soccer Coaches high school preseason rankings, while Seneca Valley was slotted at No. 11 on the boys list.
“I’m very flattered,” Williams said. “That’s something that it’s great to be recognized like that. I don’t know how they put those together, but it’s great. It’s great for the school. Obviously, we’ll see how that measures up.
“I’m sure a lot of people will say, ‘OK, I don’t think so,’ and use that as motivation to play well against us. We try to put our best group out there and play our best. The game will go the way it goes.”
Moon was ranked only behind Bearden High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, which like the Tigers, finished 24-0 en route to winning its state championship in 2022.
Pfeifer said his team’s national ranking speaks to the “standard of the program.” He added that national rankings might not be exactly indicative of a team’s current chances for success.
“It’s nice, but that’s last year’s team, that’s what we did last year,” Pfeifer said. “We’re striving to do the same this year — keep that same standard, keep the same culture that’s made the program pretty successful over the long haul — but the national ranking is based on what we did last year.”
If that is indeed the case, then Pfeifer has plenty of reason for optimism.
Moon returns defenders Gabby Larson, Ayva Weich and Marina Mollica — in addition to goalkeeper Serayah Leech — from a 2022 team that allowed just three goals all season and ended Mars’ 80-game winning streak with a 1-0 victory in the WPIAL championship game at Highmark Stadium.
“Everybody’s back so they’re used to playing with each other,” Pfeifer said. “As long as we stay organized, rely on each other and take care of the little things we can be as good.
“To go another step would be phenomenal,” he added. “Last year they played out of this world. It’s a great group of kids. Serayah’s a great leader. As long as they listen to her and they do their job, we’ll be fine.”
Midfielders Kendall Dydek, Lillian Snyder, Sydney Felton and midfielder/forward Lauren Muhanna will be critical in turning the Tigers’ strong defensive output into scoring opportunities.
“I think everybody is going to have to contribute,” Pfeifer said. “We don’t have a Hailey Longwell. From a couple of years ago, we don’t have a Delaney Snyder, but we do have a group of kids that I think collectively can put the ball in the back of the net. As long as we do what we’re supposed to do, we’re skilled enough, and understand the game enough, for us to find enough goals every night.”
Defense will be critical for Seneca Valley as well. The Raiders outscored their opponents, 104-16, last season.
Williams said senior goalkeeper Gus Wytcherley will be critical to Seneca Valley’s success along with six defenders who should all see minutes.
Defenders Daniel Leech, Leighton Takac, Evan DeMarco, Ethan Taylor and Tyler Kuhar should all contribute for the Raiders, along with defender/midfielder Ethan Spirk.
“I’m very thankful and fortunate to get to work with these outstanding players and young men,” Williams said.
Williams said his team is, however, always looking to be on the attack.
Seneca Valley won its PIAA championship last season against Lower Merion, 6-0. The Raiders’ six goals were third most all time for a state championship game in regulation.
Senior Cole Kamarec, who scored two goals against Lower Merion, is back this season and is joined by fellow forwards Evan Howard, Adam Conrad, Tyler Holloway and Tyler Mazanak.
Raiders midfielders Ben Keefer, Tyler Prex, Zachary Garma and Brady Eubanks are also going to play outsized roles in assuring their team stays on a strong offensive footing.
“This is a team that is definitely working on trying to get its own identity and is different from last year and the year before,” Williams said. “They do like to attack. We do like to try and go at goal. With a large variety of players coming from different clubs and backgrounds we are still trying to piece that together.”
And it has been so far so good for Seneca Valley and Moon this season.
The Raiders are 3-0 with wins against Baldwin, Norwin and Fox Chapel.
Williams’ team currently has a 17-1 goal differential.
“Every year our goals are to win the section, win the WPIAL championship, win the state championship,” Williams said. “Those are always the ultimate goals.
“Some years, those are more attainable than others. We have what we think is a group with a lot of talent.”
Moon is 2-0 with a 7-0 victory against Trinity and a 3-0 win over Chartiers Valley.
“We always have that goal that we want to have a winning season,” Pfeifer said. “Then the next step is can we get to the playoffs? From there, can we get to the WPIAL final? Then can we get to the state playoffs? Then can we get to the state finals?
“I think that’s every team’s goal,” he added. “Realistically, can every team do it? No. I think you need to show up every day and be ready to play. We want to be competitive and don’t leave anything on the field — don’t have any regrets.”