Schneider’s soccer teams rule the state

Published Nov 21, 2013 at 12:08 pm (Updated Nov 21, 2013 at 12:08 pm)

In 10 years, Uwe Schneider has coached Upper St. Clair to five PIAA state soccer finals, winning four championships. So it is hard for him to say which club is his best.

“All the titles were great and wonderful,” he said after the Panthers blanked Conestoga Valley, 4-0, to claim this year’s PIAA trophy.

“But,” Schneider added, “this game itself was perhaps the best game played here in a long time.”

And for the Panthers, their 4-0 triumph was the culmination of long months of hard work, 122 goals, 14 shutouts, and one bitter, if not inspiring defeat, at the hands of an arch rival.

After losing the WPIAL district championship for the second season in a row (1-0 to Peters Township), the Panthers bounced back. They whipped McDowell, 9-0, in the PIAA tournament opener in Erie, then avenged the loss to the Indians, 3-0, before edging Cumberland Valley, 2-1, to earn their trip to the state finals in Hershey.

“Maybe (Peters) was the spark we needed. The loss certainly refocused us,” said Schneider.

The Panthers set their sights on the state tournament. They heeded their coach’s advice.

“I told them, ‘You have to make sure you approach each game as if it’s your last one, because it is if you lose. And, if you want to get something out of a great season, you’ve got to go all the way. Otherwise, it would be a season where you win a section title and what’s that? Nobody cares about that anymore.”

The Panthers did win the Section 5 title with an 11-0-1 record. The lone blemish was a 1-1 tie to Canon-McMillan, which beat USC in last year’s district final.

The Panthers, however, rolled through the state tournament. They outscored the opposition, 18-1. They were particularly impressive in the state final.

“It’s a lot of fun to watch this group play, particularly at its peak,” said Schneider.

Twenty minutes into the match, Dom Caruso scored his fourth goal, off a great cross from Joel Hart. Thirteen minutes later, Troye Kiernan headed a throw-in from Garrett Blake, lifting USC to a 2-0 advantage by halftime.

Two minutes into the second half, Hart took a feed from Shane Sibley and scored. Doug Hapeman added the final goal at the 53.22 mark. Blake again initiated the score on a sideline throw-in.

Caruso, Hart and Kiernan represent a senior class that boasts three trips to the state finals. USC lost the 2011 crown to Conestoga, 1-0, but won the 2012 title against Wilson, 1-0. Hart will play at American University while Kiernan will continue his career at St. Francis.

Hart fired in 37 goals and registered 14 assists. Kiernan finished with 20 tallies and two assists. Both earned all-state, all-district and all-section honors.

In addition to the team’s leading scorer and playmaker, the senior class was also comprised of goalie Will Petley, Adam Heil, Matt McKenzie, Sam Dudley, Sam Russell, a team captain, Anthony Pezzone, Spencer Davis, Pat Miller and Frank Cherup. Miller was a three-year starter and all-district performer.

Along with juniors, Hapeman, Blake and Hayden Bernhardt, Petley, Pezzone, McKenzie and Heil helped spearhead a defense that recorded 14 shutouts and allowed just 14 goals. Hapeman also contributed nine goals and two assists to the attack.

Robbie Mertz, Sibley and Joseph Bell, all juniors, along with Daniel Quiroga return next season to bolster the offensive attack. Mertz, who gained all-state, all-district and all-section honors, led the team with 21 assists while scoring five goals.

Additionally, J.P. Schrott, Zach Cherup, Mark Vlah, Aaron Fultineer, Gino Pezzone, David Behun, Ryan Mertz and Mac Dominick will be required to step up if USC’s trek to the state finals is to continue.

Since 1978, USC has participated in seven state finals, winning four. This year’s club, however, is the first Class AAA team to win back-to-back titles since the Panthers completed the feat in 2003 and 2004. The 2003 team won in overtime, 1-0, against West Chester East while the 2004 group returned to convincingly blank West Chester Henderson, 2-0.

“That 2004 team was very physical,” said Schneider. “This team is more skillful.

“Hmm,” he paused, “that would be a really good match-up.”

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