Lance Lysowski | Observer Reporter
Canon-McMillan girls soccer head coach David Derrico has heard it before. His counterpart at Peters Township, Pat Vereb, speaks annually about the inevitable dropoff of the Indians’ powerhouse program. The only catch is that Vereb is always wrong. Despite losing Virginia recruit Veronica Latsko, the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year, to a knee injury before the start of last season, Peters Township reached the WPIAL Class AAA championship game and the PIAA quarterfinals.
Without Latsko again in 2014, in addition to five other seniors who graduated, the Indians have been to six consecutive title games and return a nucleus that includes senior midfielder Laurel Carpenter, junior forward Madison Santo, junior midfielder Madeline LaVigna and senior forward Carly Johns.
Despite the majority of the Indians roster returning, Derrico is not ready to concede defeat to his rival, which handed the Big Macs two 1-0 losses last year.
“It would be nice to get away from Peters.” Derrico joked. “I’d do anything to beat them. One of these days, we’ll beat them. Pat Vereb always puts out a strong team, no matter what he’s got. He’ll sing the blues every year about how they’ll not be that strong, but they’ll always be a problem.”
Peters Township is likely labeling Canon-McMillan senior goalkeeper Kyra Murphy as an obstacle for its hopes of repeating as Section 4-AAA champion. The Duquesne recruit stifled the Indians last season in both contests. The all-section and all-WPIAL selection is back and ready to lead a Big Macs team that returns 10 starters to the pitch when they open the season Friday (3:30 p.m.) at Bethel Park.
“We’re very excited for this season and what will come of it,” Murphy said. “It feels going knowing that we only lost one or two people and not five or six. We feel that this year could be a very, very good year.”
The Big Macs still reached the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals and finished in second place behind Peters Township in the section last season with a 13-4-3 record. Despite a playoff victory and losing to only two teams last season- the Indians and Seneca Valley -Canon-McMillan struggled with consistency on offense. Seneca Valley and the Peters Township played in the WPIAL title game with the Raiders prevailing as champions.
The burden of a young C-M offense was alleviated with each save off the hands of Murphy.
“The years we’ve had a solid (goal)keeper we can rely on, we’ve done well,” Derrico said. “The girls have lot of confidence in her. She’s a great shot-stopper and she’s also an emotional leader. It’s fantastic to have her.”
A 2013 season where two underclassmen led the Big Macs’ offensive charge up front was filled with growing pains. Canon-McMillan was shut out five times last year, but Derrico is optimistic about the progression of sophomore Sabrina Bryan, who scored 16 goals, and junior Allie Thomas. It also helps having a shutdown center back like senior Abby Gillespie.
“We have lots of speed down the flanks and up top,”” Derrico said. “”Our defense is very solid and experienced. We are solid in the back and they are reliable. They don’t make too many mistakes.”
Canon-McMillan won’t be able to afford to make any defensive miscues against a Peters Township team that is similar in build. The Indians return a lot on the back end and are looking for the experience gained by upperclassmen last season to translate to another shot at the WPIAL title.
It won’t take long for both teams to know where they stand as C-M and Peters Township meet Sept. 18 on the Indians’ home turf.
The Big Macs believe the newfound depth of the program and an offense by committee could tip the scale in their favor.
“They’re always a tough opponent for us,” Murphy said. “We like the competition they bring. It’s never easy to win that game. We like it. It was a fight until the end in those games. It’s a good game for us.”