Nicholas Tolomeo | Post Gazette
The expectations are always high for the Peters Township High School girls’ soccer team as is the pressure. This year both may be cranked up even higher.
Back-to-back seasons playing the role of WPIAL runner-up will do that as will seeing the clock nearing midnight on the scholastic careers of a group of seniors who have helped bring the program the closest it’s ever been to a WPIAL title.
“It is pressure but it is what this program is about,” coach Pat Vereb said. “It is built to compete for WPIAL and state championships. If you set the bar high you are going to have disappointments but we will continue to set it that high.”
The senior class is headlined by midfielders Shelli Spamer and Dani Hume, defender Shannon O’Connor and forward Hannah Caso all of whom were starters as sophomores when the Indians reached the WPIAL and PIAA title games.
Spamer is arguably the top player in Western Pennsylvania. She scored 21 goals and added 13 assists last season. She has started since she was a freshman and Peters Township is 62-8-4 during that stretch with three PIAA playoff appearances.
Hume is a three-year starter sometimes overshadowed by Spamer but she would be a top flight midfielder on most teams in the WPIAL. O’Connor is the leader of a defense that lost two all-section players last season in Christine Aaron and Devon Burk-holder. Caso is a big-time goal scorer. She scored a goal in all six postseason games last year.
“Those four for sure bring a lot of big-game leadership,” Vereb said. “They have been through it all.”
When the four were sophomores, the playoff run they experienced was an unexpected one for a relatively young team. That helped take the sting off the silver medals the Indians took home from both title games. Last year’s loss in the WPIAL title game was a little tougher to accept. It came in a game where many thought the Indians were favored and it came in a shootout.
“When that group was sophomores, they probably overachieved,” Vereb said. “We lost to a team that was a little better than us that year. Last year we thought we played well enough to win but didn’t. We know we are very close to achieving something special.”
One of the few question marks on the team is in net where four-year starter Megan Junker graduated after last season with 55 career shutouts. Senior Brittany Hoffman could take over the position this year. She stepped in as a sophomore while Junker was injured.
A pair of up-and-coming talents will start at the top of the lineup. Sophomore forward Olivia Roberson is a returning starter.
“She certainly looks to be one of the better forwards in the WPIAL,” Vereb said.
Freshman Veronica Latsko is also expected to start, which does not surprise Vereb even at the Class AAA level.
“In my experience both at Mt. Lebanon and Peters, once they reach the high school level a lot of them are equipped with their experience from club soccer,” Vereb said. “Age is not that much of a factor in girls’ soccer compared to boys’ soccer.”
Vereb, a former coach at Mt. Lebanon, has to be interested to see his former team in the section. Mt. Lebanon returns all it starters this year and many are calling the Blue Devils the team to beat in Class AAA. And then there are the defending section champions, Bethel Park. Those two teams should deflect some of that pressure and attention from Peters Township.
Peters Township opens its season in the South Hills Classic. It will take on Penn-Trafford tomorrow at 4 p.m. and State College on Saturday at 2p.m. The regular season can sometimes become an afterthought for a perennial playoff contender such as Peters Township but Vereb hopes his team focuses on the task at hand.
“I want to make sure the hunger is still there in the regular season,” Vereb said. “You know in their mindset the real season is when you reach the postseason and play for something at the end, but you have to take the regular season seriously and that is winning the section (title) and getting better every day.
“In the mindset of the kids, they know the real prize is at the end of the season.”