Eleanor Bailey | The Almanac
With age comes wisdom. Just ask Pat Vereb.
For after 20 years as the helm, the Peters Township girls’ varsity soccer coach has discovered the significance of November. The month starts with the WPIAL championships and culminates the Saturday before Thanksgiving with the PIAA finals in Hershey.
“As I get older, all that matters is the last two weeks of the season,” Vereb said. “You want to be peaking and be a cohesive group at the end of the year.”
That makes all the difference as Vereb readies for the 2017 campaign. His approach is to prepare the Indians for the postseason because “only the playoff season really matters.”
“It’s not about the record,” Vereb said. “I have had teams that won the section and were good teams and didn’t go beyond the first round of the playoffs and then I have had teams that finished third in the division and just barely made the playoffs and would go all the way and win state championships.”
Last autumn, because of injuries, the Indians didn’t go that far. They finished tied for third place in Section 2 of Quad-A with Mt. Lebanon. Both posted 5-4-1 records in a league dominated by Canon-McMillan, which won the PIAA title after finishing runner-up to Norwin in the district. Overall, the Indians compiled a 10-6-3 record after falling to Seneca Valley, 3-2, in the first round of the WPIAL tournament.
In 2017, however, expectations are high for the Indians. Though they are short young in years, they are long on experience. While Peters will start only two field players that are seniors, the underclassmen in the other positions have plenty of previous playing time.
“A lot of the girls currently had to be starters because they were starters at the end of the season because of injuries,” noted Vereb.
Up front, Peters returns its fire power. Sophomore Hannah Struck led the team with 16 goals and six assists last season followed by junior Regan LaVigna, who tallied 12 goals and eight assists. Senior Breeanne Latsko also rejoins the pair on the forward line.
“They represent the majority of our goal scoring,” Vereb said. “We expect them to be our leaders and key contributors.”
Senior Caitlin Ulrich and junior Natalie Daube anchor the midfield while the defense features a blend of skilled and experienced underclassmen, too. Payton Fremer and Jaclyn Vulcano are the juniors while Mia Gentile, Kaila McFerran and Rachel Raber are the sophomores.
From the midfield back, Peters excelled in its first scrimmage of the season. The Indians tied powerhouse Erie McDowell, 1-1.
“We did very, very well,” Vereb said. “Our chemistry is very, very good.
“We are young, age-wise, but experienced regarding playing time. We have a lot of girls who have played and contributed last year whereas last year we were old but inexperienced.”
And, heading into their season opener at 4 p.m. Sept. 1 against Mercyhurst Prep in the South Hills Classic at Century United Field in South Park, the Indians are injury free.
“We are healthy,” Vereb said. “That’s a good thing because last year, we had several key injuries that set us back a bit.”
Although the Indians will be green in goal, they anticipate the strong defense in front of them will give them added strength as a club.
“Our strengths look to be team speed and fitness,” Vereb said. “We are also experienced in the back.”
That experience will help the Indians as they test their talented keepers. A junior, Katie Wockley is “quick and experienced,” said Vereb. A freshman, Emma Sawich is “athletic and strong in the air,” he said.
Vereb also added that he had no qualms about starting a freshman in the nets, noting Veronica Latsko as a prime example. She started as a freshman and led the Indians to three state championships while garnering All-America laurels before moving on to the University of Virginia.
“Physically and maturity wise, they are ready to go, the freshmen are ready to play the game,” Vereb said.
The Indians, also, are ready to go against the stiffest competition in the state as their section has produced five of the last seven PIAA champions. After the Indians’ three-year run from 2010-12, Upper St. Clair and Canon-McMillan won titles in 2015 and 2016.
“Somebody from our section has been in the PIAA championships (since 2010) so obviously it’s the toughest section in all of the WPIAL. It’s a section where there are no free wins, no easy matches and you realize that you will not go undefeated. It’s brutal.
“You can’t have injuries, particularly like we had last year,” Vereb continued. “Any injury in high school, that’s two weeks and usually means at least six games. So the key concern is depth.”
While the Indians only have two seniors on the roster, they boast 11 freshmen to complement the seasoned juniors, which also include Lindsay Bedillion and McKenna Moser, and sophomores, which also include McKenzie Beltz, Nicolette Gill, Kaila McFerran, Lauren Michalski, Hannah Pierosh, Chloe Trapanotto and Dana Will.
In addition to Sawich, the freshmen class features the following field players: Peyton Ancosky, Madison Bush, Emma Cantwell, Katie Ehland, Alyssa Gaefke, Sarah Heisinger, Abigail Opferman, Haley Pandelos, Taylor Sarniak and Audrey Zierden.