Craig Meyer | Post Gazette

Coaches talk often about the difficulty of winning a championship, regardless of the sport. It takes a certain level of work, dedication, tenacity and an assortment of buzzwords to end a season as the unquestioned best. But what’s even harder than winning that first championship? As the same coaches would tell you, it’s winning it again the following year.

It’s a challenge that the Peters Township boys soccer team will have to face in 2014. Given what the Indians have, they appear to be up to the task, starting this season as the Post-Gazette’s top-ranked team in Class AAA.

Last season, they finished 18-4-2 and defeated Upper St. Clair for the WPIAL championship, giving them their third title in the past six years. From there, they advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals before bowing out to the same Panthers team they defeated for the WPIAL crown.

Eight of Peters Township’s 11 starters are back, a group led by its top two offensive players in Nicco and Mario Mastrangelo. The twins, both seniors, combined for 37 goals last season, 20 of which came from Nicco.

That veteran presence extends beyond the Mastrangelos. A productive midfield of seniors Rylen Faloni, Ryan Ponchione and Dylan Weyers returns intact.

A potential area of concern, though, could emerge in goal. The path to the WPIAL championship last year was more than partially paved by goalkeeper Max O’Hare, who didn’t allow a goal in the WPIAL playoffs. O’Hare, however, has graduated, leaving a sizable void.

Peters Township won’t be the only district high school looking to defend a championship. No. 2 Upper St. Clair is coming off its second consecutive PIAA Class AAA title, a run that included a 3-0 steamrolling of the Indians in the PIAA quarterfinals.

If the Panthers hope to make it to their fourth state championship game in a row, they will have to do so with a new coach. Uwe Schneider, who has four PIAA championships to his credit in 10 years as coach, broke his legs this offseason after falling two stories while hanging shutters on his home, an injury that forced him to sit out this season. In Schneider’s absence, Mike Blatz will take over a talented, albeit slightly inexperienced team that features the likes of all-state midfielder Robbie Mertz, as well as defenders Doug Hapeman and Garrett Blake.

Even with strong returning contributors, Upper St. Clair will have to try to make up for the loss of Troye Kiernan (19 goals) and Joel Hart (37 goals).

Rounding out the projected top trio of contenders in the class is No. 3 Canon-McMillan, which returns seven starters from a team that finished 17-4-2. Among the notable returnees are forward/midfielder Josh Kruczek, a Lafayette signee who scored 20 goals last season, and goalkeeper Christian Snatchko, who recorded 13 shutouts in 2013.