With the core of a near-state championship team returning this year, Upper St. Clair boys’ soccer coach Uwe Schneider has an understandable amount of optimism.
But he takes nothing for granted.
“We don’t look back. What’s done is done,” he said as his players prepared for the start of the 2012 season. “We have to focus one game at a time and play to the best of our abilities.”
Those abilities translated to a 2011 WPIAL Class AAA championship and a trip to the PIAA title game, in which the Panthers lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to undefeated Conestoga, from Philadelphia’s Main Line. USC dominated in the western part of the state, though, racking up 18 straight victories on the way to a 20-2-2 overall record.
And the good news is that just five players still in the lineup at season’s end were seniors: co-captains Mike Worthy and Jesse Poljak, along with Steven Machi, Matt Kiernan and Dom Pezzone.
“We were a young team last year, and we’re still a young team this year,” said Schneider, who is entering his 10th season at USC’s helm.
He can count on goalkeeper Joe Conlon, who combined with a strong defense to lead the Panthers to 11 shutout victories during the regular season.
Also returning are this year’s co-captains, center back Wes Burdette and forward Ethan Dysert. Other seniors who will help anchor the team are midfielder Kevin Muck, outside back Jonathan Erdman and forward John Gurtunca.
The Panthers also will count on underclassmen such as midfielder Troye Kiernan, forward Joel Hart, midfielder Rob Mertz, outside back Garrett Blake and defender Hayden Bernhardt.
“They already were key players last year,” Schneider said.
Upper St. Clair went undefeated in Section 5 during 2011, including two victories over main rival Peters Township. When the two teams met in the WPIAL title game, USC won, 2-1.
The Panthers have won six WPIAL titles, one short of Peters Township’s record seven. The boys have captured two state championships, in 2003 and 2004, both teams guided by Schneider. He was named the Pennsylvania Soccer Association's AAA Boys Coach Of The Year, the most recent WPIAL coach to be so honored.
Section play for 2012 begins Sept. 4, when the Panthers host Chartiers Valley following a Sept. 1 exhibition match at Kiski Area, one of the two teams that tied USC last season.