The WPIAL champion Upper St. Clair girls soccer team graduated 14 seniors.
But head coach David Gray looks for his returning players to step up and fill their shoes admirably.
“They’ve been waiting to get their chance, and we expect them to take the opportunity and go after it," he said.
The Panthers, coming off a 14-2-1 regular season in 2011, welcome back all-state forward Carley Bogan. As a junior, she led the team in goals with 16.
“We're excited to have Carley back this year,” Gray said. “She’s a big-time goal scorer, and she can really dictate the pace of the game.”
Also returning is goalkeeper Jocelyn Alfera, who was especially stingy in the net during the regular season: USC allowed only eight goals. She also was a key in the Panthers’ run through the playoffs, her coach said.
“In some of those games we came out of the gate slow, and Jocey was huge for us to keep us in those games. She was there every time.”
Upper St. Clair defeated Peters Township, 3-2, in the WPIAL championship game, then took down Penn-Trafford and North Allegheny in the PIAA playoffs before coming up against Peters again. The eventual state champs scored a measure of revenge with a 1-0 victory.
“We just couldn't get a ball to fall there in the state semifinals,” Gray recalled. “They’re a very well-coached, well-organized team.”
The Panthers and Indians square off against each other in WPIAL Section 5 once more this season.
"We're extremely excited to have Peters Township back in our conference,” Gray said. “It's a bitter rivalry that goes back about 10 years, when I took over, around time Peters became major player.”
Another section rival, Canon-McMillan, took Upper St. Clair into overtime twice last season.
This year, Gray also looks for plenty of contribution from the likes of Sammi Witsberger, who was fourth on team with six goals in 2011, and Olivia Belack, who scored three times. Central midfielder Ellie DiNardo, who scored a key goal in the Penn-Trafford playoff game, also returns.
“She's our anchor,” her coach said. “A good chunk of the offense will come through Ellie. We think she's really gong to step up.”
Senior Ellie Blake seems to be fully recovered from a knee injury that cost her most of last season.
"The seniors as a whole this year are going to be huge,” said Gray. “From a leadership standpoint, this is one of best groups we’ve ever had."
Among the underclassmen, sophomore Sammi Lackner looks to build on the substantial playing time she logged as a ninth-grader.
USC has exhibition games against two solid North Hills area soccer schools: at Pine-Richland on Aug. 22 and hosting Seneca Valley on Aug. 28. The regular season opens Sept. 1 against Mt. Lebanon, and section play starts Sept. 12 vs. Canon-McMillan.
The first rematch with Peters Township is Sept. 24.