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Confident Pine-Richland looks to disrupt Seneca Valley’s bid for historical WPIAL three-peat

Photo courtesy of Jared Todhunter

Before the season began, Pine-Richland Head Coach Jordan Wiegand was a guest on the first edition of the Kids on the Pitch podcast, and we posed the question:  Can anyone knock off Seneca Valley this season?

“Anything’s possible,” Wiegand said at the time, but then turned his attention to his team, and acknowledging the rigors of playing in Class 4A.

Wiegand wasn’t as concerned about Seneca Valley getting knocked off the block at the start of the season — he was more concerned about his team finally breaking through to earn a playoff spot.  In his first three seasons at the helm, the Rams kept falling just short of the playoffs in the ultra difficult Section 1.

“I said in the beginning, it’s all about making it,” ” Wiegand said.

“And then building confidence from there.”

Not only have Wiegand’s Rams made it to the school’s first-ever appearance in the WPIAL Boys Soccer Championship game, but now they’re the last team that has a chance in the WPIAL season to defeat the Raiders and prevent a three-peat.

And they’re a confident bunch.

Seneca Valley is a massive Butler County School District which has a boys soccer program that is oozing with confidence too.

Seneca Valley can pretty much stake the claim that they now have a powerhouse program, which is on the treshold of something very special, winning three consecutive District championships in the highest classification.

This hasn’t happened in the modern era of WPIAL boys soccer.  You have to go back to 1971, when Springdale capped off four straight, and seven in eight years.

That was a much, much different time.

In 2022, winning at the highest level of high school soccer requires a deep roster and a talented player pool.  It also helps that they have one of the most longest tenured, and most successful coaches in WPIAL soccer history, George Williams.

Since finally winning an elusive title in 2018, it seems as if Seneca Valley has been an unstoppable force. Williams has won more than 340 games in his career, and that number keeps going up and up.

They haven’t lost a WPIAL match since September 2020, and with a win on Saturday, they’ll capture their fourth title in five years.

When asked about what makes Seneca Valley so good,

Wiegand said that they’re fast at every position and play at a breakneck pace that’s difficult for many teams to contend with in the run of play.

When they get on the big stage of the WPIAL Finals, they seem to take things up an extra notch.

In 2019, they barraged Norwin, with three early first half goals, that broke the game wide open.  In 2020, they duked it out with a very physical and experienced Peters Township side, in a 4-3 back-and-forth match that went to extra time.

Last season, they once again proved to be too much for Peters, winning, 3-1, in a match where they stayed on the front foot from the start.

If you’re counting, that’s three WPIAL championship games and 12 goals scored.

In their first meeting this season, Pine-Richland stayed with Seneca Valley, but eventually fell, 3-2, in overtime.  The second time around though, the Raiders really got the best of the Rams, surging to a 5-0 victory.

How do you beat a team capable of rolling 18 to 20 players in and out of the rotation and stay at a high level for 80 minutes?

“Slow them down,” Wiegand said.

“Seneca is so fast every position. They can get to point A to point B faster than any team I’ve ever seen.”

Williams certainly practices what he preaches, as he also is an art teacher in the Seneca Valley School District, who’s become something of an expert on Speed Painting.

Just like when he’s speed painting, Williams’ Seneca Valley team can make something happen in the blink of an eye.

“(I’ll) give Seneca all the respect in the world. They’re a phenomenal team.  They’ve been a powerhouse the last four year. They have talent at every level,” Wiegand said, then added that it helps to know what to expect when playing them, as the Rams shouldn’t be blindsided the third time around.

“It’s kind of nice. They’re a familiar opponent.  They’re familiar with us too.”

Many of the players, who don’t live too far from each other in the areas hugging the Allegheny and Beaver County borders, know each other all too well, having played against each other for years, going back to youth soccer days.

The big name players that Pine-Richland will have to contend with, include Beau Lizewski, who was the hero of the 2020 classic shootout between SV and Peters Township. Lizewski and Connor Oros were Seneca’s two players named to the all-State team this week.

In their 3-2 semifinal win, Lizewski, Max Marcotte and Will Bruno each scored, to give the Raiders a 3-0 advantage by the 65th minute.

Fox Chapel battled back and found some chinks in the Raiders armor, but it was too little, too late.

The Raiders aren’t completely invinceable when it comes to stopping teams, as they’ve allowed 11 goals this season, but that may be because they don’t have any intention of slowing down and throwing numbers forward.

The Rams, which have a group of seniors that have been together since Wiegand arrived on the scene a few years back, rely on a multitude of players to contribute. They had four different goal scorers in the first two games of the playoffs. Colin Zvejnieks found the net against Butler and Ethan Wygant, Nathan Bang and Sam Engel were goal scorers in the win against Norwin.

“We have to find moments. Make it more challenging for them,” Wiegand added.

Knowing what this stage is like, having led both North Catholic and Deer Lakes programs to WPIAL and PIAA finals previously, Wiegand believes this Pine-Richland team is well-equipped to handle the pressure.

“And, of course, (we have to) weather the storm at times. They may have barrage of shots in two minutes.  We’ll have to maintain our composure.”

Having won six of their last seven games, giving up a total of four goals during that stretch, the Rams have the most important ingredients late in the season: belief and confidence.

Pine-Richland are the last team in the way of denying Seneca’s place in history. If they can slow the game down enough and withstand Seneca’s moments of pressure, and hang around in this match, they’ll have a fighter’s chance to end a weekend full of great soccer action with a bang.

5:45 p.m. Boys 4A Final: Pine-Richland (13-4-2) vs Seneca Valley (17-0-1)

#1 Seneca Valley

Head Coach – George Williams


How they got here: 

Regular season:  Section 1 Champions (11-0-1 in section play)

WPIAL Playoffs:  defeated No. 8 Upper St. Clair, 4-0, and No. 4 Fox Chapel, 3-2.

#6 Pine-Richland 

Head Coach – Jordan Wiegand


How they got here: 

Regular season: Section 2 third place (behind Seneca Valley and Fox Chapel)

WPIAL Playoffs: defeated No. 3 Norwin, 3-1, and No. 7 Butler, 1-0.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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