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Reflections from Highmark Stadium

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After spending close to 20 hours Friday and Saturday at Highmark Stadium covering the WPIAL soccer championships, I figured I would offer five thoughts on this Sunday morning.

1. Peters Township goalkeeper Max O’Hare was fantastic during the Indians’ 1-0 win over Upper St. Clair Friday. Probably the best individual performance I saw in six matches.
“We couldn’t get the ball in the goal,” Upper St. Clair coach Uwe Schneider lamented.
“(O’Hare) made some really good saves,” Schneider added. “He definitely won them the game. There’s no doubt about that.
O’Hare, of course, took no credit. But he should. I remember only a year ago he was splitting time with Neil Harrison. Now, he led his team to a gigantic upset and a WPIAL title.
“This is one of the greatest feelings ever,” O’Hare said. “My senior year … it’s just finally coming together.”
Loved this quote from Indians coach Bob Dyer, who would no doubt make my top five quote machines for high school coaches of any sport: “They’re a very good team. But we played a very disciplined game.”

2. Peters Township wasn’t the only one. Shady Side Academy knocked off Greensburg Central Catholic by playing a similarly disciplined game. Right with O’Hare among the amazing things I saw.
Fran Crouse had scored 16 playoff goals, 57 for the season and 199 for her career. Shady Side dropped a fifth defender (Jackie Cepicka) and kept Crouse scoreless.
“I’m so proud of these girls,” Shady Side coach Mary Lynch said. “We came in with a game plan. We worked on changing some things this week. They did exactly what we asked them to do.”
I asked GCC coach Ashley Shasko, who was none too pleased with anything, whether it fell into the category of being extremely difficult to beat the same team three times in a season.
“Three times?” she shot back. “Try 10. We were 9-0 against them in our last nine meetings. Statistically, your chances go down every time you play somebody.
“It happens. Hope we see them again.”

3. An odd scenario marked the opening game. Veronica Latsko, who has been running around pregame these entire playoffs, was listed as a starter for the Peters Township girls. She was announced, appeared at midfield, then … not starting.
I tweeted how Latsko was back, figuring she was. Others did the same. Seneca Valley coach Dave Sylvester told his team they’d been facing Latsko, a once-in-a-generation talent in the WPIAL.
But apparently it was done solely to publicly recognize Latsko, who’s out for the year with a torn ACL. She was never actually going to start the game.

4. While I was talking to West Allegheny coach Kevin Amos following the Indians’ 1-0 win in the Class AA final, football coach Bob Palko interrupted to give Amos a hug and congratulate him.
One, it’s cool to see football coaches supporting the soccer programs. Joe Rossi did the same at South Fayette. Secondly, while this kind of thing can get annoying on deadline, Palko’s the type you don’t mind waiting for. Wish I could’ve juiced a quote out of him, though. He falls into the Dyer category of Great Talkers.
Anyway, guess the point here is that West Allegheny is really good.
I wrote about their system and what they’re able to do with teams. If this holds through the PIAA playoffs, I would imagine they would be a tough out. Very fun to watch.

5. Speaking of which, many talked about the city skyline, the beautiful facility, how awesome it was to play at Highmark.
Couldn’t agree more. It’s a gorgeous place. One coach told me it’s not even comparable to how it used to be done.
Kudos to Joe Maize and the rest of the WPIAL soccer committee, the coaches and everybody else that made this happen.
There are some logistical kinks to work out — I was initially told I couldn’t bring in a laptop, Trib and Post-Gazette freelancers both had to pay to get in, and there were only chips and pretzels to eat for two days — but the important part was this is something way cool for the kids and coaches, and that was glaringly obvious.
—Jason Mackey

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