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South Fayette boys soccer established among WPIAL’s best

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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
South Fayette's Nick McKee battles Montour's Luc Nolder for a header during their game Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, in Robinson. South Fayette won, 3-2, on a header by McKee.

The South Fayette boys soccer team has come a long way in the last four seasons.

When the current crop of senior Lions were freshmen, South Fayette finished 3-12-1 overall with a 2-8 record in Section 5-AA, good for fifth out of six teams.

In the three seasons since, the Lions have a combined record of 49-15-4, and have lost just five regular-season section games.

While the seniors recognize all they’ve been able to accomplish in their time on the field, it’s also hard not to think about what could have been, senior midfielder Nick McKee said.

“I love this senior class,” he said. “It shows how hard we’ve worked from freshman year being (3-12-1). You look back on it and realize how good we were and how close we were, and you’re proud of that. But at the same time, you realize you missed out on a championship.”

This season South Fayette was eliminated in the semifinals of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs by South Park — the eventual champion — a year after losing to section rival West Allegheny in the WPIAL championship and two years removed from another WPIAL semi-final exit.

But by reaching the semifinals, the Lions got a chance at redemption and advanced to the PIAA playoffs. They eventually lost in the semifinals to Lancaster Mennonite, 2-1 in overtime, but a 1-0 win over West Allegheny in the quarterfinals left the Lions as the last WPIAL team standing.

“It’s nice having the state playoffs,” McKee said. “We definitely were disappointed with the WPIAL playoffs. We had a championship or bust attitude after losing there last year, but we lost to a great team in South Park.”

The members of the team took the elimination from the state playoffs equally as hard as the WPIAL playoffs, but Eldridge wanted his players to hold their heads high, knowing they had a good season.

“The day or two after the last game, you go through that reflective process, and I think that eats at all the boys, the staff included,” Eldridge said. “But at the end of the day, we’re proud of our accomplishment.”

Before the season, Eldridge said that it was his goal to prove that South Fayette is a program that will contend year after year for the WPIAL title. In the last three years, no player contributed more to that goal than McKee, a three-year captain.

McKee is the only player in Eldridge’s coaching history that he has appointed captain as a sophomore, Eldridge said.

“My captains have to possess strong leadership skills, and I would describe Nick as being a gifted leader,” Eldridge said. “He’s obviously going to leave a huge opening in terms of the leadership vacuum that’s going to be presented to our returning players.”

Plenty of outsiders took notice of McKee’s importance as well, as he was named to the All-Section, All-WPIAL and All-State teams this season.

With McKee moving on, Eldridge expects some of his juniors, like defenders Mitch Ford and Priamo Pershietti and center midfielder Zack Ali, to take up the mantle of leadership, both on and off the field.

McKee also expressed confidence in his team’s ability to continue what his class started four years ago.

“I think South Fayette will have a strong team next year and in the future,” McKee said. “Coach has built a great program here, and now there’s an expectation to win.”

And yet, a difference remains among the team’s observers between that expectation to win and a demand for championships.

Since the end of the season, colleagues and other members of the community have sent Eldridge nothing but congratulations recognizing the fact that the program has reached at least the WPIAL semifinals each of the last three years, he said.

“When you think of South Fayette, it used to be that you’ve got to be prepared, because they’re a tough team and will give you a good game,” Eldridge said. “Now, I think we’re mentioned along with these programs like South Park, Quaker Valley and West Allegheny that are yearly contenders.”

South Fayette was one of three WPIAL semifinalists from Section 5, along with West Allegheny and Quaker Valley.

Reaching the playoffs is an even more difficult task when competing in Section 5, but those challenges have helped the Lions find success once the postseason begins, McKee said.

“Section 5 has been proven to be the best section in Class AA, and I dont even think it’s close, with (South Fayette), Quaker Valley, West Allegheny, Montour and even Obama,” McKee said. “I would prefer to be in that section than another one where you go undefeated and crush all your competition but don’t learn how to play a full 80 minutes.”

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @GHorvath_Trib.

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