Seneca Valley (PA) Looks to Move Championship West

By Jimmy Oliver

The first year of the true Pennsylvania state championship game was 2000. Every year since, an eastern team has won the title. Now, it seems that the gap is closing between the East and the rest of the Keystone state.

Building off a successful 2008 campaign, the Seneca Valley Raiders and head coach Peter Hoffman don't see a gap but an opportunity. And how could they not? Last season, the Raiders were 14-6, ending the season with a 9-8 loss to state semifinalist Mount Lebanon. While the ending was disappointing, there was a solid foundation built for 2009.

There has been a fair amount of success while the program has grown. The Raiders have gone 81-53 in the seven years since the program started. In that time span, only two seasons have been without double-digit wins. As the victories mounted, so did the level of play. And with that came solid players.

The Seneca Valley program has a slew of returning stars to pace them this season. On attack, seniors Colin O'Donoghue (Wingate) and Jason Handerhan are joined by junior Jake McAndrew. That group combined for 90 goals in 2008. But depth is the key word that will make the rest of the WPIAL and Pennsylvania shake. Not only do they have three seniors at the midfield to take control--Tom Communale, Tyler Bond and Brent Rotz (Mercyhurst)--they have another two lines to fire out at opponents. This will make them very dangerous as the season grows.

While midfield depth is important, defense is more crucial. Seneca Valley was 12-1 last year when holding opponents to just six goals per game. This year, the Raiders are allowing just more than seven goals per game. As the season goes on and the defense gets more comfortable, look for that number to drop.

The defense will be anchored by the solid goaltending the Raiders have. Hoffman need not worry, as he has two strong goalkeepers competing every day. Both Andy Branscum and Brian Bohn are solid in the cage, and Hoffman will have a tough time making his selection each game.

Seneca Valley is not shying away from competition. While the Raiders look to improve every day, the schedule does not get any easier. They travel to Maryland to take on Leonardtown and Walkersville, which will be a big test. They then return home to take on two typically tough western opponents in Shady Side Academy and Sewickley Academy. Then, throw in the always-tough Western Reserve Academy for good measure, and the Raiders will be well-tested going into the playoffs.

The 2009 season marks the first time a PIAA champion will be crowned for boys' lacrosse. In 2009, the Seneca Valley Raiders are making a push to be that team. They're ranked No. 1 in western Pennsylvania for a reason.


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