On paper, there was probably little reason why the Central York girls' soccer team shouldn't have beaten Fairfield last season in the York-Adams League Tournament title game.
The match pitted one of the league's largest schools in Central York, which is Class 4-A, against the league's smallest school and only 1-A member.
Yet, in the grand scheme of the season, the size of the schools didn't matter and the favorite heading into the contest was probably Fairfield. The 1-0 Panthers' victory was the only blemish Fairfield suffered all year en route to winning the District 3 and PIAA 1-A state titles.
By capturing the league championship, Central salvaged something out of an otherwise average season. What it also showed, however, is the potential that the 2016 team had. It also raised expectations for the 2017 season.
"There was just a few changes in attitudes," senior centerback Ciera Miller said during Y-A League fall sports media day on Thursday, Aug. 3. "I think that some people started the season not really caring."
Slow start: Needing an attitude change over the course of the season was just a small part of what needed to happen for the Panthers to fulfill their potential.
Other adjustments came in tactics, which was bound to happen as the team grew comfortable with head coach Eric Webb in his first year, as well as fortune changing in the team's favor.
Up until Central made its league tournament run, it found itself on the wrong side of one-goal games more often than not. If even a few of those games go the other way, then the Panthers aren't 7-5 in York-Adams Division I and tied for third in the division, fighting and clawing just to make the eight-team league playoff field. Instead, they would've been contending for the division title, along with Northeastern and Dallastown.
"All those losses were one-goal games and most of them were right at the end of the game, too," Webb said. "So, we went from losing those games to finding a way to win in those games and that was a big difference."
Established core: This year's crop of seniors and experienced juniors want to make sure that none of the problems from last year's regular season hold the team back from reaching its potential this year.
Joining Miller as team captains this year will be senior forwards Bre Sgrignoli and Mia Balderston and junior center back and midfielder Hannah Ferguson. Together, they'll be tasked with replacing a core of graduated seniors from last year's side that included Lynsey Nicholas, Rachel Wilhelm, Lynnae Swanson and Torri Bailey.
After winning the league crown, Central York still had to pay the price for its struggles in the regular season and was given the 15th seed in the District 3 4-A tournament. That led to a quick exit in the opening round to No. 2 Central Dauphin, capping its year with a modest 11-10-1 record. That early end to the season and the idea of defending its 2016 league championship pushed the team to work harder during the offseason.
"Since it's my senior year now, I want to do better than we did last year," Sgrignoli said. "It's really a new team now and it's interesting to have new players and see how it's going to work out, so I'm excited for this season."
Confident for 2017: There's already a confidence in this year's team that the camaraderie is already better than at this point last year. On top of that, the players aren't having to adapt to a new coach and vice-versa, creating a sense that the Panthers will come out flying to begin the year.
If that's the case, then 2017 may far exceed the 2016 results. The players feel that as well.
"We want to compete for the league title and go further in districts," Sgrignoli said.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com