The state playoffs have arrived for four Centre County teams, with PIAA openers set for Tuesday night.
For two teams, it’s a familiar situation — and even a familiar opponent for one. Meanwhile, it will be a completely new experience for the Bald Eagle Area boys’ soccer team.
The Eagles are in the state bracket for the first time in the program’s 17-year history.
“I told the boys, ‘This could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. There are no guarantees you get back here,’ ” said coach Jason Bair, who has guided the program for all 17 years.
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The Eagles will meet Quaker Valley in Class AA at Hampton High School near Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, three State College teams are in action. The boys’ soccer team battles Seneca Valley at Hollidaysburg’s Tiger Stadium, the field hockey team meets Unionville at Bald Eagle Area’s Alumni Stadium and the girls’ volleyball team will face Hempfield at Central Cambria High School.
Boys’ soccer: BEA vs. Quaker Valley
The pedigrees of the two teams could not be more different for the 7:30 p.m. game at Hampton High School’s Fridley Field.
The Eagles (14-5-2) are making the first venture into PIAA play ever, elated just to be there after finishing as the District 6 runner-up. The Quakers (17-4-1) boast six PIAA titles, four more trips to the finals and five national high school All-Americans in their history.
“We have zero experience going into the state tournament,” Bair said. “I’m not saying we feel like an underdog, but we definitely have to respect the other team. We don’t have that much research on the other team and the WPIAL is not something you blow off. Those are good teams there.”
Despite a three-hour bus ride just to get there, and an opponent that just won the District 7 title, Bair doesn’t plan on letting his boys flinch when they step onto the field.
One thing Bair does plan to do with his team is focus on the defense in the first half, to take a measure of the Quakers, and try to adjust at halftime.
“If we don’t, and we get behind really quickly, that’s going to be hard to fight out of,” Bair said. “I would rather keep it as close as we possibly can in the first and weigh our options and see what we have to do in the second.”
No matter what, it will be a historic moment in Eagles soccer.
“It’s going to be fun and exciting and a moment these guys are going to remember for the rest of their lives,” Bair said. “I keep telling them, ‘You are one of 16 teams left in the State of Pennsylvania in (Class) AA.’ How neat is that? Nobody can ever take that away.”
Boys’ soccer: State College vs. Seneca Valley
In stark contrast to BEA’s inexperience and lack of knowledge of its opponent, the Little Lions are very familiar with the Indians.
Seneca Valley beat State College 5-1 in last year’s first round.
The Indians (18-1-1) were cruising through this season, undefeated until falling to North Allegheny in the District 7 final last weekend.
“We know it’s going to be a big challenge for us,” State College coach Danny Orton said of a team that advanced all the way to the PIAA finals last fall.
Orton’s team survived a difficult, and balanced, Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth Division to prepare them for this point in the season. Of the team’s six losses, five were 1-0 scores and the other was a 2-0 loss to Cumberland Valley.
“It’s the reason we feel good about these games,” Orton said. “... Every game is a challenge (in the Mid Penn) for the players to know they have to be mentally ready and physically ready and tactically ready and not to have a letdown.”
Battle-tested with a balanced scoring attack, Orton and the Little Lions feel they can beat the Indians when they kick off at 7:30 p.m.
“The formation and work rate we’ve had this year, we’ve been in every single tough match,” Orton said. “We know we can compete, we have a formation to know we are strong right through the middle of the team and it’s worked well for us in every single game.”
Field hockey: State College vs. Unionville
While the Lady Little Lions (14-6) have been a frequent PIAA entrant in the past, this is their first appearance since 2012, earning their spot with a 2-0 win over Lackawanna Trail last week in a subregional.
State College enters the tournament on a decent roll for the 6:30 p.m. game, winning four straight and 10 of its past 12 on its way to tying Central Dauphin for the Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth Division title.
Unionville will be a serious test to extend that streak.
The Indians (20-2) were the top seed in the District 1 tournament, falling in the semifinals before winning a consolation game. The only other loss came against Villa Maria.
They also have been rolling offensively, outscoring opponents 106-29 and scoring five or more goals in 11 of their 22 games.
Girls’ volleyball: State College vs. Hempfield
The good news for the Lady Little Lions, who are in the PIAA tournament for a sixth straight year? They do not have to go through North Allegheny this season. The Tigers ousted State College each of the past five tournaments.
Coach Chad Weight is not as familiar with the Spartans, the third-place team from District 7, but his focus is more on his side of the net, worrying about how his team plays than who they play.
“They just need to play within themselves,” said Weight. “I’m comfortable if they play free, loose. I’m not as concerned, no matter who the opponent is, with the opponent as I am with us. If we play well, I’m OK with that.”
While Weight’s team in recent seasons has had a number of go-to players, this bunch is scrappier, reliant on each other and not waiting for one player to take over a match.
“This team has very good chemistry,” Weight said. “They play for each other. They’re not as concerned about themselves as they are the people on the floor with them. That’s what’s made us what we are today, what’s gotten us to this point.”
The match is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. at Central Cambria, but it is the third match of the day set for that gymnasium.
Class AAA: State College vs. Unionville, 6:30 p.m. at Bald Eagle Area HS
Class AAAA: State College vs. Hempfield, 8 p.m. at Central Cambria HS
Class AA: Bald Eagle Area vs. Quaker Valley, 7:30 p.m. at Hampton HS
Class AAAA: State College vs. Seneca Valley, 7:30 p.m. at Hollidaysburg HS