Watching the two-time defending Class A state champions butting heads with one of the more successful District 4 Class AA programs in the postseason this year should bring added excitement to the upcoming girls soccer season.
For the past two seasons, Warrior Run has been the best class A team in the state, winning consecutive state titles, while boasting one of the youngest lineups in the area.
This year is going to be a different challenge for the Defenders as they prepare to enter the AA field in hopes of gaining the school's third title in as many years.
Standing in front of the Defenders will be a completely different field.
Along with an influx of the state's spring soccer teams, Warrior Run will face a District 4 bracket featuring the likes of Montoursville, Lewisburg and Midd-West.
"We are excited about moving up to AA. It has given us a few new opponents in the regular season for non-league games," Warrior Run coach Jen Allen said. "In reality, though, the girls don't look at classifications. They show up to play soccer and to be successful on the field. It doesn't matter who the opponent is."
In years past, Warrior Run seemed destined to meet Loyalsock in the postseason, playing twice in the District 4 championship and twice in the PIAA Class A Eastern semifinals.
In both instances, Warrior Run failed to win the district championship, but later took the big prize by winning the state championship.
As upsetting as it is losing one the better postseason rivalries in the area, it's comforting thinking about the prospect of watching Warrior Run create new rivalries.
Montoursville could be the one team to fill the void.
The two teams met in the first game of the season in 2011 as part of Montoursville's annual Stanely E. Burke Jr. Memorial Tournament. Warrior Run jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but eventually lost after two unanswered goals in the second half gave Montoursville the 2-1 win. Montoursville also notched a 3-0 win over Loyalsock later in the season.
Montoursville plays will the mentality of its head coach, Erin Bennett, who believes in preparation and conditioning.
Lana Spitler will surely be expected to lead the offensive attack, but will have plenty of help with HAC-II second-team selections, McKenzie Ruffing and Carly Mill. Both proved their value in last year's postseason, scoring a goal each in Montoursville's 3-0 win over Lewisburg in the District 4 AA tournament.
The youth and experience doesn't stop there for the Warriors. Kirsten O'Malley, in her first season with the team, made it difficult for Bennett to substitue her as she continued to get better with each game. O'Malley was especially strong in the team's 2-1 win over Scranton Prep in the opening round of the PIAA AA Championships.
With talent all over the field it's sometimes too easy to forget players like Tayler Eshbach and Alley Yocum. Eshbach was a consistent scoring threat last year, punching in a goal against division rival Milton in a 4-0 win. Yocum, on the other hand, looks to be the replacement for longtime keeper, Audra Larson.
Larson's skill, though, will be hard to replicate, but Yocum has spent the last three years as Larson's understudy.
The other squad posing a potential threat to Warrior Run's postseason plans is Lewisburg, which finished 7-7, and just missed the postseason tournament.
The Green Dragons were young and inexperienced last season, but still managed to push Montoursville in two regular-season contests. The youth and inexperience should wash away under longtime coach, Jose Vega, who coached his team to noticeable improvement in the last few weeks of the season.
Lewisburg's Jaclyn Fisher and Lauren Gargano were first-team HAC-I all-stars last year and Seinna Fisher and Emily Cole were named tot he second team.
The other AA team from the area, Milton, could be a tough read until it plays some games.
The Black Panthers won five games last year and missed the postseason.
Despite losing several key players, Warrior Run does return plenty of talent, including its two leading attackers - Taylor Landis and Jordyn Johnson. Laura Bastian returns in the backline and Emily Potter, who scored the game-tying goal against Loyalsock in the PIAA Class A semifinals, will lead a strong group of midfielders with Chloe Eisenhuth and Sarah Grow providing support.
"We have a ton of returning experience this season. However, the freshman class has stepped in and made the transition nicely to the high school team," Allen said. "They have worked hard in the offseason and we are all excited for our first game."
The Defenders, for the second consecutive year, will have the field chasing them. A task they've proved capable of handling.
"Our main goal is to show character in whatever we do, on and off the field," Allen said. "In the soccer aspect we are going to take it game by game and do our best to be successful on the field."
Warrior Run's promotion also means the Class A field will be in search of an equally talented team to oppose Loyalsock. And the field boast plenty of talented, but young, teams to fill the void.
Loyalsock will have to overcome the loss of Cassaundra Soars, one of the area's top forwards and goals scorers. Although the loss will be devastating from a production standpoint, it's not like the team is completely void of talent.
The Lancers still have goalkeeper Amanda Daneker, their top corner and set piece taker in Asia Ungard and the promising talent of junior midfielders Allie Pagana and Morgan Chambers.
"Having Daneker back for one more season is great," Loyalsock coach Ben Comfort said. "She is one of the best keepers in the area and she will make some big saves throughout the season."
Chambers, who tallied two goals in Loyalsock's 2-0 PIAA quarterfinal win over Mount Carmel, should move into more of an attacking role for the Lancers. She led an offensive attack for the Lancers, who were without Soars for most of the postseason after a knee injury sidelined her. Chambers posted three goals in three games, including a game-winner in the Lancers, 2-0, quarterfinal win over Mount Carmel.
Cassaundra's sister, Alonna, showed a lot of potential with the team last season and should continue to blossom into an effective weapon.
"Morgan will continue to play in the center midfield role she played in last year. That is where she is most dominant and she controls the play, both defensively and offensively, better than anyone I have ever coached. She is going to create a lot of opportunities to score for our team with her great vision of the field and play making ability," Comfort said. "Allie Pagana, Alonna Soars, and Angie Cardillo will share time playing the forward role for us this season."
The Lancers also benefit from the free kick abilities of Ungard, who enters her final season with the team.
"Ungard's free kicks will be heavily utilized to create scoring opportunities," Comfort said. "They are dangerous and hard to defend and the team should score some goals off of those kicks this season."
Loyalsock and Warrior Run's dominance in the HAC-II will be tested by the Southern Columbia and Mount Carmel. Both teams proved to be worthy opponents last year, with Mount Carmel earning the third seed from District 4. And Mt. Carmel made the most of the seed, throttling Lancaster Country Day, 5-0, before falling to Loyalsock in the PIAA quarterfinals, 2-0.
Despite losing one of the area's top coaches in Tracy Knoebel, South Williamsport's youth, with a season of district postseason qualification under their caps, should mature into a competitive group.
The turning point last season came in a 4-3 win over league foe Muncy. After going down 2-0 early in the match, the young Mounties displayed some grit, surging to tie the game at halftime and later overcoming a 3-3 equalizer to win.
The strength of the Mounties team lies with its defense, which carries HAC-III second-team all-star Melissa Flook.
Morgan Bower, who started last season at goalkeeper as a freshman, proved to be a quick learner. Bower provides the team with experience should the defense fail to contain the opposition's attack.
Hughesville, a young team with one senior, is hoping to gain experience and mature quickly in the early parts of the season.
"Knowing that if we meet those goals, things like success in districts and states will come," Hughesville coach Murray Hanford said. "We emphasize control and possession, hitting your targets when passing, communicating, transition quickly and moving without the ball. With these specific goals they are measurable immediately, and will result in us meeting the larger goals for districts and states."
Finally the biggest change in area girls soccer has to be J. Scott McNeill departing from the South Williamsport boys program to replace longtime Williamsport coach Marc Lovecchio.
McNeill, last season's Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association Class A coach of the year, will have his work cut out for him as he attempts to reverse the fortunes of a team that has posted nine wins in four seasons.
"We want to improve the record from the last four years," McNeill said. "We can make districts. We need to get five or six wins."
Also standing in Williamsport's way is the influx of new spring soccer teams.
Cumberland Valley highlights that group after winning the state's final spring season state title and finishing second the year prior.
Although Williamsport is facing an uphill challenge, and the presence of a new coach, McNeill said the players have responded to the offseason workouts.
"We want to process, attack and pressure," McNeill said. "It's a new system for the girls, but they have responded to it. There are also some freshmen that are going to play right away."