Traveling Southmoreland boys soccer team still finding success
Brian Shaffer doesn't expect to play another soccer match at Russ Grimm Field.
At the same time, Shaffer doesn't expect the Southmoreland boys soccer team's season to come unhinged because the Scotties' home field was rendered unplayable by flood damage in late August.
“It's just something you have to deal with,” Shaffer said. “We're going to get used to it. Stuff like this happens. You have to deal with the weather.”
Southmoreland has weathered the storm, so to speak, by starting 3-2 overall, 2-1 in Section 6-AA, and getting strong goalkeeping from Shaffer, a three-year starter.
With six starters back, the Scotties have their sights set on a winning season and a trip to the playoffs after going 6-10-2 last season, only the second losing season in the past 10 years.
It's the third time Southmoreland failed to reach the postseason during the same stretch.
“Our coach (Chris Hixson) has tried to keep us motivated and keep us going,” junior midfielder Luke Zeleznik said. “I think that's helped throughout the season. As seniors, it's big for us. We're always talking about how we want to win and make this a big year.”
To keep his team on equal footing, Hixson asked Southmoreland athletic director Charlie Swink to schedule games at neutral sites, specifically Hempfield, Greensburg Salem, Belle Vernon and Laurel Highlands.
The team still practices at a local elementary school, though Hixson asked for the neutral sites because he fears the field won't hold up.
One thing that hasn't changed is how Southmoreland, which has averaged nearly 12 wins per season for the past 10 years, approaches each game.
“It's definitely different this year, having to move around a lot, but it's just something we have to deal with,” Zeleznik said. “We're going to play hard wherever we have to.”
Zeleznik has transitioned from striker back to midfield, a position he played growing up, and leads Southmoreland with six goals. Sophomore defender Cam Walter has three goals, senior midfielder Ty Kinter two.
“Luke was supposed to be a striker,” Hixson said. “It's a position he played his first three years here, but I asked him to step back into the midfield to help fill a gap. He gladly accepted that, knowing it would help us win more.”
Another one of the Scotties' midfielders who has had a large impact — literally, in this case — is senior Adam Hernley, who's 6-foot-5 and weighs 250 pounds.
“He's a monster out there, and he does his job,” Hixson said. “He's out there as a target defensively, and he's a calming factor on the team.”
Still, Southmoreland's No. 1 calming factor has been Shaffer — and not just because he posted shutouts against Uniontown, Elizabeth Forward and Brownsville.
The leadership has been evident not only in Shaffer's outstanding play — the back line of sweeper Mike Garlowich, Evan Myers, Walter and Regis Kaufman helps — but in how he has handled Southmoreland's displacement.
It's a potentially crippling move that the Scotties hope to turn into motivation for a playoff berth.
“It has forced us to play with a chip on our shoulder,” Hixson said. “I can tell, especially the seniors, that they're bummed over the situation. You want to play your final games at home, at your stadium. But they're not letting it affect their play.”