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Young Hempfield girls soccer team has high expectations

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, 8:58 p.m.
Hempfield Area's Chelsea Burkhart and Norwin's Rachel DelleFemine fight for control of the ball during a game in North Huntingdon on September 12, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Hempfield Area's Chloe Heaps and Norwin's Diana Wagner fight for control of the ball during a game in North Huntingdon on September 12, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Hempfield Area's Savannah Stone moves the ball upfield during a game in North Huntingdon on September 12, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

The Senior Day ceremonies for the Hempfield girls soccer team next month won't be lengthy.

It more aptly could be called Katie McClelland Day because the defender is the Spartans' only 12th grader on the roster.

“I think I would use the word challenging because when you're a senior, you have a lot of different things you have to do,” said McClelland, who is being recruited by Division II and Division III colleges. “You design all the t-shirts, do all the tapes. Normally there's more of you to do it, but I'm the only one this year. It's definitely challenging because it's never happened before, but I love to help out all the younger girls.”

There's no shortage of underclassmen for McClelland to mentor on a Hempfield team that improved to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in Section 1-AAA with a 2-0 win over Kiski Area on Monday.

The Spartans are short on seniors, but that doesn't mean they don't have an abundance of experience. Seven starters returned from last season's team that qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.

“With this team, I feel we have the best chance to win of any since I've been in high school,” McClelland said.

More than half the roster is freshmen or sophomores, and roughly half of Hempfield's major contributors are in their first or second year of varsity soccer.

That includes three starting freshmen — center midfielder Kiersten Bradnam, outside midfielder Gabby Lonzo and forward Mya Hilliard.

“For them, it's been a big adjustment going from middle school to high school, but the last couple games, you can already tell how they're adjusting,” McClelland said. “I think by the end of the season, they'll be more used to it and used to playing together. We needed them to step in, and we've been pleased, all around, with how they've played.”

Joining McClelland as Hempfield's captains — and leaders — are junior defenders Megan Boyle and Chloe Heaps. Other returning standouts include sophomores Chelsea Burkhart and Keirsten VanHorn. Burkhart is a center midfielder and VanHorn a central defender.

Sophomore outside midfielder Savannah Stone and junior goalie Olivia Haile also were starters last season.

“This team is closer than what I've had in the past,” said Hempfield coach Krissy Edmonds, who is in her ninth season. “They all get along, and they all have the same style of play — all possession. They want to possess it, they want the ball, and they have confidence on the ball. So a lot of the cohesiveness with the team, even with the freshmen coming in, comes from the fact they all know each other and they all embrace our ball-possession style.”

Hempfield will need to play its preferred aggressive, high-pressure, keep-away scheme against the top teams in its section, 1-AAA. Penn-Trafford and Norwin are perennially powerful and finished ahead of the Spartans in the standings last season. Reigning Section 3-AAA champion Franklin Regional was moved into the section, too.

“We definitely want to continue our streak of making the playoffs. We know it's going to be a lot tougher this year,” said Edmonds, “but we're definitely keeping that goal.”

Regardless of what happens this season, even better things are on the way for Hempfield. Next season, all but one starter will be back and six players figure to be heading into at least their third year of starting.

“Next year might be the best year they've had,” McClelland said.

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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