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Hampton boys soccer achieves goal of getting back to playoffs, looks to keep improving

| Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Many teams make the playoffs each year, but consistency is what sets apart the great programs.

The Hampton boys soccer team came into the season with a mission to reach back-to-back playoffs for the first time since the 2009 and '10 squads did it en route to WPIAL And PIAA titles.

While this group did not reach those heights, the team successfully recovered quickly enough from losing a lot of senior talent to finish third in its section (8-11, 7-5 in 1-AAA) before dropping a first-round playoff game to Belle Vernon, 4-1.

The Talbots faced tough circumstances as the planned neutral site, Ringgold, was switched because of a faculty strike. The game was rescheduled at Belle Vernon's home field, and Hampton was jumped on early.

The Leopards scored on a penalty kick in the first minute and took a 3-0 halftime lead. By the time the Talbots found their footing, it was too late.

“We came into the game prepared,” coach Matt McAwley said. “Obviously, it didn't go the way we wanted it to. But as a whole throughout the season, the team definitely came together and got better, and that's what you want.”

Senior captain Matt Trimble agreed, particularly when it came to the play of the midfield.

“Our midfield at the start of the season, I don't think we were as connected as a unit,” Trimble said. “As the season went on, we got into a better rhythm with each other. I think that helped with the growing of our team.”

The program seems to have grown in stature since McAwley took over and implemented an offseason training routine that starts in December with weightlifting and continues with practices throughout the spring.

“It helps with team chemistry and getting to know the players before the practices come along,” Trimble said. “I think Hampton is predominately a smaller team height- and weight-wise. The more practices we get in, we might not be at such a disadvantage.”

The extra work is a big reason why a player like senior forward Alex Rhea can step into the spotlight and lead the team in goals after all-section performer Cullen Green graduated. To replace four all-section performers from last season, players like senior goalie Chad Scherer and midfielder Nick Bello stepped into leadership roles on and off the field.

“There's a long stretch of time where we weren't making (playoffs),” McAwley said. “It's good to be on the other side of that, where guys are working hard not only in the two months of the season but leading up to it.

“The offseason stuff is crucial. It's not about your improvement over the course of the season. It's what you're doing in the 10 months outside of that.”

Next season, the team will face similar circumstances and need to adjust. Players like sophomore Christian Waldschmidt and junior Harper Cook will step into elevated roles.

“It's another one of those situations where you're losing five, six, seven starters and need younger guys to step up,” McAwley said. “We had plenty of opportunities for younger guys to get playing time this year and learn what varsity soccer is about, and I think they're ready to be put in those pressure situations.”

Devon Moore is a freelance writer.

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