Hempfield boys soccer rides winning streak toward possible playoff berth
The Hempfield boys soccer team is showing how much heart it has during a recent winning streak.
A player who hasn't even been able to play in any of those games is a big reason why.
The Spartans improved to 9-4-1 overall and 6-3 in Section 1-AAA play by winning four consecutive heading into this week's games. In two of those victories, Hempfield overcame early 2-0 deficits.
Midfielder Josh Nagy played a crucial role — even though he didn't score a goal, make a pass or guard an opponent in any of those wins. A senior midfielder and a team leader, Nagy sustained a broken leg during a game last month.
“We're always looking to him for inspiration because we like to play in honor of him,” senior defender Brendan Stack said.
“He was the team jokester, and he always brought a lighter mood to the locker room. He helped cheer everyone up, even if we were having a tough day. Ever since he's been hurt, he's been there the whole time cheering us on.”
Nagy's plight is only a part of the intangibles for a Hempfield team that first-year coach Tim Turner lauds as having “great chemistry.”
The Spartans, who have clinched their first winning season in five years, have put themselves into a solid position for a playoff spot in part because of consecutive road victories Sept. 26 and Oct. 2.
Both wins came against teams (Norwin and Kiski Area) that have winning records and beat the Spartans earlier in the season. In each, Hempfield trailed, 2-0, but came back to win, 3-2.
Against Kiski Area, Hempfield scored three times in the final 14 minutes for the comeback victory.
“It really showed the character they had, and hopefully it's getting the kids to believe they can compete at that level,” Turner said. “And I think that showed they're ready to respond to the challenge.”
“It seems like when we play against really talented teams, after we go down two goals, it kind of clicks and we start playing with a sense of urgency which really shows the amount of heart we have on that field,” Stack said.
Stack and center backer Justin Horn help set the tone as captains, and goalkeeper Ryan Krouse is another senior with vaunted leadership abilities.
Turner, formerly an assistant at Norwin, also lauded a strong junior class that includes five starters: defenders Ben George and Chris Wise, midfielders Alex Linardi and Nolan Beresford and forward/midfielder Ryan Leonard.
Ocke Sandgren has added a jolt to the team by way of his dynamic offensive skills. An exchange student from Sweden, Sandgren has a team-high 17 goals.
“I'd put him up there with any of the elite scorers in the WPIAL,” Turner said. “He's dangerous anytime he has the ball. His skills are just phenomenal.”
Hempfield entered the week needing victories in two of its final three section games to assure itself its second consecutive WPIAL playoff appearance.
“We have a great team this year, and I think we definitely have a chance to go far in the playoffs,” Stack said. “We've really come together the last few weeks, and I hope we're able to stick together and keep working.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.