Southmoreland focused, determined heading into season
First-year Southmoreland boys soccer coach Chris Hixson has a core group of seniors who still have a bad taste in their mouths from last season.
Southmoreland missed the WPIAL playoffs last season, and Hixson has made sure his team doesn't forget.
“I think I remind them of it quite frequently,” Hixson said. “I keep pushing them and telling them they only get one senior year. I think last year's seniors have a lot of regrets. I told our kids that when they step off the field for the last time, they want to be satisfied. I'm using that as motivation when they don't feel like running or practicing to help them push through and keep going.”
Leading the list of returning senior starters are forward Luke Zeleznik, goaltender Brian Shaffer and defender Mike Garlowich.
Zeleznik scored 20 goals last season to pace Southmoreland, and Hixson expects him to be even better this year.
“He should be all-WPIAL … he has that type of talent,” Hixson said. “He's blessed with great skill and one of the best finishers I've seen. He's motivated and a hard worker, and we're working on keeping him mentally focused.”
Garlowich will split time with cross country, and according to Hixson, he never runs out of energy.
“He can go all day,” Hixson said. “He never tires. He's level-headed and he understands the angles and knows where he needs to be. We're going to be playing a diamond, and he'll be my sweeper.”
Shaffer is coming off a solid junior season, and Hixson believes he will only get better.
“Brian's as solid as they come,” Hixson said. “He makes the hard save look easy and never gives up a soft goal. He's also very good at keeping his defense under control. Brian has great hands and is very motivated.”
Midfielders Brendon Hernley and Jake Porter are seniors as well, and will join Zeleznik, Garlowich and Shaffer as team leaders.
“These guys are a very tight group,” Hixson said. “They've been playing together for many, many years. They weren't happy with our season last season, and they're pushing our team to get back into the playoffs. This group is definitely more motivated than last year's was. They play together as a unit. They might not wow anyone with incredible skill, but if you go to sleep on us, they will put you away. Even if other teams come to play, these guys have the ability to still put it to you. They're mentally stronger this year.”
Hixson said junior Regis Kaufman will split time between midfielder and defender, and that the team's defense could hinge on a pair of sophomores, Evan Myers and Cameron Walter.
“They have to step up for us to be successful,” Hixson said. “They're being asked to do a lot, considering both were on the junior varsity team last season.”
Southmoreland will compete in Section 6-AA, along with Brownsville, Charleroi, Laurel Highlands, McGuffey, Uniontown and Waynesburg Central.
Because of damage done by a storm to Russ Grimm Field, the soccer team will play its scheduled home games at the Southmoreland middle and elementary school. The Scotties open the season Tuesday at home against South Park, and two days later will meet Uniontown in the section opener.
Dave Stofcheck is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.