Experienced senior group paces Hempfield boys to impressive start
Tim Turner knows what a successful soccer program looks like. Before taking the coaching job at Hempfield two years ago, he spent 10 seasons as an assistant at Norwin.
“I try to implement what I learned from Norwin to here,” Turner said. “Beating different defenses, playing a position style. The kids have been pretty receptive to it.”
Through the first part of the season, the Spartans are 4-2-1 overall and 3-2-0 in a tough Section 1-AAA, including a 1-0 victory over Turner's old school Sept. 10.
“When you can play with them, you can play with pretty much anyone in the WPIAL,” Turner said of the win.
Forward Ryan Leonard scored the winning goal against the Knights, and Turner believes Leonard is a big reason why Hempfield has started the year so strong.
“He's been dynamic for four years,” Turner said. “His speed is his strength. It really gives him an advantage on the attack.”
Leonard is one of 12 seniors, including center midfielder Nolan Beresford and defenders Chris Wise, Alex Linardi and Ben George, who return from last year's 10-7-1 (6-6-0 in Section 1) squad that missed the playoffs, something that hasn't been forgotten.
“We had a really good, strong group of juniors last year,” Turner said. “They're driven after missing out (on the playoffs) last year. I think that really provides some motivation for them. They're all seniors now.”
Turner doesn't like to define his team in one way but feels up and down the field the Spartans are strong and can adapt in different situations.
“I can't really say we play just possession. We play direct also,” Turner said. “I think it really says something about the kids that they can really play anything I ask them to.”
With so many upperclassmen Turner takes pride in the fact that practically everyone can play anywhere and isn't tied to just one spot on the pitch.
“We switch around a lot,” Turner said. “All the kids fit in to different places, and they do the job. So far we've been successful.”
He will admit, though, that the defense of Wise, Linardi and George paired with the solid play of junior goalie A.J. Bove makes him confident, especially behind the speedy attack of Leonard & Co.
“We have a good senior core on defense back there,” Tuner said. “It's nice to have a good group of experienced defenders that you can trust and work well together.”
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.