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Southmoreland boys team overcame much in playoff run

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Southmoreland's Evan Myers (19) battles for possession with Connellsville's Jason Burkus (5) in Southmoreland's end during Southmoreland's match up against Connellsville at Hempfield's Spartan Stadium on Tuesday, October 15, 2013.

The 2013 season for the Southmoreland boys' soccer team had a little bit of everything.

There was the joy of the school's first playoff win in a few years, the excitement of a 25-goal scorer and the uncertainty connected with not having a home field, which forced the Scotties to be “road warriors” throughout the season.

Coach Chris Hixson's team put together a nice 13-6-1 campaign which saw it upend Beaver in the preliminary round of the playoffs 1-0, before falling 4-0 to South Park.

“It was a pretty successful season,” Hixson said about his first year at the helm. “We improved a lot from last year. It was a pretty nice turnaround. We won a playoff game for the first time in about four or five years. That was nice. Of course, we want to win it all, so there's a little disappointment, but only one team ends the season happy. They were very good.”

Among those players on the team that were “very good” were Luke Zeleznik, who was an All-WPIAL selection and paced the Scotties with 25 goals.

Hixson and the Scotties depended a lot on Zeleznik for a great deal of their offense this season. The senior forward did not disappoint.

“It's nice to have someone of that caliber,” Hixson said of Zeleznik. “Our other striker was a freshman (Isaac Baker). He had Luke to kind of look to, to see how he plays. Luke was a good leader.”

A prime example of that leadership came in the Scotties brief postseason run. Zeleznik played in the playoffs and scored the teams' lone goal in the postseason not realizing he was battling mononucleosis.

Then again, that's the type of kids Hixson had on his squad this past season. Goalie Brian Shaffer, who backstopped the Scotties 1-0 playoff win over Beaver played through pneumonia in the postseason.

“He single-handedly won the playoff game,” Hixson said of Shaffer. “He probably had 16 saves. He did his job. He did what was asked of him.”

Hixson thinks very highly of Shaffer, calling him an “All-WPIAL-caliber goalie.”

Actually, this group of soccer players had to deal with obstacles throughout the season. The first, and most glaring, was the lack of a home field. Russ Grimm Field was severely damaged by August storms, rendering the surface unplayable. The Scotties traveling road show did play three home games at Southmoreland Elementary School, but other than that had to travel. Among the schools that allowed their fields to be used as “home fields” for Southmoreland were Belle Vernon, Laurel Highlands, Hempfield and Greensburg Salem.

“It made things difficult,” Hixson admitted. “It's more tiring. When you have a home game, after the game you're home in about five minutes. There were a lot of late nights. The seniors did a pretty good job of not letting it affect their play. I can't complain. They could have let it get to them and they didn't. They're a good group of guys. I had no issues. If I said something, they did it. They did the best they could. That's all I can ask.”

Hixson did admit to having some sympathy for the nine seniors on the team, who did not get to play at home in their final high school season.

“They didn't get to play in front of friends, even a lot of family may not have come to the games,” Hixson said. “I think the cheerleaders only came to two games. But they never complained once. They never expressed it to me. It was just business.”

It also might be nice to actually get to coach a game at his home field for Hixson.

Along with the hope of having a home field for the 2014 season, Hixson goes about the task of replacing those seniors.

Among the players he will count on next year are Henry Riley (who tallied double figures in goals this past season), Regis Kaufman, Matt Kinter, Evan Myers, Cameron Walter, Caleb Garstecki, Baker and Kyle Rhodes.

“I'm excited,” Hixson said. “It's up to them whether they want to put the work in. The ability is there. We were just three wins from a championship. Our main thing is trying to replace 25 goals (Zeleznik). That's where my sleepless nights are going to come from.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or

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