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Familiar faces to lead Hempfield soccer squads

| Thursday, May 8, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Hempfield recently hired new soccer coaches for its boys and girls programs and didn't have to go far to find them.

Both familiar faces around Westmoreland County, Jeff Palm will head the girls program, and Tom Sochacki will take over as the leader of the boys program.

Both men boast resumes littered with WPIAL success and are generating a sense of excitement around Spartans soccer.

Hempfield athletic director Greg Meisner said the school searched for new coaches with a certain set of criteria in mind, and he believes it has found the ideal candidates to suit its high expectations.

“We were looking for candidates, first of all, who had successful experience as head coaches,” Meisner said. “We were looking for candidates who would be the best fits for our district, and they also had to have the energy and passion to get involved with our middle school and feeder programs.”

Palm is quite familiar with the Spartans and their foes in Section 1-AAAA. For the past four seasons, Palm has been the girls soccer coach for Norwin, one of Hempfield's biggest rivals. The Knights qualified for the WPIAL playoffs in each of Palm's four seasons, achieving a record of 64-16-4 along the way.

Despite his history with Norwin, Palm contends that coaching against his old squad twice a season in section play will present no extra incentive for his efforts.

“Honestly, as a coach, I am focused on my team only. I have to beat everybody in the section, no matter who it is,” Palm said. “I'm going to look at it just as I would any other game.”

Palm will take over a program that has an 8-23 record over the past two seasons. Despite the recent lack of success, he believes the girls program is not far off from making the playoffs.

“I've seen this team over the past four years. I know they have talent,” Palm said. “I'm just hoping to step in and help get the team to where we want them to be.”

Similar to his counterpart on the girls side, Sochacki brings with him a measure of experience and success in WPIAL soccer to the Spartans' boys program. In the past three seasons as the coach of Greensburg Central Catholic's boys team, Sochacki accumulated a record of 40-11-1.

Although he attended Shady Side Academy, Sochacki grew up in the Hempfield area and said he always envisioned the Spartans as a soccer power.

“My brother went to high school here, and I've always looked at this school as a potential powerhouse,” Sochacki said. “I really look at this program as a sleeping giant.”

By implementing a defensive-minded strategy and fine-tuning the fundamentals of the game, Sochacki aims to groom the Hempfield boys soccer program into a major player in Class AAAA.

“I don't want to be .500, and I don't expect us to be .500,” Sochacki said. “I have three goals for us right off the bat: win the section, win WPIALs and win states.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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