Hampton middle school boys soccer caps perfect season
Facing the prospects of an undefeated season, the Hampton middle school boys soccer team was under some pressure.
“When there's pressure,” defenseman and team MVP Zach Panza said, “we either play way better or way worse. This time, it was better.”
Enough for a victory over Shaler to cap a perfect season. The squad, which consists of seventh- and eighth-graders but primarily played eighth-graders this year, finished 16-0-0. The league does not have playoffs.
“This is a special group of guys,” coach Jeff Bauman said. “They've been playing together for a long time. The core played together for about four years at least. That's helped, I think, make this group stronger than the others.”
There aren't many other groups to compare it to. The middle school soccer program at Hampton is barely out of its infancy. This was the team's third year.
“The accepted point of view was the soccer club itself was doing a good job,” said Bauman, who doubles as president of Hampton Soccer Club. “That's true to an extent, but I think there's a lot of value in playing for the school, bringing kids together at a certain age on a full team. That's what's came to pass, and I think everybody agrees it was a good idea.”
The feeder program should give varsity soccer coach Matt McAwley solid teams for years to come. After a four-year drought, the varsity squad has made the playoffs the past two seasons.
“We're hoping for this development,” Bauman said. “Matt benefits from these guys playing together.”
It's a group that nearly had an undefeated season in the club league years back but dropped the last matchup. Not this time around, though Bauman said there was some nervous tension before the game.
“When we scored our first two goals, we knew it was over,” Panza said. “It was probably one of the best games we played.”
The talent included four or five high-quality strikers, including Luke Staggers, who led the team in goals. Brennan Wesley highlighted the midfield.
“He really anchored the midfield,” Bauman said of Wesley. “He's a great box-to-box player that really contributed both offensively and defensively.”
Goalkeeper Thomas Bradfield held strong in net, even in some games when he wasn't tested much because the defense was so dominant.
“The talent is really deep,” Bauman said. “I could go down to 14 guys I could substitute in, and they could start. They're all that good.”
Devon Moore is a freelance writer.