Hampton boys soccer seniors driven to make most of last chance

Saturday, August 28, 2021 | 11:01 AM

Since going undefeated as eighth graders, the seniors on the Hampton boys soccer team have held lofty expectations.

They own a sparkling 35-15-3 overall record in three seasons but have zero section titles and no WPIAL championship game appearances.

This is their final chance, and they plan on making the most of it.

“We have a lot of returning talent,” coach Matt McAwley said, “and it’s a year that we should be incredibly competitive.”

The Talbots return 10 starters from an 11-5-1 WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinalist and will field arguably their most gifted team since winning back-to-back WPIAL Class AA titles in 2010-11.

Hampton will start 11 seniors, led by all-WPIAL midfielder Gabe Viszlay, a trio of all-Section 1-AAA selections in forward Liam Nichols, midfielder Zach Panza and defender Henry Hughes, and third-year goalie Thomas Bradfield.

“We’re looking good,” said Panza, a four-year starter. “I’m excited. We’ve got the same group of guys returning. … I’ve played with them for eight to nine years. We’ve been together for a long time.”

Other returning starters are defenders Dylan Beranek, Frank Galioto and Brennan Wesley and forwards Luke Staggers and Holden Pritts.

The lone new starter, Zander Plizga, will play midfield to complete the all-senior lineup for the Talbots, who open the season against visiting Highlands on Sept. 7.

Sophomore Coleman Docherty, junior Kai Suyama and senior reserve CJ Collins also are expected to contibute to the Talbots.

“There will be good supporting roles from some of the juniors and sophomores,” McAwley said.

Hampton will look to find a way to finally solve section rival Mars. The Talbots went 0-3 against Mars last season, including a 1-0 double-overtime loss in the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals. Nichols, who last season scored a team-high eight goals, sat out the playoffs with an ankle injury as the Talbots fell to 0-13 against Mars since 2014. For three consecutive years, Hampton has placed second in the section behind the nemesis Fightin’ Planets.

Viszlay scored seven goals with a team-high eight assists on his way to all-WPIAL honors. Staggers added five goals, and Pritts notched three goals and four assists, second on the team.

McAwley, entering his seventh year at Hampton, is urging the players to remain focused on each game rather than become preoccupied with the larger season-ending targets.

“It’s one of those things where I think a lot of these guys get caught up with that end goal and some of the goals we have during the season get lost in that grand-scheme picture,” McAwley said. “Really, it’s just us coming together as a team and being a cohesive unit as we go through the season. Not running into any inside egos or anything like that. Really just all of us coming together and just playing the game like we know that we can.”

Many of the Talbots play on the same Cup travel soccer teams and some of them have been teammates for nearly a decade. Last season, they allowed only 12 goals in 17 games with 12 shutouts behind Bradfield and an experienced backline.

“We have a lot of talent,” Bradfield said, “but I think the biggest thing is we’ve been friends since day one. If we stay healthy and just keep improving as a team, I think we will be fine.”


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