Hampton girls soccer ‘family’ enjoys longest playoff run in a decade
By: Devon Moore
Thursday, November 15, 2018 | 9:24 PM
If a Hampton sports team waited years to get its shot, it was this one. And just one more shot might have had the girls soccer team in the state semifinals.
But it wasn’t to be for a special group of five seniors and 12 juniors that pulled it together for a third-place WPIAL finish and a state playoff berth after two years of early playoff exits.
“They refuse to give up,” said coach Bill Paholich, who made his first trip to the state playoffs as a coach after watching the team qualify in 2008 and ‘10 as an assistant.
In the WPIAL consolation game, Hampton scored an equalizer in the last two minutes against South Fayette to get to overtime, where a Lainy McLaughlin goal sent the team packing for the PIAA playoffs.
“They just refuse to lose. They don’t like losing,” Paholich said. “They’re a very loose team and relaxed in their abilities. They wanted to go up against the best teams.”
By the end of the year, Hampton (18-6) was one of the best teams. It pushed rival and WPIAL runner-up Mars to the brink three times.
The team survived overtime against Ambridge and overcame deficits against South Fayette and its first-round PIAA opponent, Hickory.
“We didn’t get the titles we wanted,” senior captain Courtney Coholich said. “But by no means will I look back on this season and feel as if we came up short. At the end of the day, that’s just how the sport has to go.”
When it came time for a match with WPIAL champion Oakland Catholic in the PIAA quarterfinals, the Talbots were more than up to the task, controlling play for a majority of the game and outshooting the Eagles before conceding two tough goals in a 2-1 loss.
“You can take it both ways,” Paholich said. “You can say if they win the state championship, we hung with them. But on our end right now, we feel like we could’ve beaten them. We played our best soccer in the first half. We just couldn’t put the ball in the net.”
One key to the season was moving senior Sammy Joyce and junior Riley Obringer to center back. Paholich would often substitute freshman Nicole Fortes to give each a rest.
“Those three dictated where we were going to go,” Paholich said. “I thanked each of them because they made a sacrifice. Sammy and Riley were used to playing offense quite a bit. But for the better of the team, they accepted and excelled at their roles.”
Good groups of players also are hard to come by, and Hampton loses a great core of seniors that includes Cleveland State commit Coholich and IUP commit Sammy Joyce, as well as all-WPIAL selection Amanda Moser.
The departing group of seniors feel like the program is in a better place than it was four years ago. Part of the reason is avoiding “class cliques” that develop in many locker rooms.
“It’s not a class thing,” Coholich said. “We’re winning as a team. Classes didn’t define us this year. As seniors, we just tried to step up and be leaders. We weren’t just on the same team together.We were friends outside soccer. It has to go through the whole team.”
Paholich said the team was running 18 deep by the end of the season. Junior Logan Nicklas collected all-WPIAL honors, and McLaughlin earned all-section.
“A lot of them have been battle tested and playing since they were freshmen als o,” Paholich said. “We don’t want to allow any dropoff for next year.”
Coholich will look back in reverence on the playoff run — the longest since the Talbots made the state semifinals in 2008 — as one with great memories.
“Every game we were all smiling from ear to ear, having a good time,” she said. “The bus rides home, listening to music and screaming and singing. I think it shows HGS is a family. We all believed in each other from Day 1, and that’s what got us this far.”
Devon Moore is a freelance writer.