Hampton girls soccer shakes off slow start

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Saturday, October 2, 2021 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton girls soccer team is getting healthy at the right time.

After dropping their first two games this season, including the program’s most lopsided loss in a decade, the defending Section 1-3A champion Talbots went 6-0-1 during a seven-game surge heading into their Sept. 30 game against visiting Indiana.

“This is as close as we’ve been to full strength all year, and we’re playing better,” coach Bill Paholich said. “We had some injuries during the preseason where we were not at our full complement.

“I knew this year we would not be in midseason form until actually midseason, which is unlike us.”

The Talbots, coming off their first section title since 2008, stumbled out of the gate. They dropped their Sept. 3 opener at Fox Chapel, 6-0, in the program’s most one-sided defeat since a 9-0 loss to Mars in 2011, a span of 184 games. They followed that with a 4-3 loss to section rival Gateway on Sept. 8.

“It was definitely a wake-up call,” senior all-section defender Nicole Fortes said. “We were collectively disappointed because we all knew we could have played better. But we were motivated moreso than upset and down about it.”

The Talbots (6-2-1, 5-1-1 as of Sept. 29) rebounded by winning six in a row by a combined score of 31-5 before playing host Gateway to a 1-1 tie in their Sept. 28 rematch. The banged-up Talbots returned to the lineup and began to jell with the fresh faces as they moved toward the program’s sixth consecutive WPIAL playoff berth.

“I think we started this year with a lot of new players going into the varsity rotation and we just needed to build a little more chemistry and get used to playing together,” said senior all-section midfielder Jillian Antol, who has scored a team-high six goals. “I definitely feel like the team is working really well together.”

Hampton also has used balanced scoring as opposing teams aim to slow down sophomore midfielder Madison Hurst, who last season scored a team-high 14 goals and earned all-WPIAL Class 3A honors.

Eight players have scored at least two goals for the Talbots, including freshman Olivia Hoffman (five goals), who netted the game-winner in a 1-0 victory over Kiski Area on Sept. 14 to highlight her strong start.

Juniors Amiya Johnson (four) and Lucy Interthal (three), freshman Sara Kenst (three), senior Sophie Kelly (two) and sophomore Julia Hermann (two) also have contributed multiple goals to the attack.

And Hurst is beginning to heat up. After being limited to two goals in the first seven games, she scored twice in a 10-1 victory over Knoch on Sept. 25 and had the lone goal in the 1-1 tie with Gateway, giving her five on the season.

“A lot of teams are more focused on Madison because she scored a lot of goals last year,” Paholich said. “… That’s what comes with it. You can’t get frustrated about it, and she knows that.”

After a shaky start, sophomore goalkeeper Isabella English also has settled down. She made some key saves in the rematch with Gateway, and the Talbots have allowed only six goals in their past seven games as of Sept. 29.

“She’s had her ups and downs,” Paholich said of English. “She’s a sophomore. She’s still young, and I’ve got two other freshman keepers that are going to be pushing her for time. And that’s what you want. You want a program where you have people coming for your job. If you have people coming for your job, it just makes you work harder.”

Senior Ava France, an all-WPIAL defender, said the entire team is working harder since the 0-2 start. She said the lopsided loss at Fox Chapel served to motivate the players rather than leave them disheartened.

“Losing 6-0 obviously wasn’t a good feeling,” France said, “but it definitely made us determined that we are never losing that bad again.”

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