Hempfield girls soccer team determined to turn program around

Tuesday, October 11, 2022 | 4:43 PM

Tears begin to well up in Aryn Askin’s eyes and roll down her cheek as she talks about her soccer players.

“We have seen teams change up the way they play against us because they couldn’t break us down, and coaches have noted how hard our girls play,” said Askin, the second-year coach of the Hempfield girls. “I would not trade this roster for anything.

“They have taken a beating, but they keep working hard to get better.”

Hempfield has lost 42 straight games and has not scored a goal all season in 14 games. It has been outscored 139-0.

The Spartans (0-14, 0-12 Section 2-4A) have not won a game since October 2019 and have not scored since last October.

But watch Hempfield play or practice, and there is a determination — not a defeated disposition — among players and coaches.

They don’t ask for pity, and they demand small-step improvement. It’s the only way out.

“It’s frustrating and emotional for the girls,” Askin said. “They are so competitive. They’re still playing soccer, and we’re teaching the game. If we can keep it a 3-0 or 4-0 game, we’re being competitive. That is like a win for us.”

Upper St. Clair beat Hempfield, 16-0 and 11-0. Norwin won 14-0 and 12-0, Bethel Park by 13-0 and Penn-Trafford by 12-0.

Hempfield is struggling, yes. But it does not have a typical Class 4A program.

The team only has two club-level players. Four starters never played the sport before this season, and most of the girls did not grow up playing youth soccer together.

With some early-season injuries, Hempfield struggled to find chemistry in a lineup that needs time to find a sense of direction. Time, as in, years — not weeks or even months.

As one team follower put it, Hempfield has an air bubble stuck in the line. Once it passes through, the team could return to winning.

To be fair, the Hempfield boys team has not been much better. They are 0-14 and have managed two goals this season. They went 1-14 last year but scored 10 goals.

Hempfield is replanting soccer with the hopes of a fruitful harvest down the road.

The girls made the WPIAL playoffs in 2019 with a 5-9-1 mark. Last year, though, the team went 0-16 (0-10 section) but managed nine goals.

This year, they have hit the post a few times, sent a few heat-seeking corners at the net and threatened to put back a deflection or two.

But the ball just won’t go in.

“I can’t wave a magic wand and win games,” Askin said. “We’re playing against some brutes, teams that like to kick and run.

“We’re just not there yet. But I think we will get there.”

Askin, a former standout at Southmoreland and St. Francis (Pa.), said the youth program is showing signs of improvement. Eleven eighth graders are playing for the middle school team.

The varsity program is reconnecting with the lower levels to try to get things more uniform.

Hempfield will lose four seniors to graduation.

“We played in Hempfield Rec(reation), but there were girls from all over, not just Hempfield,” senior defender/midfielder Jess Winkowski said.

Said sophomore defender/midfielder Jessi Jury: “We didn’t come up together in the same group.”

After losing 11-0 to Mt. Lebanon, Hempfield played better in the second matchup and fell 5-0.

Jury is one of the club players. She played for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy.

Opponents are playing, sometimes, with a half-dozen or more club/cup players. Hempfield simply has not been able to match that skill.

“We work hard for each other, and we still put in the effort,” Jury said. “We keep it positive no matter what.”

Askin picks a player of the game each time the Spartans play. The award is a bedazzled bike helmet that she spent 10 hours making.

“The Baldwin game was a big heartbreaker,” the coach said. “We hit two posts. They put four forwards on our four defenders.

“The girls played really well. They believe they can win.”

The Spartans play Baldwin (2-12-1, 1-11) again Wednesday, on the road. The Highlanders have lost six in a row.

Hempfield does not have a rich history of winning in girls soccer. Its last winning season came in 2015 (9-7-2), and it has not won a playoff game since ’14.

Arkin has the team playing basic, possession soccer. The gameplan is simple, fundamentals and do-overs, as the girls learn to play together.

“We have to learn from this,” Askin said. “We have to handle speed and through-balls, things like that. It’s a step-by-step process.”

Defensively, an offside trap attempts to clog passing lanes.

“We take a lot of games we lost as wins because of how we played,” Winkowski said. “We don’t roll over. We’re like a family.”

Hempfield has 23 players on the roster but only started fielding a junior varsity team last week.

In the team’s first game, Hempfield netted a first-half goal against Mt. Lebanon.

“It’s going to take some time,” Askin said. “We make an example of our football team. Look at what they have done. It can happen.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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