Hempfield girls soccer team zeroes in on defense

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019 | 7:47 PM


If you notice the Hempfield girls soccer team getting defensive, it’s nothing personal.

The Spartans simply don’t want opposing teams to score.

“One thing we can definitely improve on is our defensive look,” Hempfield coach Adam Shaffer said. “The phrase we’ve literally been using is, ‘The goals will come.’ ”

Shaffer has led Hempfield to the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs in three of his five seasons. This fall, he hopes the Spartans can make it past the first round for the first time under him.

Staying healthy is a key, he said.

“Last year, we had quite a few injuries that really hit us early on, and we struggled to make up for that,” Shaffer said. “Some of the girls were forced to play different positions. We struggled to score while giving up a lot of goals.”

Despite that, the Spartans managed a 6-6 record in the WPIAL Section 3-4A. Overall, they finished 6-10 after a 9-0 first-round playoff loss to Pine-Richland.

In a recent scrimmage against Class 3A Belle Vernon, Shaffer said the Spartans staff was “quite pleased with how we looked like a true defensive unit.”

But don’t be misled, Shaffer said: “We have a fairly balanced team. Our seniors carry a big load for us.”

Hempfield is counting on leadership from a trio of four-year starters: defender Caroline Czarnecki and midfielders Ashleigh VanHorn and Sydney Patrick, who led the team with 15 goals last season.

Czarnecki, who is committed to Division II South Carolina Aiken, is returning from a stress fracture that caused her to miss last season. She said it was tough to be sidelined, but she observed a lot she likely would have missed as an active player.

“I didn’t realize it then, but it was probably a blessing in disguise,” she said. “It helped me to watch what went on around me and not just focus on my own position. Coach Shaffer would ask me to tell him three things in the games that we can work on. I usually did that and then I went to my teammates and explained what I saw. It helped a lot.”

At a recent practice, Shaffer stood at midfield, giving a short lecture on tightening the defense and demanding the players follow along.

They did, executing a drill to near perfection.

“Good,” Shaffer commended while nodding.

“Get back now. We’re not resting,” he shouted as the unit kept up a swift pace.

The players are receiving the message.

“Defense is probably the most important aspect for us this year,” said VanHorn, who is attracting college attention from Robert Morris and Division II Edinboro, among others.

Her sister, Keirsten, played four years as a midfielder at Robert Morris.

Ashleigh VanHorn said her older sister has inspired her to try to improve every year.

“We’re all thinking defense, no matter what position we’re playing,” she said. “You can’t lose if the other team doesn’t score.”

Sophomore defender Leah Kern is coming off an impressive freshman season. Shaffer is counting on her to anchor the back line, referring to her as “very, very intelligent on the soccer field.”

Offensively, Shaffer said Patrick “was a game-changer for us.”

A highlight from last season was Patrick’s second-half hat trick during a 4-3 loss to Penn-Trafford.

“We’re challenging her to get back to that style of play at the start of the season,” Shaffer said. “We’re pushing her hard to find that goal-scoring touch.”

The Spartans’ regular-season schedule begins Sept. 4 at home against playoff regular Norwin.

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