Middle school program pays dividends for Hampton boys soccer

Thursday, August 22, 2019 | 9:00 PM

Hampton boys soccer only returns three starters from last year’s team. Before coach Matt McAwley helped establish a middle school program, it could have signaled a rebuilding year.

But the sign of a great program is one that maintains success year after year. After making the playoffs three years in a row, the Talbots expect the momentum to continue.

The Talbots graduated American recruit Harper Cook and eight of their starters.

“We’re a mix of young and old this year,” McAwley said. “But there’s a lot of seniors this year, where if they weren’t starters, they got a significant amount of time and experience. With the younger players as well, they’re bringing a lot of youth and energy to it.”

A handful of sophomores will look to establish a mark on this year’s team — two who contributed to last year’s team that reached the WPIAL second round and nearly knocked off undefeated Franklin Regional in a 2-1 overtime loss.

Chief among those is Zach Panza, who started last year and is expected to play a major role on defense and in the midfield. Gabe Viszlay assisted on Hampton’s only goal against Franklin Regional and could be an impact player at outside midfield.

“We’re a pretty young team,” senior captain Matt Govi said. “We have a lot of young talent. I think with the remaining starters we have from last year, we can go deep into the playoffs.”

The biggest sign of Hampton’s youth influx might be at goalie, where sophomore Thomas Bradfield takes over a position that has been occupied by seniors for the majority of the time McAwley has been coach.

“It’s kind of been a keeper for every class,” McAwley said. “Someone has got experience and grew into that. But (Thomas) brings a lot of experience, and he’s ready to make a name for himself. It’s going to be an interesting year. He’s someone that works hard at the position year-round.”

The youth movement has been in the works for some time. The middle school team, coached by Jeff Bauman, has made strides. Two years ago, the eighth-grade team finished an undefeated season.

“For years when I came through the program and even now seeing the difference in the quality of players coming through as freshmen,” McAwley said, “when that middle school program wasn’t there, we were working on fundamentals, systems. Now they’re getting that at the seventh-grade level, so there can be so much more focus on individual little things that players need to improve on.”

Govi thinks it helps the upperclassmen as well.

“They’re so easy to work with because they know the game because they’re on a whole new level. So it’s easy to be a leader with them,” he said. “(The middle school program) really opens their eyes to it at a younger age. They really didn’t know what organized soccer was like until they were freshmen. Now, they can go to workouts all throughout middle school.”

The youth isn’t the only aspect of the team moving the needle. Govi finished second in goals last year while partnered with Cook in the midfield. Now he will get an opportunity to shine.

“He’s always been a compliment to the center midfielders that are out there the past three years,” McAwley said. “Now, it’s his center midfield his senior year. It’ll be exciting to see how he grows and how handles the team.”

Govi thinks he is ready for the responsibility.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have people like Harper work with me and almost groom me for the position,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it and taking it one day at a time. Hopefully, with the surrounding talent we can be the engine that takes us far into the playoffs.”

Senior wing Christian Waldschmidt also returns, and Luke Milon saw significant time off the bench as a junior. The team also will get a midseason boost with the expected return of Corey Scherer, who had a hat trick in Hampton’s first-round playoff victory. He is recovering from shoulder surgery sustained during wrestling season.

“We’re easing him back into things,” McAwley said. “We’re definitely looking forward to him coming back because he’s a threat up top. It’s a situation where other guys are stepping up and making a name for themselves, which is a good problem for a coach to have.”


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