Saltrelli’s return to midfield bolsters Hampton boys soccer team

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Saturday, September 19, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Max Saltrelli is a starting center midfielder for the Hampton boys soccer team and a 40-goal scorer for the school’s lacrosse program.

But there’s one thing he would prefer not to be: A cheerleader.

After a toe injury reduced him to a sideline “hype man” for most of last year, Saltrelli is back on the field for a promising squad hoping to build on its best season since 2011.

“Last year was definitely tough for him,” Hampton sixth-year coach Matt McAwley said. “He had to take more of a role on the sidelines as kind of a hype man for us.”

Saltrelli, who returned for a limited role in last season’s WPIAL Class 3A semifinal playoff run, also brings valuable leadership to a team highlighted by a deep, gifted junior class.

Juniors Zach Panza, Gabe Viszlay, Luke Staggers and Liam Nichols and senior Corey Scherer provide firepower, and senior keeper Thomas Bradfield is back in goal as the Talbots pursue a fifth consecutive WPIAL playoff berth.

“Max is one of the guys that is an absolute natural leader,” McAwley said. “He holds everybody to a higher standard when he is out here. Something as little as getting goals out, putting things away, picking up cones, not only is he holding other players accountable for doing it, but he’s the first guy out there that’s also doing the small things that every team needs.”

The torn capsule in Saltrelli’s right big toe still gets sore — he puts ice on it after practice and games — but he is willing to deal with some discomfort for his final season of competitive soccer; He has no plans to play soccer or lacrosse in college.

“You can’t just get surgery, and it’s fixed,” Saltrelli said. “But it’s nothing unbearable. It’s nothing that I think really affects my play. It’s just after the game I can definitely notice it.”

McAwley isn’t surprised by Saltrelli’s determination and says his return has solidified the team’s overall play.

“Max doesn’t fear anyone,” McAwley said. “He’s just a physical presence in the midfield that we really missed having last year.”

The Talbots, who opened the season with shutout victories over Freeport on Sept. 15 and Knoch on Sept. 17, are scheduled to host Section 1-AAA rival Mars on Thursday. Hampton is 0-10 against the Planets since 2014. But five of the past seven losses have been by one goal, including a pair of 2-1 setbacks last year.

The Talbots admittedly were more excited than usual after the 4-0 win over Freeport in the opener of a season that remained in doubt until mid-August. The team typically would start informal workouts beginning in June. This season, they didn’t hold tryouts until Aug. 24.

As the evening skies darkened during a practice at Fridley Field last week, the players continued to hold an 11-on-11 intrasquad scrimmage without any stadium lights. McAwley, fearful of someone getting hurt in the near-dark, finally called practice. Some of the players asked to keep playing but at last relented to their coach.

“We’re really trying to savor every little moment we have because you never know if it’s your last one of the season,” said Saltrelli, whose junior lacrosse season was wiped out because of the pandemic. “We’re trying to do what we can with the time we have.”

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