Shady Side Academy’s Sam Farner provides winning presence for boys soccer team

Saturday, October 17, 2020 | 11:01 AM

Shady Side Academy’s Sam Farner is just a junior, but coach Ed Ellsworth says it seems like the talented midfielder has been around the program forever.

It’s probably because he has been around longer than most. Between his seventh and eighth grade years, Farner got accustomed to the program by acting as the ball boy.

“I don’t think he ever missed a game,” Ellsworth said with a laugh.

As an eighth grader, Farner accompanied the team to Highmark Stadium for its WPIAL Class AA championship match with Quaker Valley. Shady Side went on to win, 3-2 in double overtime.

Even though he wasn’t officially on the team, Farner said having the opportunity to experience that championship helped him understand what it meant to play for the program and it prepared him even more for his freshman year.

“He was just so immersed into the program through those years that when he became a freshman, there was a short learning curve for him,” Ellsworth said. “The only thing he really had to adjust to was the speed of the game, and he was a little undersized because he was a freshman. But everything else came pretty seamlessly.”

Most freshmen don’t have the type of impact that Farner did, and Ellsworth had all the trust in him to make the plays that he did.

In the first round of the WPIAL playoffs that year, Ellsworth said Farner dribbled through an intense North Catholic defense to score their his team’s goal, which ended up being the game winner in a 3-2 victory.

Then, just a few games later and a year after watching the team win the WPIAL title, Farner found himself stepping to the penalty spot in a shootout at Highmark Stadium, as Shady Side was looking to capture its second straight title.

“I had watched the team win the year before, so when I got that chance, I knew that I could do it,” said Farner, who buried his penalty kick. “I was ecstatic in the moment, and there were obviously a lot of nerves, but to be able to be on the sideline watching one year, then to be celebrating with the team the next was one of the greatest moments I’ve experienced in soccer.”

Ever since then, Farner has been one of the main contributors to Shady Side’s success. As the talented midfielder has gotten older, he’s gotten smarter, stronger and has taken on a leadership role that has allowed Shady Side to excel the past few years.

Ellsworth said it starts on the practice field.

“He really analyzes why we are doing a certain session or what we are trying to get out of it,” Ellsworth said. “Freshman year, he might’ve been more motivated by wins and losses, but now, it’s how do you get those wins or losses or those championships.”

Not only has Farner grown in his mental game, but he also has grown as a leader. Ellsworth said he has looked to Farner in some of the biggest moments, even during his sophomore season last year, but he has taken it to a new level this year.

Farner has had no problem with that responsibility, adding that learning under older teammates helped him assimilate into the role easily.

“Playing under great players as a freshman really helped me develop a sense of responsibility for the team,” Farner said. “From one year having less of a role to these past two years, having a much bigger role on the team, I think my leadership and my control of the game has developed a lot.”

This season, Farner racked up 10 goals and seven assists to help Shady Side to a 9-1 start. The team’s only loss of the season was a 2-0 nonconference setback to Fox Chapel. But Shady Side isn’t motivated by its success in the regular season.

Just a year ago, Shady Side missed out on a trip to the WPIAL championship for the first time since 2016, and Farner said he and his teammates are looking to get back to Highmark Stadium and bring another title back to their school.

“Coming into the season, we always have the goals of section, WPIAL and state championships,” Farner said. “I think missing out on those last year — I mean, we had a very young team last year so we knew it might be more difficult than past years — but I think the experience we gained last year from not making the final has added some extra motivation for us.”

If Shady Side gets back to that point, Ellsworth said he knows he’ll have a player that he can count on when it comes to the biggest stage.

“In the biggest games, you just never question what you are going to get from him,” Ellsworth said.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .


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