Smothering defense helps Hampton start season strong

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Saturday, September 25, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Hampton senior Thomas Bradfield is one of the top goalkeepers in WPIAL Class 3A soccer.

But he rarely gets to prove it.

The Talbots are playing smothering defense this season, and Bradfield, a third-year starter, often goes long stretches without ever being tested by an opponent’s shot.

“We want to keep Thomas as inactive as we can,” senior all-Section 1-3A defender Henry Hughes said.

The Talbots (6-0 as of Sept. 22) posted five consecutive shutouts to begin the season, highlighted by a 2-0 win over nemesis Mars in the opener. They are off to the program’s best start since the 2010 team began 12-0 on the way to a 25-1 record and the PIAA Class AA title.

“It’s something that they strive for, to keep those clean sheets,” coach Matt McAwley said. “It’s a pride level for them to be able to see a zero on the scoreboard after each game.”

The Talbots’ shutout streak ended in a 2-1 victory over Knoch on Sept. 21. Prior to that, Hampton was the only boys soccer team in the 106-team WPIAL that hadn’t allowed a goal this season.

In a 5-0 victory over visiting Highlands on Sept. 20, the Talbots limited the Golden Rams to one second-half shot — a slow roller in the final minute that Bradfield saved with ease.

Bradfield’s idleness is a testament to the team defense being played in front of him.

Hughes, Dylan Beranek, Frank Galioto and Brennan Wesley form an experienced, all-senior back line for the Talbots, who returned 10 starters from an 11-5-1 WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinalist. The Talbots’ forwards and midfielders also play with a defensive mentality, and their precise passing and ball control limits opposing touches.

“The (defense) barely lets any shots,” senior forward Holden Pritts said. “They are always at their best.”

Hampton opened the season with the 2-0 victory at Mars on Sept. 9, snapping a 13-game losing streak to the Fightin’ Planets dating to August 2013. The victory snapped the defending PIAA Class 3A champion’s 24-game unbeaten streak.

“It was a nice win, and it was very exciting,” Hughes said. “But we have a goal for the season, a goal we want to achieve.”

The balanced Talbots are also dangerous on attack. Four players have scored at least three goals. Forward Luke Staggers has netted a team-high five goals. Gabe Viszlay (four) notched a hat trick in a 3-0 victory over Kiski Area on Sept. 18 and, two nights later, Zach Panza (four) scored three times against Highlands. Pritts has added three goals and senior Liam Nichols, an all-section forward, two.

“That’s the one nice thing, that there’s not one focal point where our goals are coming from,” McAwley said. “It’s a very dangerous thing to have multiple forwards that can score goals and then people from the midfield that can also score goals, which is what we’ve seen so far.”

The Talbots, who were scheduled to host Mars on Sept. 29 in the rematch, are eyeing their first section title in a decade. The all-senior lineup is also looking to reach the WPIAL Class 3A title game for the first time. The Talbots remained focused and relatively muted as they walked off Fridley Field following their 5-0 win over Highlands.

“We’re not done yet,” Pritts said. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”

Clean sheets

Hampton was the last WPIAL boys soccer team to allow a goal this season

Date, opponent, score, result

9.9, Mars, 2-0, W

9.13, Freeport, 7-0, W

9.15, Indiana, 2-0, W

9.18, Kiski Area, 3-0, W

9.20, Highlands, 5-0, W

9.21, Knoch, 2-1, W

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