Sophomores spark Hampton boys soccer team

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Friday, September 20, 2019 | 8:46 AM


For the Hampton boys soccer team, sophomores are finding out just how much they can grow in two years.

A team that went undefeated in eighth grade now forms the nucleus of what looks to be a playoff contender for years to come. Despite a tough 2-1 loss to undefeated section rival Mars on Tuesday night, the Talbots look primed for a fourth straight playoff appearance.

“The younger guys are performing really well for me, and the older guys are stepping into the role they were supposed to,” coach Matt McAwley said. “We’re right where we want to be.”

The meshing of senior experience with younger talent bodes well for Hampton (3-2-1, 3-1-1), which preceded its loss with three clean sheets in a row, although one was a 0-0 tie against Kiski. Senior captain Matt Govi thought it was an excellent learning experience for the younger players in a tough game that went into extra time.

“I think it was a good game for everyone to say after 100 minutes we’re ready for the rest of the season,” Govi said. “It was definitely challenging for the younger kids. It was their first experience doing that, but I think they’ll be ready for the next one.”

Govi said he hopes the Mars loss turns into a learning experience for its talented group of sophomores, which features a returning starter in Zach Panza and starting goalkeeper Thomas Bradfield.

“Even (the Mars game), Thomas was making incredible saves,” Govi said. “He’s been doing a really good job keeping it clean, along with the back line.”

The front line is all sophomores, including leading scorers Luke Staggers and Liam Nichols, who had four goals each after six games.

“They’ve all been playing together a really long time,” Govi said. “They’re all on the same page, so it’s really easy for them to connect to score goals and create opportunities.”

Because of their early success, it’s strange to think last year at this time, both forwards were playing junior varsity.

“They were always players we thought would come into their own this year,” McAwley said. “I was thrilled to see them have that success as the season began and hope it continues. I’m confident it will. They thrive under pressure and did really well in JV last year.”

Govi has taken on a leadership role off the pitch and on it. He played all 100 minutes of the Kiski game.

“He’s a voice that players look to in those tense situations to calm it down,” McAwley said. “Or push players when they need to be pushed.

“To see him develop and take the reins of the team in that central role is great to see. For some players, it doesn’t come naturally. For Govi, it’s an instinct he has.”

In his second year starting, Panza transitioned from defense to a defensive midfield role, though his versatility allows him to switch back and forth when injuries arise.

“He’s playing that midfield ball-winning role and has played it very well to start the season,” McAwley said.

As for the Planets, Hampton will get another shot Oct. 8.

“We were all disappointed with the loss,” Govi said. “But it’s nice knowing that they have to come back to our place and deal with us for another game. We’re looking forward to that. But we’ve got to deal with the other games first.”

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