With young roster, Hempfield boys embark on rebuilding year

Saturday, November 19, 2022 | 11:01 AM

It is a harsh reality in sports. Teams rebuild.

Fans can’t believe it’s true. Players don’t want to acknowledge it. Coaches hope it never happens to them.

Even good programs that compete hard every year, like Hempfield, have to start over.

“Yeah, this is the first time we’ve had to,” Spartans boys basketball coach Bill Swan said. “Over 50% of our team is ninth and 10th graders.”

Hempfield lost eight seniors from “the best 7-16 team you’ll ever see,” Swan said.

That includes leading scorer Sean Gordon, Joe Fiedor, Brandon Learn, Chaz Ewer and Dom Hipps, a solid core that helped the Spartans grind their way into the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs.

“It would be disrespectful to our seniors to say it’s a youth movement, but things are different for sure,” Swan said. “It’s our turn in the barrel. It’s going to take time. It’s going to be an investment. But I am looking forward to working with these kids and watching them get better. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

The Spartans will refashion themselves around seniors Harrison Sowers, Carson Santangelo and Drew Hagins.

Sowers, a streaky 3-point shooter, averaged 10 points. Swan said his go-to scorer can’t just camp out behind the arc, though. His role will increase tenfold as the Spartans try to create offense.

“He’s going to have two or three guys coming at him,” Swan said. “We need to get him cutting and attacking. I told him the hardest job here is his and mine.”

Five juniors also dot the roster, including point guard Caden Biondi and Aaron Woodley, while sophomores Drew Gordon, Dylan Firmstone and Max Williams (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) are also looking to contribute.

Biondi saw time last year when Fiedor went down with a season-ending injury. He received significant minutes in the Spartans’ first-round playoff loss to Mt. Lebanon.

With the season starting a week earlier, teams will have fewer practices before the season opens Dec. 2. That means less time to install plays and get players better acquainted with each other.

Practice opened Friday.

“We’ll have eight practices,” Swan said. “You have two Sundays there, two scrimmages and Thanksgiving. This is the year we need three weeks (of practice).”

The Spartans will host the 18th annual Hempfield Tip-Off Tournament on Dec. 2-3 at the Spartans Field House.

Their opening game is against Greensburg Salem.

A challenging nonsection schedule sharpened the team last year. It will help this one cut its teeth.

Pine-Richland, Butler, Greensburg Central Catholic, Penn-Trafford and Fox Chapel are on the slate.

A new-look section has six teams, including Baldwin, Canon-McMillan, Mt. Lebanon, Norwin and Upper St. Clair.

Swan and his staff do not plan to change their usual preparation or scheme because of the overall inexperience.

“We’re going to run the same stuff,” Swan said. “We’re going to take some time to mesh as we get more comfortable.

“I’m fortunate that I get to coach great kids every year. I know they’ll work hard for us. This is 6A basketball. Nothing is easy as it is.”

At a glance

Coach: Bill Swan

Last year’s record: 7-16 (4-6 Section 3-6A)

Returning starters: Harrison Sowers (Sr., G)

Top newcomers: Caden Biondi (Jr., G), Drew Hagins (Sr., F), Carson Santangelo (Sr., G)

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.


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