Casey Leonard matures into leader for Hempfield boys soccer
Hempfield soccer standout Casey Leonard was labeled a scorer since his days of playing with the Itty Bitty Kickers at Hempfield Park. That’s where Leonard’s earliest memory of scoring a goal scoring a goal took place when playing for his Under-6 team when he nailed the back of the net on a crossing shot.
That’s when people realized the kid has a leg.
“My dad was a coach when I was younger, and a lot (my skill) came through him,” said Leonard. “He was a big influence.”
These days, Leonard is looking to lead the Hempfield boys soccer team out of the basement of Section 4-4A and put the Spartans in position to challenge for one of the section’s four postseason spots. Despite winning just one game last season, the thirst to win is even greater.
“I expect a good season every season,” Leonard said. “It doesn’t really matter about all the goals and assists, as long as we are winning, learning, growing and playing as teammates.”
There’s no question Leonard has the talent. He was one of the bright spots last season, scoring nine of the Spartans 16 goals. It’s Leonard’s unselfishness coupled with his talent that is the biggest difference from a year ago. Leonard has allowed himself to transform into a leader.
“That’s been my plan and my hope for Casey,” second-year coach Jason Demko said. “He was voted for by the team to be one of our captains this year, and that’s really his next developmental task, (which is) is to lead on the field and being that example out there.”
Demko and Leonard go way back. Long before Demko took over as the Spartans coach, he was nurturing his future attacker at the age of 12.
“He played for me at a higher level (with the) ‘classic teams’ since he was 12 years old,” Demko said. “He played for me at the Foothills club team. Now, he plays for me with Beadling.”
Funny thing is, when Demko started coaching his top attacker, it was at the other end of the pitch. Leonard got his start in competitive soccer on defense, later moved to midfielder, and the rest is history. It’s Leonard’s experience at all levels that makes him a special talent.
“He started off as a defender and playing as a center back,” Demko said. “Honestly, that’s what makes him as good as he is in that he’s played all the positions on the field at a high level.”
In last year’s 3-2 win over Norwin, Demko moved his top goal scorer back to defender to help protect a one-point lead and preserve the Spartans’ lone win of the season.
“He’s a very competent defender,“Demko said.
Leonard’s experience gives him the uncanny ability to drive the ball from his defense spot and on through to the midfield. He can set the offensive attack early in the possession.
When section rival Connellsville takes the field Tuesday to open section play, the Falcons will have their eyes fixed on Leonard. The Spartans went 0-2 last season against the Falcons, but Leonard scored three of Hempfield’s four goals in the two meetings.
But again, for Leonard, it’s not about leading the team in goals and assists. It’s about wins.
“I feel like we have a lot of talent and as long as we use it as a team and play together we should do pretty well,” Leonard said. “It’ a work in progress and I think that we’ll be fine.”