It might sound cliché but mum’s the word when it comes to the Hempfield girls soccer team this season, and third-year coach Adam Shaffer and his Spartans are perfectly fine with playing the underdog role.
“I think we did a lot of reflection of last season, and that really stuck with the girls all summer,” Shaffer said. “This has been by far our best preparation, and our confidence is the best we’ve had over the three years.”
Reflecting back to last season is like rubbing salt into fresh wounds, but it is necessary if the Spartans want to carry a chip on their shoulders heading into the season. Hempfield (3-12, 2-8) finished one spot out of the basement, above rival Latrobe, in Section 4-4A last season. Scoring was an issue as Hempfield found the back of the net just 16 times and was shut out six times.
“We struggled in the scoring department for sure,” Shaffer said. “This year, I think we will have a better time creating opportunities and finding the back of the net with our senior leadership we have up front.”
The Spartans will have to improve without last year’s leading scorer -- senior Sierra Aniballi, who will miss her final season because of a knee injury.
“Replacing her will definitely be our top priority,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer will be looking to junior Caroline Czarnecki to fill Anniballi’s shoes. Senior midfielder Jessica Persin and junior Sydney Patrick have also earned starting spots at midfield.
“Our team philosophy is that everything is the next girl up, and everybody is competing for a spot,” Shaffer said.
Up the middle will be senior Sabrina Pettinato. Shaffer likes Pettinato’s creativity, vision and feel for the game. Junior Ashley VanHorn will hold down the back line.
″(VanHorn) will be a workhorse, and she’s a ball winner in every situation,” Shaffer said. “We like to establish that we will move girls around and try new things, especially after last year when we had to try new things on the attack.”
Senior MacKenna Orie, a four-year letterman, is another physical “ball winner” who has locked down a starting spot on defense. All the others spots are up for grabs. Shaffer was hesitant to name names when it came to players who were up for the other starting spots.
Goalkeeper is another position where Shaffer is looking for someone to step up and win the job. The Spartans have five goalkeepers listed on the roster and not one has pulled away from the rest of the pack. Senior Jonna Woodring, sophomores Gillian Bierhals, Kasey Ketter and Charlie Cieslo and freshman Cheyenne Overly are making their cases.
“Goalkeeper is up for grabs, and we have a few players battling for that everyday during practice,” Shaffer said.
Hempfield moved into Section 3-4A once the WPIAL realignment was settled. The Spartans will continue to battle rivals Norwin, Latrobe, Connellsville and Penn-Trafford and will also welcome newcomers Penn Hills and Allderdice.
“We’re excited, and we like to play in our section,” Shaffer said. “It’s a tough section. We look to make an impact and shock the WPIAL.”