So far this season, the Hopewell girls' soccer team has challenged itself in non-section games and then been quite the challenge for opponents in section contests.
The Vikings scheduled Class AAA powers Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley in early-season non-section games, losing both but coming away from the games with a better sense of where they were as a team.
Inside Section 3-AA, it has been a different story. Hopewell has had its way with its section foes, outscoring Riverside, Beaver Area, Blackhawk and Ellwood City by a combined 28-2.
"We are hoping to play against the best competition we can," Hopewell coach Martin Byrnes said. "We will never reach the level we want until we play against the best and compete against the best."
Hopewell (4-2, 4-0) will continue section play today at Ambridge in what should be its strongest section test yet. Last season Hopewell went 10-2-2 in section play, losing twice to section champion Central Valley while tying Ambridge twice.
The Vikings return 13 letter-winners from that team although relatively speaking the team is young.
Byrnes relies on a young midfield but he has high expectations for the group. Two sophomores and a freshman make up his central midfield while a sophomore and a junior start as outside midfielders.
"I would like to think that our midfield is the strength," Byrnes said. "We are all underclassmen out of our five midfield positions and even players coming off the bench are underclassmen."
Starting in the central midfield are sophomores Chelsea Sundy and Abby Losco and freshman Shannon Shawgo. Losco is one in a long line of Loscos to play for Byrnes at Hopewell. She currently leads the team with five goals through six games.
"Abby has been coming out to play for us during the summers in pickup games since she was 7 years old," Byrnes said. "She is a pretty special player. A lot of these girls, through junior high played for one of my assistants, so they kind of had an idea of our system. They know what we do."
The starting outside midfielders are Chloe Work and junior Stephanie Lias. The oldest of the five midfielders, Lias was named an all-section player as a freshman and sophomore. She is one of the fastest players on the team.
The midfielders play behind junior forward Lauren Krawchyk, an all-section player a year ago. Krawchyk led Hopewell in scoring as a freshman and finished second last season.
The Hopewell defense has shut out two opponents and limited two others to one goal. The defense is the most experienced units for the Vikings with three senior starters, Elaine Pfeifer, Amelia Mateer and Megan Tankosh alongside sophomore Kaylee Schwegler.
Junior goalkeeper Kylie Honeywill is also a returning starter. She started a majority of the games as a freshman before taking over a starting role full-time as a sophomore.
"We are experienced in the back," Byrnes said. "I expect shutouts."
An improvement on the defensive end will go a long way in helping Hopewell get past the first round of the WPIAL playoffs this season. Last year the defense had a four-game shutout streak toward the end of the season, but in its final three games it allowed 12 goals, including three in a 3-2 loss to South Fayette in the first round of the playoffs.
"Many of the girls know what is expected of them," Byrnes said. "The girls I think have their own goals as a team as well as goals that the coaches have set."
First Published September 20, 2012 4:00 AM