Hopewell defender Laura Butts mixes it up with Blackhawk players during a match last season.
By Nicholas Tolomeo Tri-State Sports & News Service
In a span of about 25 minutes during the season opener, the Hopewell High School girls soccer team showed just how dangerous it can be.
Down, 1-0, to Sewickley Academy with less than 25 minutes to play in the second half, the Hopewell attack sprung to life and the Vikings poured in three goals to come from behind and win, 3-1.
The win let Hopewell start the season 1-0 and it also served notice to the rest of the teams in WPIAL Class AA that the Vikings are a legitimate contender. Expectations are sky high at the program with eight returning starters back from a 13-3-3 team a year ago. The Vikings were scheduled to play a non-section match Wednesday night at Pine-Richland.
In last season's playoffs, Hopewell advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals but it is what Hopewell did during the regular season that bears mentioning. After playing second fiddle to Central Valley in Class AA Section 3 since that school formed in 2010, Hopewell finally closed the gap with the Warriors. The section rivals were as close as two teams can be, with both meetings resulting in a draw and the teams sharing the section title with identical 10-0-2 records.
"We weren't playing for ties, but nevertheless it was good to at least be on par with them," Hopewell coach Martin Byrnes said. "Hopefully, this year we can take that next step but I think it will be very challenging."
Hopewell surprised Central Valley in the 2010 WPIAL quarterfinals, but besides that game it has never been able to beat the Warriors in their two annual regular-season meetings.
"I think it will be the two of us, I hope it is the two of us again and I hope we end up on top," Byrnes said. "[Central Valley] is going to be tough -- they always are. I hope that our girls have enough confidence and gained enough experience that we can play with teams like Central Valley, not just play with them but beat them. Hopefully, we have learned that from last year."
Hopewell has not won an outright section title since 1994.
Hopewell's top returning starters back this season are junior midfielder Kaylee Schwegler, junior midfielders Abby Losco and Stephanie Lias and senior forward Lauren Krawchyk. Schwegler scored two goals in the game against Sewickley Academy and Losco scored the winner.
Byrnes is high on Schwegler, a junior. He said she could have a breakout season this year.
Losco led the team with 16 goals last season and Krawchyk was not far behind with 15.
"There were times [last season] when we should have had more goals," Byrnes said. "I just think it is that killer instinct in front of the goal that we need to get and maybe we found it with Kaylee."
Schwegler has not scored as many goals as Losco and Krawchyk, but she has scored on big stages. As a freshman she tied the score in a playoff game against South Fayette with a goal.
"She has scored some big goals for us in the past," Byrnes said. "Kaylee might be the one who gets those big goals this season."
With three defenders having graduated from last season, Byrnes has contemplated moving Krawchyk to defense to shore things up. Senior Lauren Shawgo is the only returning starter on the backline.
"Shawgo has been a rock," Byrnes said. "We may use Lauren Krawchyk as a defender, that is still something that we are working on."
Byrnes inserted senior Erica Aires and freshman Lauren Shutak into the starting lineup on defense in the season opener and neither was subbed out for the entire 80-minute contest.
"Erica looked pretty darn good in training, she will be one of our steady defenders," Byrnes said. "And Lauren is a really sharp freshman. We are looking to get a lot of good things out of those two."
In the midfield, Lias has been one of the most consistent players in the WPIAL over here career. She is a three-time all-section midfielder. Junior Chelsea Sundy is another strong player who starts in the midfield.
Hopewell is currently without senior goalie Kyra Honeywill, an All-WPIAL selection last season. She was injured in April playing softball. Byrnes is unsure if she will return this season. Freshman Emilie Hovanec has started in Honeywill's place.