Devin Bierly on boys soccer: Hughesville’s improvement is thanks to senior class

As seventh graders, they didn’t win a game and only scored four goals. As freshmen, they only won a game and that was a surprise. Now, the Hughesville seniors are leading a program that recently clinched a third straight playoff berth, the longest streak since the late 1990s, its nine wins this season are the most since the 2008 squad went 11-7-1 and the Spartans (9-5-1) still have three games to go.

The improvement hasn’t come overnight and it hasn’t been easy. Hughesville has increased its win total every year the last four years and its next step is to advance in districts. The last two postseason trips have been short-lived due to losses to state-power Lewisburg, but with a senior-laden team with some talented underclassmen, this year might be Hugesville’s best chance to advance in the postseason for the first time in over a decade.

“It was rough,” coach Jim Dennis said of the 2015 season. “I almost thought ‘what am I getting myself into here?’ I just started teaching them the basics and focusing on that. I said to them, ‘look, if you do the basics and you do the basics faster than anyone else, you’re going to start winning games.’

“The first year was definitely very rough. A couple of us started when we were freshmen because we didn’t have the deepest roster,” senior captain Brody Heller said. “That was a long season, but it’s been very nice to see where we’ve come.”

Dennis has been there since the beginning for this Spartan squad. After coaching at Muncy for nine seasons, Dennis started with the junior high program in the spring and coached varsity in the fall. His 100th career win was actually that one victory in 2015. Dennis has preached about fundamentals and ball skills and it has paid off as Hughesville is second in the HAC III, just behind 12-3 Loyalsock.

“That’s why I got into coaching in the first place just to see how well they can do,” Dennis said. “There’s no greater feeling showing a kid something in practice and then seeing him use it in the game and have it work. Then the player says, ‘oh my gosh, you do know what you’re talking about.’ I’m like, ‘yeah, I’ve bee doing this for a while.’ It’s just been wonderful. I always consider coaching like the home improvement center. I can give them the tools and I can show them how to do it, but ultimately it’s them doing the work themselves and they’ve worked really hard to get where they are.”

The seniors are the ones who have headed this rise of the program. Hughesville has always been known for its boys basketball and girls soccer programs, but these Spartans haven’t just worked hard in practice, it’s what they’ve done during the offseason that has raised the program to heights not seen in nearly two decades.

“It’s been amazing. It’s why we get into coaching in the first place to teach kids and then watch them grow as players and people. It’s just been wonderful. They’ve steadily improved every year. They went from seven wins to eight wins and right now we’re at nine with three to go. I can’t ask for anymore,” Dennis said. “Brody Heller, one of the things I started working on with him was juggling and ball control. Just practice every day, beat your previous record every day and in 90 days you’ll have over 90 juggles at a time. He took that to heart and now I told him he has to quit counting because he’s over like 900 now.”

Thanks to Dennis and the seniors who have blazed the path, the younger players have heeded the coaching and have followed the seniors’ leadership. Junior Austin Lewis (19 goals) is second in the area in scoring, freshman Nick Trevouledes (13 goals) has paired great with Lewis up top and the duo present one of the best striker tandems around. Junior Justus Leighow (11 assists) is third in the area in assists and anchors an impressive midfield. And senior Steven Millheim has been one of the most consistent keepers around and his five shutouts are tied for third in the area.

“They have all bought into it. One of the things I told them is that it’s not what you do at the organized practices, it’s what you do when you’re not here that’s going to make the difference,” Dennis said. “I gave them simple things they can do at home and they’ve done them. They’ve been working really hard at home, getting better ball control, understanding that’s the one of the biggest things. You can learn the tactics and where to be and when to be there, but if you can’t control the ball when you’re there, it doesn’t do you any good.”

The program might be in good hands — or feet — in the future. The soccer team has held camps and clinics with some of the local youth and AYSO teams. When the current Hughesville varsity players were younger, they didn’t have a successful program to look up to, but now there is a standard. The current crop of Hughesville players have blazed a path for youth in the eastern part of Lycoming County and in a few years when they come back, they’ll be able to see the continuance of what they started.

“It makes me feel great as a person. I’m striving to be the best influential person I can,” Millheim said. “Being the captain, it’s given me that and taking charge for the kids and younger kids looking up at us is an amazing thing.”

“One of the things I’m most proud of them is the work they do in the community too. The youth day, we’ve had AYSO practices come over where the boys have helped out with it and they’re showing, this is how we’re doing it. This is going to make you better and it’s been great,” Dennis said. “When they see the success that the older guys are having, it makes them want to work a little harder because when they come up they can have that same success.”

LOCALS in college

• Connor Anderson (Jersey Shore), Washington and Jefferson — Sophomore midfielder has appeared in six games and started three for 3-7-1 Presidents … second on team with two goals … has five shots on goal.

• Joey Bhangdia (Lewisburg), University of Pennsylvania — After missing his freshman season with an injury, the sophomore has started all nine games in the midfield for 2-3-4 Quakers … earned first career point with a goal in season opening-win win over Monmouth … has 16 shots with five coming on goal.

• Will Brock (Lewisburg), Dickinson  – Sophomore defensive back has started all 12 games for 7-3-2 Devils … tallied first career points with assists in wins over Swarthmore and Misericordia … part of a defense that is allowing 1.61 goals per game.

• Jacob Butzler (Jersey Shore), Susquehanna — Seen action in nine games and started six as a defender … played in 482 minutes for 1-8-2 River Hawks … part of defense that is allowing just 1.30 goals per game.

• Adam Cole (Lewisburg), Messiah — Sophomore midfielder has played in six games and started one for defending National Champion Falcons.

• Daniel Cole (Lewisburg), Messiah — Senior midfielder has appeared in 11 games for defending national champion Falcons … has posted eight shots with three on goal.

• Kyle Guissanie (Lewisburg), Lebanon Valley — Senior defensive midfielder has appeared in all 10 games for 6-3-1 Dutchmen … scored in a 2-2 tie against Eastern … notched an assist in 5-1 win over Eastern Mennonite.

• Tucker Hays (Warrior Run), Mount Aloysius — Freshman goalkeeper has played two games for 11-1-1 Mounties … has yet to allow a goal in nearly 33 minutes of action.

• Daniel Hendry (Lewisburg), Goucher — Four-year starting goalkeeper has appeared in 12 games and started 11 … made 56 saves for a .747 save percentage … has shutouts against Wilson and Mt. Aloysius … allowing 1.64 goals against.

• Danny Hibbs (Loyalsock), Penn College — Graduate student has played in one game as a midfielder.

• Casey Hoover (Wellsboro), Susquehanna — After earning four starts with 14 saves last season, he has yet to see game action as sophomore goalkeeper.

• Ben King (Montoursville), Susquehanna — After appearing in one game as a freshman, King has yet to see game-action as a sophomore goalkeeper.

• Zach Kratzer (Lewisburg), Elizabethtown — Sophomore midfielder has appeared in five games for 3-4-3 Blue Jays … played season-high 39 minutes against Rutgers-Newark … took two shots against Rutgers-Newark.

• Kylan Kurtz (Warrior Run), Misericordia — Freshman defensive back has yet to see action for 2-8-1 Misericordia.

• Cole Lesher (Hughesville), Eastern — Sophomore defender has played in six games and started one for 8-2-1 Eagles … part of a defense that is allowing 0.73 goals per game … team is 5-1 in games he plays.

• Nate Liscum (Lewisburg), Clarkson — Freshman defender has started all 11 games for 7-3-1 Golden Knights … has played all but four minutes (1,006) for defense that is allowing 0.55 goals per game, 20th lowest in Division III … tallied first career point with an assist in 1-0 win over RIT.

• Samuel Miller (Lewisburg), Washington and Jefferson — Freshman goalkeeper has appeared in one game for 3-7-1 Presidents … played 14 minutes in 4-0 win over Thiel, making a save.

• Gabe McKeon (Williamsport), Penn College — Freshman defender has yet to see game action for Wildcats.

• Nick Musto (Montoursville), Lycoming — Played in one game in 6-0 win over Penn College as a midfielder … freshman took one shot for nationally-ranked Warriors.

• Andre Permyashkin (Lewisburg), Delaware Valley — Junior midfielder has appeared in six games and started five for 3-9 Aggies … his two goals are tied for team-lead … opened season with game-winning goal in 1-0 win over Yeshiva … added a goal in 4-1 win over Penn State York … has posted 13 shots with eight on goal.

• Max Reed (Lewisburg), Susquehanna — Appeared in six games and started four as senior forward … posted a goal in 2-1 loss to Catholic … earned second-team all-conference honors as a junior.

• Cody Rogers (Warrior Run), Misericordia –Sophomore forward has played in nine games and started one for 2-8-1 Misericordia … has seen 316 minutes of action … taken four shots with one on goal.

• Cody Schwoyer (Williamsport), Penn College — Sophomore defender has appeared in eight games and started one … seen 341 minutes of game action … tallied first career point with an assist in 7-1 win over St. Elizabeth … attempted only shot against Lycoming.

• Nathaniel Wilston (Mansfield), Lycoming — Played in two games, totaling 27 minutes of game action as a defender … a part of defense that is allowing 0.41 goals per game, 15th lowest in the nation for 17th-ranked Warriors … senior is two-time member of MAC Academic Honor Roll.

• Alex Yoder (Milton), Geneva — Freshman forward has appeared in all 11 games and started eight for 5-5-1 Golden Tornadoes … has team-high four goals and is second on team with nine points … scored goals in back-to-back games against Case Western and Penn State Behrend … tallied first career point with an assist in a season-opening tie against Hiram … notched 23 shots with 13 coming on goal.

DEVIN BIERLY’S TOP 5 RANKINGS

1. WILLIAMSPORT (10-2-1) — The Millionaires look poised for a third straight district title as they have won seven straight and are still perfect in the HAC I (9-0). Williamsport has allowed just one goal in its last seven games and is receiving great contribution from a lot of players. In his first high school season in the field, J.R. Confair continues to play well and had a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over Danville, the Millionaires lone game in the last week.

2. LOYALSOCK (12-2) — The Lancers suffered a surprising 2-0 setback to Millville, snapping an 11-game win streak, on Monday. It was just the second time that goalie Connor Rude and the Lancer defense have given up multiple goals in a game and they’ve only allowed eight goals all season. They have essentially wrapped up a HAC III title, but still some tough games remain against South Williamsport, Wellsboro and Central Columbia.

3. LEWISBURG (9-4-1) — Lewisburg dropped another one-goal overtime loss to another quality opponent, this time a 2-1 setback to Selinsgrove. Lewisburg’s four losses have come at a combined score of 7-3 and its losses have come against opponents with a combined 43-12-1 record. The Green Dragons record may not be as flawless as it’s been in seasons past, but they are still mighty dangerous in a stacked Class AA field.

4. SULLIVAN COUNTY (10-2) — After a 4-1 season-opening loss to Southern Columbia, the Griffins have rebounded with wins in 10 of its last 11 games, including three straight. Sullivan also avenged that loss to Southern with a 3-2 win three weeks later. But the team’s most impressive win was a 5-2 topping of a good Hughesville team on Monday.

5. HUGHESVILLE (9-5-1) — The Spartans were playing their best soccer of the season before that loss to Sullivan. It had won three straight and seven of eight with its only loss being a 1-0 decision against a good Loyalsock team. The Spartans are already enjoying one of their best seasons of the 2000s but want to increase their win total with three winnable games left and look to reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2008.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: BRIAN LEWIS, SULLIVAN COUNTY — The senior led Sullivan to a 3-0 week and he had three goals in the Griffins most impressive win of the season, a 5-2 win over Hughesville. Lewis also recorded a hat trick in a 3-0 win over Benton.

Devin Bierly covers boys soccer for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 570-326-1551 (ext. 3112) or by email at dbierly@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SunGazetteDevin.

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