Everything just seems to be clicking for the Camp Hill girls soccer team this season.
The Lions find themselves in the PIAA Class 1A semifinal against East Juniata on Tuesday at 5:30 at Central Dauphin Middle School.
Take a closer look at the Lions’ past and one may wonder how they got here. A team that has found its stride now is only weeks removed from being anything but calm and dominant.
Rewind to just five games into the season. On Sept. 16, Nick Hammaker confirmed his resignation at the start of his third season as head coach. The move shocked the squad. There was no reason provided for his departure.
“It was the captains at first that found out,” junior forward Sheridan Reid said, recalling the day she got the news. “I was still in shock. I had no clue that it had gotten to that extent. We didn’t expect losing a coach, having that happen and then having a bunch of assistant coaches step up.”
One of the coaches to step up was assistant coach Jared Latchford. The night before a meeting with all of the coaches and athletic department, Latchford got the call asking if he would immediately step into the role of interim head coach.
“I was completely taken off guard. We had a game the next day and it was just a shock,” Latchford said. “That was a much bigger role than I had before that they just decided to drop on me.”
Latchford had an idea a coaching shakeup was coming after problems from the 2016 season resurfaced early on this year. Players on the field were just more irritated with each other and constantly bickering.
“The more talented players would yell at the less talented players, per se,” Latchford said. “That seems kind of weird — with such a small school they would seem like they’re all really just friends as it is.”
The sudden changes for the team may have come at the perfect time. The Lions (12-8) started the season 2-3 and have gone 10-5 since Hammaker’s resignation, getting to the District 3 Class 1A championship, a 2-1 loss to Fairfield, and now states.
Latchford said the players helped ease his transition into a larger role.
“With me staying around and a familiar face staying around, I think that let them ease back into things and not over complicate the issue,” Latchford said. “Sheridan and the other captains and leaders on the team really helped out in practice to get everyone [on the same page]. Overall, I think the transition was easy and this group of girls really made it easy for me. I think it could have been a lot more complicated than it was.”
The Lions are in the first state run in their history, two wins away from a PIAA crown. A CH win means a date Saturday at 11 a.m. at Hersheypark Stadium with either Greensburg Central Catholic or Shady Side, WPIAL programs. (If the Camp Hill boys, the state defending champs, also win Tuesday against Masterman, they will play at 1:30 in Hershey.)
Part of the reason the team has come this far was because of the sudden loss of a leader in Hammaker. Reid and some of the team — Reid and Latchford had nothing ill to say of the former coach — used the moment as a catalyst to prove what they could accomplish.
“With others speaking up just to say how they felt about it, it brought on a whole new perspective of how we wanted to play on the rest of the season, and I think it really helped us move forward and just show others how we can play,” Reid said. “In the beginning of the season I didn’t know how far we were going to make it, and we had a rocky start during preseason and I didn’t know how our team was going to be.
“We really wanted to play harder and show him how far we could make it, so just stepping up I think is what brought us this far.”
As the Lions prepare for their next opponent, the District 4 second-seed Tigers, their confidence has grown. It doesn’t hurt that Bloomsburg, which Camp Hill beat 3-2 (4-1 PKs) Saturday, beat East Juniata in the District 4 championship.
“They may be more confident going into this game than the last game,” Latchford said. “There’s definitely nerves, but definitely excitement — there’s a huge amount of both. I know after the kind of last game, it’s kind of difficult to imagine any more nerves after that.”
After cracking a Bloomsburg defense that hadn’t allowed a goal for an impressive 404 minutes and 55 seconds, Camp Hill’s whole demeanor has changed.
“It’s a good thing that we kind of got [the Bloomsburg game] out of the way, so now we’re ready for any situation going forward,” Latchford said.
Reid, however, doesn’t appear to be as nervous ahead of the biggest game of her soccer career.
“I don’t really get nervous going into games, but this is like a huge game just to send us to the finals and keep making history,” Reid said with a laugh. “I think everyone has really stepped up, especially at the end of the season and when we hit states. We knew that we could make it far and we’re all putting in a lot of effort.
“We’re just working hard in practice and we’re all just excited to see where this goes.”
It’s a long way from a team plagued by infighting nearly two months ago. Where once was confrontation, Latchford sees coordination and support. And it has helped the Lions get this far into November.
“I think they finally believe they can win. The winning mentality is the big difference right now,” Latchford said. “A lot of them was talking about how it’s the first time in history for the team to get to states and are all about setting milestones for the school. They want to keep pushing that line farther and farther back and it’s a great environment to be in.
“They just keep pushing themselves to new limits and keep getting better.”