When the WPIAL Class 4A girls soccer playoffs begin Monday evening, the North Hills Indians will be making their first postseason since 2016, but it will be bittersweet for the players, the coaching staff and the entire North Hills soccer community.
It’s been a poignant journey the North Hills girls soccer program in 2021 following the sudden and tragic loss of Head Soccer Coach Rick Kabbert in June.
The 52-year old Kabbert coached the Indians high school girls team last fall after two years with the North Hills Middle School boys program.
“Rick was dedicated, committed and passionate about soccer and his players,” North Hills Athletic Director Pat Weber said after Kabbert’s death.
“He was a team-oriented leader that wanted to do anything in his control for the program to turn the corner. He was all about creating a positive culture and committed to the overall process of building a program. These were all great attributes to him as a coach, but Rick was a genuine person. He always was looking to make himself better in anything he did. He was a joy to work alongside and such a great asset to the athletic department as a whole.”
Kabbert coached in the North Hills community for the last 11 years.
When he took over the North Hills program, Kabbert brought on Sam Bailey-Hockin to help him with coaching the goalkeepers. Following the death of his close friend and colleague, Bailey-Hockin was hired to take over as head coach.
“On a personal level, it’s been hard, especially knowing that he was on the field, coaching the team the year before,” Bailey-Hockin said. “But it was especially harder for the players when they came back. Some of them were with him since they were kids as the (North Hills) club level.”
Kabbert had the program trending in the right direction. It was tough sledding for North Hills from 2017 through 2019 they won a total of three section games.
In 2020, under Kabbert, the Indians finished 5-8-1 overall, but as Bailey-Hocklin said, “things started to click” as the Indians won its final four games.
“Rick was definitely excited about this upcoming season to build on their finish from last season,” Weber said. “They ended the season on a four-game winning streak, including a 1-0 home win over Fox Chapel on Oct. 19 as Fox Chapel was about to enter the playoffs as a very high seed. He was taking that momentum right into summer conditioning and into the fall.”
“Under Bailey-Hocklin’s guidance, the Indians posted a 3-7 section record, and a 6-11 overall record, tied with Pine Richland for the final playoff spot in the section. Upon first look, it may not be all that impressive of a record, but with a number of powerhouse programs in the section, North Hills held its own and then some this season.
“The fact that they got through that (Kabbert’s passing), the way they started the season, that’s what making the playoffs is so special,” Bailey-Hocklin added. “It’s the first time that any of the players on the team have made the playoffs. But, it shows how good coach Rick was, as he built the foundation of this organization that I could come in. It was a lot easier, as there was no turmoil. It came as a family. It’s coach Rick’s team. I’ve said this all year.”
Bailey-Hocklin added: “He built the foundation and I just opened the door.”
The team wasn’t without its share of adversity once the season started, as competition each night in section play was intense and some injuries started to accumulate.
The program has benefited this season from influx of freshman players who contributed a lot of minutes, providing a young core with lots of quality experience.
“Showing that the freshman coming up are not freshman any more, they’re soccer players for North Hills High School,” Bailey-Hocklin boasted. “That’s something that I promote a lot. It doesn’t matter what age you are. What experiences you have. You play for the jersey. And that helps with coach Rick having been involved with the middle school and in the North Hills soccer club and community.”
The Indians clinched their spot in the postseason with their 2-1 win over Shaler last Thursday, with Maria Veiga leading the way with the game-winning goal and she also had the assist on the first goal.
Maria’s final home game at NH’s! She scored the game winner and an assist for the win over Shaler 2-1! Going to the playoffs for the first time in 5 years! @NHAthletics_ @Big56Conference @pghsoccernow not bad for a center back!! pic.twitter.com/CF8tECeiFk
— Amanda Veiga (@AmandaV64105479) October 15, 2021
North Hills, which earned the 12-seed in the tournament, will travel to Norwin, the fifth seed, to battle the 8-2 Knights on Monday, October 25 in its first round matchup. The game will be played at 6:30 PM with the winner advancing to face the winner of the (4)Seneca Valley/(13)Penn Trafford game.
“We’ve been training. We’ve been working tactically to defend. How we can work around Norwin,” Bailey-Hocklin said.
North Hills had a friendly scrimmage with Mars during the gap between games leading up to the postseason.
“It was a good way to go into this. Knowing how a team plays fluently. Counter-attacking. Direct. We are training for everything,” Bailey-Hocklin added. “These girls, obviously, absolutely excited to be in the playoffs but understands the mountain that they have to climb. But the highest mountain has the best views.”
With a foundation built by his good friend Rick Kabbert, Sam Bailey-Hocklin is intent on having the North Hills girls soccer team ready for the playoffs.
“We’re going as the underdogs, and there’s nothing better than a good underdog movie.” Bailey-Hocklin exclaimed. “These girls are going to be ready from the first whistle to the last. And knowing them from the past couple of months, they’re going to give everything.”
Rick Kabbert’s legacy is well-intact as his friend and the many players are doing their part to make the North Hills community proud.
PSN Interview with Sam Bailey-Hocklin