Local squads look like major contenders this season

Score a look at your favorite hometown teams in the Northeast Times’ annual soccer preview.

Ball control: Steph Marino (19) will be one of the leaders on the Nazareth Academy soccer team this year. PHOTO: Dan Bradley

So far, so good.

The girls soccer teams from Northeast Philadelphia have had strong summers, and they’re ready to compete for championships.

In the Catholic League, St. Hubert High School enjoyed a solid campaign a season ago, advancing to the Catholic League semifinals and the city championship game. A repeat performance would be nice, but two of its stiffest challenges will be in the other two local schools, Archbishop Ryan and Little Flower.

In the Public League, Franklin Towne Charter looks to return to the top spot in the Public League after surrendering the crown to Central last year. Some of its toughest competition will come from fellow Northeast schools.

And Nazareth could have something to say about who wins the Catholic Academies League.

Here is a look at the local teams competing in girls soccer

Catholic Academies League

Nazareth Academy

The Pandas made the district playoffs a season ago after winning nine games. This year, the goal is to finish better during the regular season and make some noise in the postseason.

Leading the way will be returning players Lauren Powell, Bella Spinelli, Steph Marino, Abby Watson, Kierra McAneny, Megan Kennedy, Cayla Chipperfield, Brooke Kane, Erica Denshuick, Liv Malkowski, Delainie Reagan, Tori Posviak and Hannah Florentino, who is bouncing back from a torn ACL.

The Pandas still have work to do, figuring out where the girls will line up, but they come in with experience, and expectations are high.

“I see a lot of girls competing for spots, which makes me excited about the season,” said coach Dan Bradley. “Last year, we made districts for the first time in 12 years so we are expecting the same this year. We lose Maura Lifsted and Madison Joynes to graduation but everyone else is returning.

“Our goal is to compete for a league championship, which in our league is extremely tough with teams like Villa Joe, Gwynedd, Mount, Villa Maria and Saint Basil’s. The goal last year was to make districts, but this year we raised our expectations to achieve more than just making it.”

CATHOLIC LEAGUE

Archbishop Ryan

The Ragdolls come into the season as the hunter after being the hunted for four straight seasons. Not winning the Catholic League championship last year was a tough way to finish the year for a squad that expects to win every year, but it did little to temper expectations this year.

The team will be led by midfielder Maria DiEsio. She’ll work with fellow midfielders Priscilla Walsh and Kaitlyn Findley.

The offense will be led by Hailey O’Neill, Madison Taylor and Gianna Monaco.

Defensively, the Ragdolls will utilize Delaney McDonnell and Gianna Costanzo, and Devon McDonald will serve as the goalie.

The Ragdolls are hungry and have the potential to be among the best in the area.

“We’re still tweaking with the lineup, but we look good so far,” said Ryan coach Jon Geist. “I’m hoping we correct a lot of things during the early part of the season and then improve and play our best soccer later in the year.

“The girls are working hard and the attitude has been great. If we put them in the right spot, they’ll be good.”

Little Flower

The Sentinels hung tough last year before falling in the Catholic League semifinals.

This year, the goal is to get at least a game farther, and possibly a run in the state tournament.

Leading the way will be defender Tess Hopkins. She’ll work with fellow defenders Maura Kilkenny and Brenna McCarry. And they’ll play in support of goalie Natalie O’Neill.

The midfield will be led by Maeve McGowan, and the offense will feature Celeste O’Neill and Melanie Lynn.

Providing depth will be Mackenzie Heron, Nicolette Conway, Cailin Salayda, Erin O’Brien, Madeline Curran, Maddie Burke, Haley Waring, Molly Killion, Caitlin Garlick, Maggie McCay, Abby Galazka, Allie Bofinger, Taylor Iarosis, Gabe McGowan and Erin Kelso.

Markos Pittaoulis has plenty of talent, but experience could be a concern.

“We have players, they have talent and they’re working really hard,” Pittaoulis said. “We’re trying to see where they all fit. Hopefully, we’ll be better than last year. It was a very good year, but this year we want it to be a better year.”

St. Hubert

The Bambies are coming off a fine campaign that included a trip to the Catholic League semifinals and the city title game.

The goal is to return, but if they do, there will be a lot of new faces because coach Mickey McGroarty graduated 12 players in June.

He does have help.

First-year goalie Celine Tobin moves from midfield to protect the net. She’ll work with defenders Caitlin Coll, Celeste Pizzaro, Emily DeOrio, Amber Linder and Megan O’Connell.

Katelynne Browne, Anastasia Perry, Mary Kate Cancelliere, Jessica Ruk, Gianna Zaccone, Dominique Doebley and Maura Stocklin will patrol the midfield, and playing forward will be Ava Pizzaro and Carleigh Molinaro.

The Bambies have holes to fill, but there’s a solid foundation to work with.

“I knew it would be tough because we’re training a new goalie and we have a lot of new players,” McGroarty said. “(Tobin) is very athletic and she’s doing well, but she’s not a goalie. She’s just a great athlete.

“Last year, we went 10–1 in the league and that’s not easy to do. We’re going to roll the dice with a lot of new girls. We hope to make the playoffs and then see what happens from there. Anything can happen in the playoffs.”

Public League

Benjamin Rush

The Knights struggled during the regular season, finishing 0–12, but rebounded to win the Public League Class 3A championship. They hope to keep that momentum rolling into this year.

Leading the way will be seniors Jackie Calhoun, Stephany Torres and Hailey Nunez-Evans. They will play midfield, and could see time at other positions. Caitlin Pope will also play midfield.

Helping with offense will be senior Olivia Ruderick.

Because of last year’s winless regular season campaign, the Knights will move down a division, which should put them up against teams with their skill level. That increases expectations.

“With eight starters from last year returning, paired with playing in a lower division, (we’re) looking to have a strong showing,” said Rush coach Todd Corabi. “(We) expect another playoff appearance and retention of the designation as the Public League’s top 3A team for the third consecutive year and fifth in six years.”

George Washington

The Eagles finished unbeaten in the National Division a season ago, which means they move up to the Liberty Division this year. The hope is to stay there.

Midfielder Teana Candelario will lead the team. She’ll work with defenders Kailynn Craven and Liz Gutierrez.

Ireland Smith, who made All-Public last year as a freshman, returns to play midfield.

There’s no doubt the Eagles will see a bump in competition this year, but expectations are just as high.

“Our strength should be our ability to score the ball. All of my attacking players are returning from last year,” Washington coach Jeremy Beatrice said. “Ireland Smith and Teana Candelario combined to score almost half of our goals last season.

“We expect to finish in the top half of the Liberty Division and possibly contend for the division crown. We expect to make another appearance in the playoffs and possibly advance to the second round. The back line has some work to do, but if they can come together, we should have a successful season.”

Franklin Towne Charter

Last year was the first time in six years the Coyotes didn’t bring home a championship. This year, they could rectify that.

Senior striker Arryana Coleman will lead the offense. In fact, she’s been filling the net during the preseason. She’ll work with Raegan Kennedy and Jada Weaver. Also contributing on defense is Chloe Lonergan, who has improved a lot since last season.

Megan Ware, a freshman, will start at goalie.

Rian Coleman will man the midfield, and Laura Pelczar and Nico Colon will lead the defense.

Brianna O’Donnell always has her team playing better as the season goes on, and if that happens this year, the Coyotes should be in the mix by the time the playoffs roll around.

“Our team is going to count on our four-year starters, Arryana Coleman on offense and Laura Pelczar on defense,” O’Donnell said. “Sophomore standouts Rian Coleman and Nico Colon have great ball control, soccer IQ and outstanding skills at the positions they play.

“We have seven players starting for the first time in their careers. We know as a team we have to work hard at practice to gain experience playing together so we can put together a solid effort on game day.”

Philadelphia Academy Charter

The Chargers enjoyed a fantastic postseason that saw them advance to the Public League quarterfinals, and then to the Class A District 12 championship. The goal is to get at least as far as they did a year ago.

Taylor Teal will lead the way at forward and midfield. She’ll play with Kearra Yaffe.

The defense will include Corinne Vecchione and Grace Hesser and goalie Lauren Black.

Kayla Yeager will be responsible for scoring goals.

Bob Mottershead is concerned about depth, but he’s happy about the players he has.

“We only have 17 girls, so if we have an injury or two, it could change, but I like what we have,” Mottershead said. “It’s safe to say we could be a top-four team in the Public League. We have the talent to go all the way. I’ll put our best 11 up against anyone, but we don’t have a lot of players. The ones we have are very good.”

New Foundations Charter

The Bulldogs won nine games a season ago, and this year they return a host of girls who could guide them to more success.

They have a strong senior class that includes Giyanna Rivera, Jasmine Martinez and Marian Viveras. Other top players will be junior Emily Flade and sophomore Natasha Campos-Santos. They’ll join forces with newcomers who have shown promise thus far.

“We have a great mix of youth and veteran players eager to learn and (get) ready to play,” coach Tim Burke said. “We don’t need to get ready because we are ready.” ••