Local teams have high hopes in girls soccer

An in depth look at Northeast Philly girls soccer teams before the season starts.

Archbishop Ryan hopes to repeat as Catholic League champions this year. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Last year, we had a champion and a runner up. This year, the goal is three titles in girls soccer.

In the Public League, Franklin Towne Charter will have a new look but the same goals under its new coach. The Warriors will be looking to win the Public League championship, something they fell just shy of doing a season ago.

Ryan, meanwhile, will look to defend its Catholic League championship with a host of new faces.

And in the Catholic Academies League, Nazareth Academy has an experienced group that expects success.

Here is a glance at the local teams that will compete in girls soccer.

Catholic Academies League

Nazareth Academy

Last season came down to a kick. Unfortunately for the Nazareth Academy Pandas, the penalty kick that decided the District One playoff game didn’t go their way. While it was a tough way to lose a first-round playoff game, head coach Dan Bradley is using the hard-luck loss as motivation for the upcoming season.

“Our goal is to be at the top of the AACA standings and move beyond districts,” Bradley said. “(The players) have really bought into being a team first. They are a resilient group and have a never-give-up attitude.”

After a 9–8–1 season, the Pandas are in position to surpass last year’s success. The team has a solid core of seniors, and a number of returning sophomores and juniors with varsity experience. Bradley also has several talented incoming freshmen who will benefit from the mentoring of his senior leaders.

One such leader is Delainie Regan, a senior midfielder who is a four-year starter on the varsity squad. Other key returners include defenders Abby Watson, Michaela Lynch, Cayla Chipperfield, Hannah Florentino and Megan Kennedy, midfielders Alexandra Ferraro, Isabella Spinelli and Liv Malkowski, and forwards/midfielders Brooke Kane, Steph Marino, Mia Gallagher, forward Kirstyn Kinniry and goaltender Kierra McAneny.

Last season, the Pandas finished second in the competitive Catholic Academies conference, behind perennial powerhouse Villa Joseph Marie, a team that handed the Pandas two of their losses.

Catholic League

Archbishop Ryan

The good news is they’re the defending champs. The bad news is there are a lot of new faces who will need to contribute if the Ragdolls are to once again win the Catholic League championship. Ryan, which has won five of the past six PCL titles, has a lot of talent, but for many of them, this will be their first year playing varsity.

The Ragdolls do have some returning players, including Lauren McDonnell, Baylee Santos, Hannah Follmer, Gianna Monaco, Ashley Peffer, Kaitlyn Geiger, Sarah Szychulski and Emily Deluisi.

Newcomers include Samantha McCurry, Kiersten Montag, Luca Verello, Kylie Davis, Grace Joyce, Molly Kain, Cait Stackhouse and sophomore goalie Emma Joyce, who played well during the preseason.

The Ragdolls could also see contributions from freshmen Paige Geiger, Kaitlyn Brace and Keri Gontz.

Last year, Ryan took its lumps during preseason play, but recovered to win the Catholic League crown. Coach Jon Geist hopes the tough preseason will once again prove beneficial.

“We played really well in the Catholic League, going undefeated, but struggled while playing a few of the bigger non-league schools,” Geist said. “This year, our tactics need to be a little less direct, as we have some younger girls that need to learn the pace of the league. With that said, I don’t see this as a rebuilding year. This is a year of building on top of what was recaptured last season.”

Little Flower

The Sentinels had a down season last year, winning just four games in league play and falling to Hallahan in the first round of the playoffs. Traditionally, Little Flower has been one of the better schools in the Catholic League and this year the goal is to return to the top of the league.

The Sentinels have the players to make that happen.

Leading the way will be midfielder Melanie Lynn, a captain. She’ll work with fellow midfielder Molly Killion.

The defense will be led by Madeline Curran, also a captain. She’ll work with Abby Galaska, Allie Bofinger, Maeve McGowan, Maura Kilkenny and Haley Waring. They’ll play in front of goalie Natalie O’Neil.

It will be a challenge in the tough league, but coach Markos Pittaoulis has confidence things will be better this year.

“Last year, we had a bad year, it wasn’t the same,” Pittaoulis said. “Hopefully, we can work it out and be better. I hope it’s a better year. We have to see what works and do it.”

St. Hubert

The Bambies followed up a 10-win season with a third-place finish a season ago. The bad news is that in the past two seasons, coach Mickey McGroarty has watched 22 seniors graduate. Replacing those talented players with newcomers will be difficult, especially with low numbers, but there is talent.

The defense will be led by Caitlin Coll, who will lead the team at sweeper. She’ll work with fellow defender Maura Stocklin, who will also see time at midfielder.

Other midfielders include Mary Kate Cancelliere, Gianna Zaccone and Stocklin, who could also play defense.

McGroarty knows this year will be a rebuilding one, but he’s happy with the pieces he has in place.

“The work ethic is always good, they work hard, everyone out there works hard,” McGroarty said. “Losing 22 girls in two years is hard. We will be trying to get better.”

Public League

Abraham Lincoln

Last season was a bit of an oddity for the Railsplitters. Forfeits by opposing schools, ties and overtime losses comprised much of the Railsplitters’ season. Despite the setbacks and uncertainty, the team finished with a respectable 5–6–1 record.

The Railsplitters have moved up to a tougher division, and head coach Paul Cammarota is hoping to continue building upon last year’s promising start.

One particularly bright spot was the emergence of Maria Tijada. Tijada burst onto the field as a freshman to become the team’s leading scorer, highlighted by a three-goal outing in a win against Dobbins.

Junior Najeli Quispe and Erica Oliveira are two other key players whom Cammarota expects big things from.

“We have a strong core group of girls who are working hard to make this team a success,” Cammarota said. “We will continue to try and build a tight group who will give us every bit of effort throughout the game. Together, we will make our school proud of how we play.”

Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush

If there’s one thing the Benjamin Rush Knights have become known for, it’s putting together wins and playoff runs. But there’s something the Knights do equally well that doesn’t show up in the stats or standings: overcoming adversity.

Last year, the Knights were plagued with injuries, with as many as eight starters on the bench at one time. The team responded by reaching the Public League finals in Class AAA.

The previous season saw the Knights struggle to win a regular season game after fielding a squad comprised primarily of newcomers and underclassmen. They responded by defeating Frankford to claim the Public League AAA Division championship.

This year’s team is facing similar challenges.

The Knights lost eight starters to graduation, as well as two up-and-coming players who moved.

Coach Todd Corabi is ready to take on the challenge, and so is his team.

“The girls know they are starting from almost scratch,” said Corabi. “Some of our younger girls are taking on the responsibility of being the next generation of ‘champions.’ They know that it is never easy, but it is worth it.”

Senior midfielder Caitlin Pope will lead a squad of juniors and underclassmen. Her success at one of the game’s most strenuous positions gives the younger players a solid mentor.

The team also has several junior starters ready for their breakthrough season, including Emaleigh Calhoun (goalie), Maria Rodriguez (MF/defense), Aleyna Rodriguez (defense) and Valeriya Vardanyan (MF/defense). Corabi also anticipates impressive seasons from his younger players, such as sophomore defender Riley Gack, and freshmen Alicia Brickhouse and Jordan Myers, who will both see time at midfield and forward.

Franklin Towne Charter

It’s the beginning of a new era for Franklin Towne. The Warriors, who finished second in the conference last season, intend to keep the wins coming. But there will be a new face coaching the Warriors to victory. Deb Ounan, who takes over for Brianna O’Donnell, is new to the role of a head coach, but not to Franklin Towne soccer. Ounan was the assistant coach under O’Donnell, who is now the Dean of Franklin Towne.

Working under O’Donnell, who led the Warriors to five Public League championships since 2012, left Ounan well prepared to take over a highly successful program. O’Donnell won’t be straying too far from the soccer field, as she plans to stay on as an assistant coach.

The Warriors finished last season 11–7–2, behind only Central, the team that defeated Franklin Towne in the Public League finals.

Ounan will be growing into her new role alongside her players.

“It’s great to see last year’s underclassmen step up and fill leadership roles during our opening practices,” said Ounan. “There is an air of excitement as Franklin Towne begins the 2018 soccer season.”

Megan Ware, who started in goal last year as a freshman, will be back in front of the net, with a year of playoff experience to her name. Raegan Kennedy also made an impact as an underclassman.

The sophomore led the team in scoring with 19 goals, and is back as a junior.

The team will also be counting on the contributions of key returners Erin Charles, Amanda Stapf, Julia Carter, Nicolete Colon, Ashley Donnelly and Rian Coleman.

Philadelphia Academy Charter

The Lady Chargers are on pace to charge their way back to postseason contention. Last season, the squad made it to the District 12 A Finals, where they fell to Conwell-Egan.

The team went 7–2–2 in divisional play (9–3–4 overall), which is no easy feat when half of your games are against Central, Franklin Towne and Masterman.

This season, coach Robert Mottershead is focusing on the fundamentals: ball control, passing and technical skills. In other words, the things that win games against tough opponents.

While the team lost several starters to graduation, the Chargers have a new crop of rising seniors ready to lead the squad. Taylor Teal is a versatile player who will start mostly at center midfielder and forward, but can play anywhere on the field. Cloe Burns is also set to start as a center midfielder, giving the team a solid duo at the game’s most physically challenging position.

Other key returning starters include senior Kayla Ferretti (defensive midfielder) and juniors Casey Bivenour (defense) and Alyssa Przychowicz (forward). The Chargers also boast a secret weapon that you won’t find on any other team this year: triplets.

“We have a strong core of talented girls…to lead a very deep and talented freshman class coming in that includes the Yaletsko triplets and Kiera Kloehn,” Mottershead said. “We have a very positive outlook on this season.”

George Washington

The Eagles may have had their wings clipped last season, but there’s no reason to think they won’t be soaring to the top of the Public League standings this year. Last year’s 2–10 outing followed an improbable 12–3 season in 2016.

Both of Washington’s wins came in the last five games of the season when it knocked off Bodine and Freire Charter.

The Eagles were hit hard by the loss of Elizabeth Gutierrez, who played only two games due to an injury. She returns to the lineup, as does junior midfielder Ireland Smith, who was named captain in her sophomore year.

“Ireland does a great job of controlling the game (and) facilitating from midfield,” said coach Jeremy Beatrice. “We have a lot of experience on the back line (this season).”

Smith is joined by Alexis Abbott and Alyssa Abbott at the midfielder position, giving the team a solid core down the center. Seby Roy and Michelle Restrepo will be manning the defense for the Eagles.