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Girls soccer teams have high hopes

Gianna Rivera returns after missing her junior season with an injury. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Welcome to the Catholic League, Nazareth Academy!

As the fall season begins and soccer teams look to get the season off to a good start, the Pandas will be breaking in a new league. They’ve left the Catholic Academies League and are now a member of the PCL. 

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It should make it fun, Nazareth has natural rivalries with Archbishop Ryan and St. Hubert, and it won’t take them long to fit right in.

As far as girls soccer goes, we didn’t have a championship last year, which is rare for Northeast Philly. This year, that drought could very well end, and it could be a number of teams that help snap that.

Here is a look at the local schools that returned their preview information.

Archbishop Ryan

Megan Manion takes over the program and she hopes to bring the Ragdolls back to where they were when they were in contention every year.

It might not take long to get it back to that.

Returning to the team is all-world scorer Gianna Rivera, who missed her junior year with an injury. She’ll play with forward Jenna Contino and Drew Bark.

The midfield will consist of Jenna Gontz, Molly McDonough, Riley Lukach and Emma Fitzgerald.

And the defense will include Paige Fienman, Carlie Nigro and Alyssa Allegra.

It will take some time to put her system in place, but the Ragdolls should be among the elites of the Catholic League. 

“We’re very strong in the midfield with an offensive force,” Manion said. “Our midfield will be led by juniors Riley Lukach and Drew Bark. We are looking forward to see how they will be able to connect with our forwards seniors Jenna Contino and Gianna Rivera who returns this season off an injury last year. The connection and bond this group has is what will carry us strong throughout the season. 

“I’m very excited to see the young talent coming in and for our returning players to really step up this year in new ways. Our season ended quicker than we had hoped last year, which I think has been a huge motivation for the girls to work extra hard behind the scenes going into this season. This group of girls are friends both on and off the field and have great chemistry. We have a very talented and strong group who are looking to finish on top in a very competitive Philadelphia Catholic League.”

 

Nazareth Academy

The Pandas are joining the Catholic League, and they should hold their own from the start. Led by Dan Bradley, Nazareth always hung tough in the Catholic Academies League, but now it’ll try its luck in the PCL.

Leading the way will be midfielders Abby Rock, Annaliese Steiner, Devin Cheeseman and Natalie D’Alfonso.

They’ll play in front of a defense that includes Cait Wnek, Erin Jackson, Grace Reteneller and Reese Power. They’ll work with Gracie Sullivan, the goalie.

The offense will be keyed by Alyssa Browning, Alanna Scancella, Ava McNamara and Rileigh Donohoe.

It will be a learning experience as the Pandas battle their way through the Catholic League, but they should be in the mix. 

“We have strong senior leadership. experience and a high work rate, and a team-first attitude,” Bradley said. “Looking forward to being part of the Philadelphia Catholic League. Goal is to be in the mix come playoff time. I like our team. We realize the challenge ahead of us being the new kids in the PCL.”

St. Hubert

Nettie Garziosi-Hibbs has made improvements to her team every year since taking over the program from her former coach Mickey McGroarty, and he would be very proud.

This year, the Bambies should compete in the Catholic League based on a very deep team.

Leading the way will be forwards Angelina Kinniry, Kylie Cooley, Deveigh Harrigan and Hayden Clarke. 

The midfield will consist of Lorenza D’Andrea, Gianna Anderson, Luca D’Andrea, Bridget Musial, Saige Primavera and Mallory Gallagher.

Playing defense will be Samantha Kinniry, Fallyn Lydon, Delaney Newhouse, Riley Roesner, Grace Smith, Kady Donnelly and Addison Gramlich. And the goalkeepers will be Bailey Berkery and Quinlan Miller.

Garziosi-Hibbs sets high expectations and she has a lot of confidence in this team.

“We came up short on our goals last year, however we showed a promising future through a display of some quality soccer and learned important values from defeat,” she said. “We are extremely fueled by our past, focused on being our best selves every day, and motivated to reach our full potential this season!

Little Flower

Last year was an odd losing one for coach Markos Pittaoulis, who routinely has one of the top teams in the PCL. This year might be a tough one, but the coach is optimistic.

The team will rely heavily on senior goalkeeper Meghan Brennan. She’ll be the leader of an experienced and talented group. 

This year should be a better one for the Sentinels, it’s just a matter of how much better.

We have seven returning varsity starters and we are looking to build on where we ended last season,” Pittaoulis said. “We are very positive on entering this season, with up-and-coming underclassmen and looking forward to what they can accomplish.”

PUBLIC LEAGUE

Abraham Lincoln

The Railsplitters aren’t known for having a great girls soccer team, but this year they might get that reputation.

Chris Stengel, a former assistant, takes over the program and he hopes to improve upon last year’s .500 record. 

Leading the way will be Mikaely Freire Mendes, who scored a league-high 23 goals. She’ll work with Alannis Clavel Lopez, a winger who scored seven goals last year. 

Two defensive-minded players who will contribute to the cause are defender Joanna di Toro Sanchez and defensive midfielder Aleyandra Bartley.

“The 2023 ALHS girls soccer team should be among the favorites to finish atop the Liberty North Division in the Philadelphia Public League,” Stengel said. “ALHS returns three All-Publics and eight out of 11 starters from 2022. The goal for this season is to win the division and earn one of the top eight seeds in the Public League playoffs.

“As a team, we will go as far as our leadership group will take us in 2023. In particular we are fortunate enough to have Mikaely and Alannis returning. We return the leading goal scorer from all of District 12 in Mikaely, and probably one of the best all-around players in the Public League with Alannis. But they are just two players and it will take a collective, total team effort in order to make this a truly successful season.”

Samuel Fels

The Panthers finished 2-3-2 under coach Kaeleigh Bowman last year. The hope is to have a better season this year.

Fels does return some talented players at all positions, and the goal is to improve every game and every practice. That will determine how far the Panthers go.

“Our girls support each other on and off the field,” Bowman said. ”They do an amazing job communicating on and off the field in order to grow as a team. Communication and unity as a whole is very important to us. 

“I am very excited to see our girls grow in skill and together as a team this season. I am thrilled to be coaching the sport I love with such a great group of girls. Being a third-year team has its challenges, but our girls have shown a great amount of effort and have developed more talent over the years. We are looking forward to a great season.”

Franklin Towne Charter

The Warriors are one of the best soccer teams in the Public League. It was that way under Brianna O’Donnell and Deb Ounan, and it should continue this year under new coach Rebecca Gilborges, who was a star soccer player at the school before graduating in 2014. 

Last year Franklin Towne advanced to the Public League semifinals. The Warriors would be happy with a return trip and perhaps more.

The team will be led by forward Avia McLinden, who returns as the team’s leading scorer. She’ll work with assist leader Jenna Betle. Penny Lombardo will anchor the defense and Molly Dietsch steps in as the goalkeeper. 

“One of our biggest strengths would be the duo of Avia McLinden and Jenna Betle,” Gilborges said. “Avia, who was second in scoring last year and is one of the most well-rounded players in the city, and Jenna, who has a high IQ when it comes to passing and assisted all but two of her goals, go hand in hand with each other. On the backside, defenders Penny Lombardo and Sophia Blaisdel have the ability to turn possession at will with their keen takeaway skills. 

“I believe that we are one of the best teams in the Public League. We have been close the last two years and could not close out the season with a championship, but this group of girls, led by the seniors, are more determined than ever to bring a Public League championship back to Franklin Towne Charter.” 

Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush

Todd Corabi returns a formidable team, and he hopes that means good things now, and when the weather turns colder.

Rush will be led by Kyra Siner (senior), Abigail Foy (senior), Isabelle Clarke (senior), Abbey Konde (senior), Ariel Jacobs (junior), Jaelyn Litton (senior), Natalie Santiago (sophomore) and Kylie Tate (sophomore).

Rush has work to do, but Corabi likes where they’re at early. 

“I really like how some of the girls have been hanging out together through the summer,” Corabi said. “I expect the girls to work hard and live by our team quote, which is, ‘Practice with a purpose, play with passion.’ ” In the realigned Public League “First” Division, expect this small Arts school to be a middle-of-the-pack playoff contender.”

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