GIRLS' SOCCER PREVIEW: Little Dutchmen ready to seize the season
Last year, they got a taste.
This season, they want it all.
And the Annville-Cleona girls' soccer team is by no means afraid to let its ambitious appetite for 2015 be known.
Headlined by junior star Reagan Hess and back-boned by a strong senior class, the Little Dutchmen are seeking both the top seed in Section Three and a deep run in the District Three Class A tournament this fall. One year after reaching the district tournament for the first time in program history, Annville-Cleona has brought the core of its club back with a unified focus.
"This is, hopefully, our year to pull something out," Little Dutchmen coach Lisa Schuyler said. "Our main goal is to get to districts, move further in districts than we did last year and go from there."
The team's starting defense, comprised entirely of seniors, is back in place, complementing a handful of other key returners in the midfield. Filling in the gaps should be members of a talented group of underclassmen, which Schuyler said has provided a good team balance.
And then there's Hess.
With two full seasons of varsity play still ahead of her, the junior striker needs only 10 goals to break the program record for career goals scored. Both Hess and Schuyler downplayed the focus on the eventual history-maker, sharing they hope it comes early and they can "get it out of the way early." For the most important goal, akin to that for any talented roster, is team-oriented.
"I'm really looking forward to playing the games with these girls," Hess said. "We've had two years with them. It's going to be a really strong team this year. We want to make and advance in districts. That's the big focus."
There is one person who doesn't quite want Hess' goals record to lose all spotlight, though. That is, of course, proud dad. But Hess says she's intent on keeping her focus to the next play and then, by season's end, the playoffs.
"I can't really let it get to me because then that will probably put me toward that slump nervousness, where you're thinking 'Oh, I have to get a goal, I have to get a goal,'" Hess said. "But I'll first focus on each game at a time, and if I do really well, I do really well."
Hess' varsity debut two years ago went about as well as possible when she netted a hat trick before the 10-minute mark against a stunned Lancaster Country Day team. Annville-Cleona will once again open against Country Day this fall, but it would prefer a repeat Hess performance in the following game, a road test at Elco. The Little Dutchmen's overtime win at Elco last season, their first in a decade, eventually sprung them to the 11-8 campaign that in turn birthed the high hopes of today.
And they're hoping the same matchup yields a similar result once again.
"Elco was so exciting," Hess said. "It gave us so much pump. I'm just ready to play them again to show them what we have this year."
With one last piece of advice, both for the Raiders and anyone else coming to see Annville-Cleona play.
"Watch out," she said.
What follows is a capsule look at every varsity girls' soccer program in Lebanon County:
Coach: Lisa Schuyler, 5th season
Last year's record: 11-8
Key returners: Amanda Bates, Sr.; Emily Jocham, Sr.; Hannah Fischer, Sr.; Jordyn Shifflet, Sr.; Julia Soliday, Sr.; Kennedy Kreamer, Sr.; Veronica Merone, Sr.; Reagan Hess, Jr.
Promising newcomers: Anna Soliday, So.; Gabby Bennett, Fr.; Malin Hermanson, Fr.
Coach: Jon Brubaker, 1st season
Last year's record: 7-7-4
Key returners: Cece Fiorentino, Sr., MF; Taylor Menser, Sr., D; Olivia Malay, Sr., D; Sydney Laicha, Sr., D; Emma Peeler, Jr., GK; Carli Wasson, Jr., MF; Alex Burrows, Jr., D; Emma Moreland, Jr., F.
Promising newcomers: Sam Gerhart, Fr., F; Madison Brown, Fr., D; Sydney Snyder, Fr., MF.
Outlook: A quartet of four-year seniors - Cece Florentino, Taylor Menser, Olivia Malay and Sydney Laicha – will set the tone for the Falcons under first-year head coach Jon Brubaker this fall. Excluding Florentino, the entire group will live on the back line, denying opponents access to returning junior keeper Emma Peeler. Peeler played every minute of the 2014 season and is inspiring almost as much confidence in Brubaker as his senior group is.
"She will be a very solid Section One goaltender," Brubaker said. "If we can stay healthy, I think we can surprise some people. We're pretty excited about the potential of our team."
Menser, a returning L-L all-star, has missed some of summer practices due to an undisclosed injury, but should be back for the team's opening matches with Manheim Central and Cocalico, before Crest's section opener against Hempfield. Solving last year's issues of finishing quality scoring chances will have a large say in how much Brubaker's bunch can surprise, particularly come section play.
Coach: Derek Fulk, 3rd season
Last year's record: 9-9
Key returners: Meredith Balsbaugh, Sr., D/MF; Emerson Brown, Sr., MF; Kiyana Rodriguez, Sr., F; Kaitlyn Johnson, Sr., D; Emma Strickler, Jr., GK.
Promising newcomers: Julia Nelson, Fr., D/MF; Ryelle Shuey, MF, Fr.; Jordan Rosengrant, Fr., F.
Outlook: Excitement surrounding Raiders' girls soccer has not tempered in Myerstown, despite a relatively down season for the program in 2014. Only three seniors left from last year's group, which finished at an even .500 under third-year headman Derek Fulk. Fulk's attacking brand of soccer will return, embodied by seniors Meredith Balsbaugh, Emerson Brown and Kiyana Rodriguez.
Their aim, also shared by fellow senior Kaitlyn Johnson and others, is to reclaim the Section Three crown they won two autumns ago in their final season.
"I think we'll have an opportunity to bounce back and be near the top," Fulk said.
Reasons for optimism are not exclusive to upperclassmen, however. Elco welcomes a number of talented youngsters in 2015, namely Julia Nelson, Ryelle Shuey and Jordan Rosengrant. They will be counted on to contribute over a tough schedule that sprinkles in a number of competitive non-league affairs.
"They're all talented," Fulk said. "It's just a matter of mentally and physically, can they handle the varsity level?"
Emma Strickler is a known commodity for Elco, having handled the varsity level as the team's goalkeeper last fall as a sophomore. Strickler has returned to stand between the posts once again this season.
Head coach: Tim Hauenstein, 4th season
Last year's record: 1-17
Key returners: Claudia Hoffman, Sr., MF, Grayson Long, Sr., MF, Alyssa Rivera, Sr., MF, Mariah Rodriguez, Sr., MF, Morgan Truax, Sr., D, Vanessa Valentin, Sr., G/MF, Jennifer Escobar Mendoza, Sr, D, Katelyn Roth, Jr., D.
Newcomers: Annabelle Deufel, Fr., MF, Kayla Conlow, So., D, Jasmin Turner, So., D.
Outlook: Perhaps its the hopeful nature of this time of year. Maybe it's the product of three long years of program building.
Whatever the reason, the Cedars believe they have one of their best squads in recent memory, and they're eager to prove it.
"I think we'll have one of our best teams in years," Lebanon coach Tim Hauenstein said. "We've got a lot of senior leadership this year with a lot of experience. A lot of girls spent the summer working in the weight room and doing a fitness camp with one of our coaches, and it's already paying off."
Seven seniors will lead this year's Cedar bunch on to the pitch in hopes of improving upon their one-win campaign from a year ago. Captains Claudia Hoffman, Jennifer Escobar Mendoza and Katelyn Roth, a junior, will bear most of that burden, as will junior keeper Vanessa Valentin.
Hauenstein recently touted Valentin's raw, but developing talent following a full summer of work with one of the team's assistants. Among underclassmen, keep an eye on energetic sophomore Kayla Conlow, a JV alumna who is expected to make real varsity contributions this fall, and freshman Annabelle Duefel.
In terms of games to circle on the calendar, watch the team's visit to Solanco. Last year, the Golden Mules knocked off Lebanon, 2-1, on Senior Night, an outcome the Hoffman and co. will do just about anything to avoid repeating this season.
Co-head coaches: Sue McShane, 2nd season
Last year's record: 3-14-1
Returners: Neesha Pierce, So., F/D; Karen Dorsey, Sr., D; Leah Pastal, Jr., D/MF; Mariah Sholly, So., D; Rebeka Zeisloft, So., MF/D; Tori Kline, So., MF; Julia Meck, So., D; Mary Harding, So., MF; Alaina Kline, So., GK; Kylie Murray, So., MF; Abby Zeisloft, So., MF.
Newcomers: Jayden Shellehamer, So., MF; Allison Warner, Sr., GK/F; Anagabriela Yik, Fr., MF; Jacinda Clark, Fr., MF/F.
Outlook: There's never any getting around the problem on Assumption Hill. For the Beavers, the only option is to address the poor numbers and make do with what they have. And while this season will still be focused on learning and steady improvement, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel with the start of 2016.
"The success part would be to see them really understanding the game," Lebanon Catholic coach Sue McShane said. "As a whole group, you really want to see them say, 'I see the gaps. I get it now."
In the meantime, Neesha Pierce, one of 10 Beaver sophomores, will attempt to fire off as many goals as she can, with only two returning upperclassmen on the roster. Pierce's raw talent is the biggest threat to Lebanon Catholic's opponents this season and, in turn, a bright spot for program hope down the road.
Senior Karen Dorsey is back to help hold the back line, and junior Leah Pastal is ready to split her time between defense and the midfield. Senior transfer Allison Warner will be in net. Another transfer, Lebanon's Jayden Shellehamer, has joined the Beavers' midfield, an area she's set to share with four other sophomores. The team is in its second year of a co-op with New Covenant Christian.
Head coach: Lindsey Rayman, 4th season
Last year's record: 5-13
Key returners: Kaitlyn Tshudy, Sr., F; Megan Brandt, Jr., MF; Rebecca Boisvert, Sr., MF; Cassiah Ray, So., D; Alex Baez, Sr., F; Amber Kintzer, Jr., D; Jenna Wentling, So., D; Holly Rittle, Jr., GK; Jess Batz, Jr., F; Liz Voight, So., MF; Richelle Kreiser, Sr., MF/F.
Newcomers: Hannah Brungart, Sr., D; Brianna Seip, Fr., Tori Madilia, So., GK.
Outlook: Believe. That's all fourth-year coach Lindsey Rayman is asking of her team this team. And maybe, score a few more goals.
"Believing that we can do great things," Rayman said of her team's key to the season. "We can succeed. The girls just have to believe, work hard, and we've gotta finish a few more chances."
Thankfully for the VIkings, they are littered up front with seniors who will have the opportunity to score, including the veteran Kaitlyn Tshudy. Junior Megan Brandt will command the midfield for Northern Lebanon, while sophomore Jenna Wentling is entrenched as the commander in the back. Holly Rittle, a junior, has returned to make saves in the Viking net this year.
Rayman is banking on being competitive in a packed Section Three and to hopefully yield more favorable results this season, beginning with a difficult opening tilt against Pequea Valley.
Senior Hannah Brungart will see action in many different positions, while freshman Brianna Seip is penciled in the midfield.
Head coach: Katie Stafiej, 2nd season
Last year's record: 10-8
Key returners: Hanah Soucy, Sr., MF; Hannah Bowman, Jr., D; Emily Salvaggio, Sr., MF; Mara Bowman, Jr., MF; Angelica Keys, Sr., D.
Promising Newcomers: Eden Haldeman, So., D/MF; Tori Norton, So., MF; Sophia Wagner, Sr., MF (returned from injury).
Outlook: Boosted by a number of transfers that have offset graduation losses, Palmyra heads into year No. 2 of the Katie Stafiej era looking to further improve on last year's above .500 season. Working from a new base 4-5-1 formation, the Cougars plan on being more multi-faceted with their attack in efforts to throw greater numbers at the net. This will still include showcasing the likes of Hanah Soucy, Emily Salvaggio and Mara Bowman in the midfield, while also allowing outside defenders to work upfield.
"I think if we can grow and evolve in that sense, it's going to mean success for us," Stafiej said of the new tactics. "We're trying to build the offense because its something we struggled with last year. And so hopefully when we get to the attacking third, we can fire away instead of looking for that perfect pass."
Perennial powerhouses Lower Dauphin and Hershey will put the Cougars' new scheme to the test immediately on Sept. 8 and 10, respectively. But once Palmyra gets past the initial stretch of its schedule, the sailing will be much smoother for a team that has Stafiej and staff awfully excited.