Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

County girls soccer has long list of contenders

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Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
Senior Lauren Kelly is one of the headliners of another deep and talented group at Good Counsel, which is looking for its first WCAC title since 2001.
Late August, early September is about more than just raiding the mall for new school supplies and wardrobe. It also signifies the start of the fall sports season and every Montgomery County girls soccer team’s mission, whether a realistic goal or not, is to win a season-ending state tournament or conference title.

Choosing a favorite from the lot is always tough, the county is loaded with soccer talent. This year is no different. Blake and Einstein are looking to build upon last year’s best performances in more than three years. But there are several other county teams also looking to add onto recent successes, including Sherwood, Paint Branch, Rockville and Wheaton.

Blake powered its way to a 10-3-0 record and a Class 4A North Region semifinal appearance in 2006, where it lost to Perry Hall on penalty kicks. And though the Bengals lost seven seniors, including four starters, from that squad, they return a solid core capable of competing for a Montgomery 4A East Division title.

Blake’s backfield took the biggest hit. But the Bengals, who rely on speed, are hoping to compensate with a stronger, more balanced offensive attack this year. Senior Hannah Lapp and junior Liza Sitz, both capable of putting up big scoring numbers, lead them in the midfield. Junior Maureen Madden will anchor the team’s depleted defensive line.

‘‘We lost our sweeper, goalie and stopper, so that’s tough,” fifth-year Blake coach Mary Moser said. ‘‘But I think our offense should be really good this year. I think we’re going to rely a lot on experience. A lot of these girls have been playing together now for three years.”

Though Einstein lost several key players, including four-year goalkeeper Cory Hawkins, it does return a lot of talent in junior midfielder Andie Solomon, who scored five goals last year, sophomore Cami Kamara-Lapp and senior defenders Kate Boyd and Lydia Scott. And freshman Jordan Solomon is a welcomed addition.

Finishing at the net was Einstein’s Achilles heel last year, but that aspect seems to be improving this preseason. And, if the Titans can take advantage of their scoring chances, they could challenge for the top spot in the county’s 3A⁄2A⁄1A East Division.

Paint Branch lost about 90 percent of its scoring power when four-year starter Sara Rager, who tallied 18 goals and seven assists in 2006, graduated this past spring. But, the Panthers do return eight seniors, and are hoping a more balanced offense will provide the scoring necessary to compete for a division title.

Sophomore midfielder Erin Larraabee and junior Maya Boubier-Lyons will join forces with freshman midfielder Anna Madden and freshman forward Samantha Shaibani up top. And they’ll be backed by an experienced defense, led by senior Sara Mayes and junior Evelyn Laudwein and goalie Louise Marchica.

‘‘Not to take anything away from Sara, she was a great scorer, we always knew we could count on her to score,” Paint Branch coach Danielle Prietz said, ‘‘But I think now we’re going to be more balanced. And I think it’s going to help that these girls know they can’t just send the ball to Sara.”

Sherwood has reached its region final two of the last three years, but graduation casualties may have finally caught up to the traditionally strong Warriors — they lost 12 seniors. But that doesn’t mean they’re out of contention for the 4A East Division title.

Sherwood will certainly miss Julia McCarty’s (9 goals, 7 assists) presence on the field. But will look to senior midfielders Leilani Halkiotis, who’s sifting through NCAA Division I offers, and Arleigh Rose, to pick up the slack. The Warriors’ defense should be a strength, with experienced senior Elyse Phillips back in goal and senior defenders Sam Steward and Irene Elder helping her out.

Blair struggled with inconsistency last season. But, a veteran squad this year hopes to use its knowledge and experience to pick up a few more wins and contend for a division title.

Junior forward Annie Worden, who’s led the team in scoring the last two years with 29 goals total, will lead the Blazers’ offensive attack. Sophomore midfielder Kelly Pelz-Butler and junior midfielder Anna Rassman will add scoring options.

Rockville graduated eight seniors from last year’s team, but returns 12 as it hopes to compete for a 3A⁄2A⁄1A West Division title. The Rams will rely on strong performances from juniors Michelle Carter and Jen Civick, as well as senior Emily Owen.

Wheaton has added a win to its record in each of the last three years. And, with several talented players returning to the roster, including junior Christina Argueta (6 goals in 2006) and seniors Kim Ramirez and Jessica Fitch, the Knights intend on continuing that trend.

The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference is likely the toughest in the Washington Area. And Good Counsel (16-6-2) is consistently contending for the league’s title. The Falcons, who in 20 seasons have yet to suffer a losing season, have been in the WCAC championship game 10 of the last 13 years, but haven’t won the title since winning their fourth straight in 2001.

But, led by senior midfielders, four-year starter Sarah Chapman, who tallied eight goals and nine assists last year and has already tallied a team-high three goals this preseason, Lauren Kelly (2 goals, 3 assists), and Ariana Cook (2 goals) and senior forward Kim Byrnes (10 goals, 6 assists) up top, Good Counsel is hoping to add a sixth WCAC title to the program’s name this year.

And that star-powered offense is backed by a stingy defense led by junior goalie Molly Ryan, who tallied 80 saves last year, and senior defender Jennifer Daly.

‘‘This is the year we’re going to do it,” Kelly said of winning the WCAC. ‘‘I think we can do it, we have so many strong players.”

Holy Cross is reeling from the graduation of nine seniors last year. But the Tartans do have a lot of experience to lean on up front with seniors Grace Din, Caitlin Cadigan and sophomore Colleen Din. And they’ll play a large role in Holy Cross’ 2007 campaign.

Fast Facts

Blair Blazers

Head coach: Bobb Gibb, 13th year

Last year’s record: 6-8-0

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Annie Worden (Jr., F), Imani Pierre (Soph., D), Kelly Pelz-Butler (Soph., M)

Blake Bengals

Head coach: Mary Moser, 3rd year

Last year’s record: 10-3-0

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Liza Sitz (Jr., M), Hannah Lapp (Sr., M)

Einstein Titans

Head coach: Joan Rackey, 5th year

Last year’s record: N⁄A

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Andi Solomon (Soph., M), Kate Boyd (Sr., D), Lydia Scott (Sr., D)

Holy Cross Tartans

Head coach: Michelle Rodgriguez-Smith, 2nd year

Last year’s record: N⁄A

Last conference title: None

Players to watch: Caitlin Cadigan (Sr., M), Grace Din (Sr., M), Colleen Din (Soph., M)

Good Counsel Falcons

Head coach: Jim Bruno, 20th year

Last year’s record: 16-6-2

Last conference title: 2001 (5th)

Players to watch: Sarah Chapman (Sr., M), Ariana Cook (Sr., M), Lauren Kelly (Sr., M)

Paint Branch Panthers

Head coach: Danielle Prietz, 4th year

Last year’s record: 6-8-0

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Erin Larraabee (Soph., M), Anna Madden (Fr., M)

Rockville Rams

Head coach: Mike Hayes, 3rd year

Last year’s record: 6-6

Last state title: None

Player to watch: Michelle Carter (Jr., F)

Sherwood Warriors

Head coach: Frank Weaver, 6th year

Last year’s record: 12-2-0

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Leilani Halkiotis (Sr., M), Elyse Phillips (Sr., GK)

Wheaton Knights

Head coach: Scott Bayer, 5th year

Last year’s record: 3-10-0

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Kim Ramirez (Sr., D), Christina Argueta (Jr., M)