With the Maryland, D.C., and private girls’ soccer schedules having kicked off this week, here are some questions whose answers likely will determine the narrative of the 2014 fall season.
No. 1 Good Counsel is used to seeing its name at the top of The Post’s rankings. The Falcons have been No. 1 for most of the past two seasons. The two-time defending WCAC champions are ranked 10th in the nation by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, but they lost loads of nationally prominent talent to graduation.
The Falcons have provided three straight All-Met Players of the Year — Harvard star Midge Purce in 2011 and 2012 and now-Duke Blue Devil Imani Dorsey last year — but lack a clear-cut candidate this year. Dorsey and fellow key midfielder Courtney Parr are gone, as is stabilizing defender Karli Cirovski and one of the best goalies in the country in Megan Hinz, now at Michigan.
But at Good Counsel, longtime Coach Jim Bruno always has plenty of talent left. Senior Maddie Pack will move from the back line to center midfield, and she could fill the star role played by Dorsey. Explosive junior Nia Dorsey should help fill the scoring void left by her sister and her sister’s class, and underclassmen such as Julia Abbott, Kori Locksley, and Dana Reed should pitch in, too. If they do, Bruno’s team may absorb the loss of one of the most decorated classes in team history without missing a WCAC championship beat.
If you talk about Good Counsel girls’ soccer, you have to talk about No. 2 Bishop O’Connell. Those two teams and their long-tenured coaches are perpetually intertwined at the top — locally, nationally, and in the WCAC — and 2014 will be no different.
The Falcons edged the Knights for the WCAC title in each of the past two seasons, but the trophy may make the trip from Olney to Arlington this season. O’Connell was nearly even with Good Counsel a year ago, as the Knights were a questionable non-call in the WCAC title game away from a potential game-tying penalty kick, and that came after a scoreless tie in their regular season meeting. But O’Connell has the roster to erase near-misses and what-ifs this season.
Alberto Starace’s team would have been the heavy favorite heading into this season, but O’Connell lost two key players — Julia Phillips and Tara Morris — to extensive club team commitments.
The nucleus that remains is talented and experienced. First-team All-Met pick Lauren Harkes is one of the area’s most talented midfielders; she keyed the Knights’ formidable offense as a junior. Classmate Kyra Alexander is an exceptional defender, and a long list of similarly talented players who started or played integral roles as underclassmen will join them in the Knights’ starting 11.
No. 3 Whitman charged to the Maryland 4A state title last season, using key plays from seniors and several clutch goals to spark a run through one of the most grueling sections in the state. Star midfielder Aliza Wolfe, goal scorer Anna Gurney and stalwart defender Emily Martin are gone from that title team, but key pieces remain: speedy All-Met Clare Severe returns, as does forward Emma Anderson, so the Vikings should have all the pieces for another deep playoff run.
But to get there, they’ll need to get by the rest of Montgomery County 4A, which is once again loaded. Churchill looks best built to challenge Whitman and make a run at the 4A title, returning almost everyone from the physical 12-4-1 team that lost to the Vikings in penalty kicks in the 4A West playoffs. Senior defender Keaira Clark, midfielder Rachel Thal-Larsen, forward Kate Reese and a host of other returning starters give the Bulldogs an experienced lineup of field players, which will be backed by transfer goalie Danielle Katz, a sophomore standout from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.
Neither Churchill nor Whitman will go unchallenged, and perennial contenders such as Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Quince Orchard may be equally as likely to make a deep run. Damascus graduated a lot of talent from its breakthrough playoff team last year, but it should still work its way into 3A title contention.
River Hill is the dominant force in Maryland 3A girls’ soccer, and an even more dominant presence in Howard County, from which the Hawks have emerged annually in recent years. But River Hill lost key defender Callie Allen and super scorer Sheridan Street — who effectively carried the Hawks to the 3A state title last season — to graduation.
Centennial Coach Steve Baxter says he expects River Hill to reload from “the ridiculous pool of talent” that Coach Brian Song’s team has year in and year out, and returning distributor extraordinaire Alex Hamer provides a strong foundation. But Baxter’s squad may be ready to challenge, as county player of the year candidate Anna Mitchell, emerging talents Reese Western and Jasmine McCree and others give the Eagles big-game tested talent — talent that nearly knocked off River Hill last year before being bested by a late, quick-strike goal from Street.
Atholton is loaded, too, and it beat River Hill last season. The Raiders boast Jaylyn Chandler, the talk of the Howard County soccer scene, an ultra-gifted scorer. Reservoir, Marriotts Ridge, Wilde Lake and Howard could also challenge the county’s elite, and will at the very least make River Hill’s path through Howard County as difficult as ever.
Maryland 4A East is never short on 4A title contenders: the annual question is which will emerge from the Anne Arundel County scrum. South River, led by two-sport standout Kacie Longo, had done it for the past two seasons and fell to Whitman in the 4A semifinals last season. Longo is off to play lacrosse for Maryland, but key and battle-tested pieces remain.
Broadneck also lost its star, Ellie McNulty, but may return the most talent of anyone in the county. Hailey Small, the diminutive defender who emerged as one of the best in the league last year, is back with a year of experience, and fearless midfielder Bri Harris is back to anchor a Bruins’ lineup that returns plenty to make a deep playoff run. Arundel was hit hard from graduation but shouldn’t fall from the county’s elite, and the team that beat the Wildcats in penalty kicks last year — Severna Park — should reload and recalibrate to challenge again this season.
Spalding has grown into one of the area’s top teams in one of the area’s toughest conferences, having lost a combined five games over the past two seasons. . . . Ireton lost All-Met Adrienne Maday (William and Mary) but returns scoring star Lilly Weber. . . . National Cathedral lost one game on its way to an Independent School League-AA title last season. . . . Even without graduated star Tori Bellucci, 2013 3A runner-up Huntingtown will be the team to beat in Southern Maryland.
(Final 2013 record in parentheses)
1. Good Counsel (12-1-5)
2. O’Connell (13-3-1)
3. Whitman (16-1-1)
4. Spalding (12-2-1)
5. Churchill (12-4-1)
6. Bishop Ireton (10-4-3)
7. River Hill (14-4-1)
8. South River (14-4)
9. National Cathedral (15-1-3)
10. Huntingtown (16-2-1)
On the bubble: Holy Cross (8-5-2), St. John’s (7-4-4), Centennial (12-3-2).