As the new girls soccer coach at Paul VI, Sue Vodica has a tough task ahead.

Although inheriting 11 returning members of the defending champions of the Catholic Girls Athletic Association, Vodica knows she also takes over the team everyone else will be looking to beat. Not helping matters is the new divisional alignment in which last year's top teams were placed in the "upper bracket," meaning the Panthers will have to play each of the stronger opponents two times.

Vodica, however, is confident a strong defense will help Paul VI again vie for conference honors. Talented goalkeeper Molly Kirchner, a second-year starter as a sophomore, will may prove to be the difference for the Panthers will her flashy, aggressive play and leadership from the back.

"She has leadership ability and takes charge verbally in the back," Vodica said of the under-14 Virginia select team player. "I know that if she needs to make the spectacular save, she can."

The composed and intelligent play of fullback Meaghan Owings will complement that of Kirchner.

Senior Anne Alessi, her sophomore sister Peggy and junior Lisette Biosca comprise the strong midfield. Peggy Melanson, a senior, will contribute her flashy dribbling and offensive moves to the forward line.

"I think it's a strong team, period. Everybody's going to contribute. Everyone's going to play," said Vodica, a former member of the national champion women's soccer team at George Mason University and assistant girls varsity coach at West Springfield High School last spring.

Last season, the Panthers broke Holy Cross' 29-game winning streak, defeating the defending champion, 5-0, in the league final. Dan Napolitano, assistant coach at Holy Cross two years ago, will replace nine-year coach Sandy Young, whose Tartans' were 29-1 over the past two seasons.

Napolitano has a strong returning defense led by Shannon Howley, a three-year backup goalkeeper to Katie Torpey.

Senior Kristy Shannon returns to start her fourth year as sweeper fullback.

"Kristy has been the heart and life of the defense," Napolitano said. "She is thoroughly solid. She is an intelligent player . . . and highly skilled."

Bishop O'Connell finished third in the league last season with a 19-4 record. Returning goalkeeper Christina Larmer was not particularly strong then, but has been tediously working at improving her skills.

Seniors Kathy O'Brien and Mary Pitera will lead the Knights as they try to close the small gap that fell last year between them, Paul VI and Holy Cross.

O'Brien, the aggressive center fullback and team leader, has three years of varsity experience. Striker Pitera is O'Connell's No. 1 offensive player.

Elizabeth Seton also expects to vie for the title. With a record of 8-5-1, the Roadrunners were fourth last year and were placed in the upper division, which will make their climb up the standings a more difficult objective.

Seton should be able to score goals for first-year Coach Joe Wagner. Senior forwards Teri Muldoon and Virginia Leithauser have outstanding ball control and speed, said Wagner.

Defensively, sweeper Karen Fowler is mature and controls the play with her good sense of command. An injury to goalkeeper Amy Fellows could have been a major problem, but junior Lynn McFadyen has shown she can handle the position.

Early in the season, Wagner, who was an assistant coach at Seton for three years, thinks his team must master fundamentals. "I think that's something we often times forget," said Wagner. "But those things are needed for before we can execute {more complicated plays}."

Georgetown Visitation is scheduled to play the top CGAA schools as well. A runner-up to La Reine and Madeira in the girls Independent School League last year, the Visi are returning eight players.

Carrie Babbington, a senior who also plays lacrosse and basketball, will anchor the midfield as center halfback. Lisa Graham, who developed her scoring touch this summer playing indoors, will move to the forward line from midfield. Joining her up front is versatile junior center forward Amy Fabrizio.

"We anticipate that {junior varsity players} and transfers will augment {our team} very nicely," explained Coach Dan Kerns. "We have a strong offensive unit. We hope to improve."