By ROB WITHAM
H-P Sports Correspondent
The prevailing emotion is excitement and hope on soccer fields across the county as the 2017 high school season begins this week. The recent bout of cold, wed weather isn’t dampening the optimism as several teams are hoping for deep playoff runs come May and June.
In girls soccer, Atlee returns eight starters from a team that finished 15-4 in 2016, led by midfielders Riley Cook, who will play collegiately at Christopher Newport and was Atlee’s leading scorer last season, and recent basketball standout Alyse Armentrout. CeeCee Harris, who will play for Seton Hill College next season, and sophomore Mary Pat McCombs will lead the attack, while Caroline Jones and Sydney Sears will anchor the defense in front of goalkeeper Nikki Rittenhouse. Atlee allowed just 12 goals in 2016.
“Armentrout is an extremely hard worker in midfield,” said Atlee head coach Bruce Lovelace. “Cook, Harris, and McCombs will lead the attack. It will be important that all of the new players find their role for the team and contribute to our success. We have a very challenging schedule.”
A youth movement last year at Hanover helped them clinch a 4A East Region Tournament bid, falling just a game short of the state tournament level. The Hawks return this season led by now-sophomore Rachel Andrzejewski, junior Lauren Didlake, and senior Sabrina Hernandez, fresh off her gold medal win at the 2016 Deaf World Cup in Italy for Team USA.
Mackenzie Hoang also returns between the pipes, as Hanover looks to win Conference 20 in its final season. Hernandez is one of just five seniors on a team still blossoming to its full potential.
At Patrick Henry, Anna Wright takes the helm as head coach of a Patriot team looking to better its 7-7 record of last year. Ten starters return, five of them seniors, including goalkeeper Madison Brown, defenders Kayla Gilbert and Caitlin Rutherford and defender/forward Sophia Basso.
Four underclassmen anchor the midfield in juniors Daphne Gilmore, Julia LaFortune and Brooke Purcell and sophomore Caroline Joyce. Senior midfielder Anna Meyers returns, too, and is one of three captains along with Basso and brown.
“Sophia has not only helped score goals but has also helped our defense tremendously,” Wright explained. “She is able to excel in any position and has given us depth. Brown helps guide our defense and has made many amazing saves for us. Meyers has controlled our midfield since she was a freshman. Her knowledge and ability of the game have been outstanding.”
At Lee-Davis, second year head coach Casey Paul loses Mason Courter to graduation, now playing at the University of Mary Washington, but does return six starters from last year’s 5-8-2 squad, led by sophomore goalkeeper Ashlyn Doane, defenders Madison Williams, Katie Davis and Caity Shanes, and midfielders Haley Gordon and Brittany Bessette. None of the returning starters are seniors.
“We are in a rebuilding year, so all aspects of the game will need to be fine tuned and adjusted given our skill level,” Paul explained. “We are going to measure success by how we improve as the season progresses. All we want to work at for the next game is having it be a better outcome than the previous game.”
Christopher Maimone takes the helm as boys soccer coach at Lee-Davis, who had heavy graduation losses but return nine players with varsity experience, eight of them midfielders, including Patterson Smith, Matthew Pitcock, Kyle Shope and Michael Gee. Junior goalkeeper Brandon Halphen anchors a new defense.
“Having had a few years of experience, the seniors understand the speed and intensity of the game, especially in big matches,” said Maimone. “Their leadership and actions is not only going to set a positive tone for this season, but for the future of the program.”
Atlee hopes to reach one higher plateau than last year, as the 14-3-2 Raiders fell a match short of the 5A State Tournament, losing 3-2 to Falls Church in the 5A North Region Quarterfinals. Despite losses to graduation, plenty of firepower is returning for the Raiders, who will likely again battle Albemarle for the final Conference 16 Championship.
Atlee has a beneficial early schedule, save a trip to Douglas Freeman on Friday, with Hanover coming to the Raiders just before Spring Break, then Mills Godwin traveling to Atlee on April 18.
Seniors dominate the roster for Patrick Henry, from goalkeeper Collin Donaghy to Luis Sagal, Aaron Martinez, Peyton Luck and Coleman Cheeley. The Patriots will hope to move up to contend with Atlee and Albemarle in Conference 16.
The Patriots enjoy three straight home matches to start the season beginning Friday hosting Hermitage. Eight of their first nine matches are in Ashland, but six of their last seven are on the road, including key back to back trips to Glen Allen, then Atlee, in the final week of their regular season.
Hanover has always been a favorite to win Conference 20, and this year will be no different. Despite losing seven seniors, the Hawks enjoy eight returning starters, including goalkeeper Connor Bartal, midfielders Connor Gilchrest, Carson Harris, Jacob Mast and Daniel Row, while defenders Alex Lepeter, Jack Montgomery and Jonny Hutson all return.
“Gilchrest, the captain, will lead our team,” noted Hawks head coach Laurent Body. “His shot is as accurate as it is powerful. Lepeter will bring serenity and confidence to the defense, while Montgomery’s speed and great touch will strengthen our center defense.”
Body believes the chemistry is right for the 2017 Hawks to make another run, not only in Conference 20, but hopefully all the way to the 4A State Tournament.