Soccer rivalries ready to heat up as winter prepares to thaw
When the winter weather grip finally breaks, eight county soccer teams are ready to shine this spring, and for two, it’s about unfinished business.
Both Atlee boys and girls teams saw their season end by loss in the Central Region quarterfinals after winning the final Capital District crowns in the former VHSL format. The boys (11-5-1) return 10 players from 2013, led by goalkeeper Matthew Hyland. The team is extremely young with Matthew Mahoney and Sebastian Failla the lone seniors.
Look for sophomores A.J. Zollar, Josh Kraus and Nick Morgan to help lead the attack, with Mahoney, Ethan Ratke and T.J. Warren spearheading the defense.
“We have good overall team speed,” said Atlee head coach Steve Thompson. “Inexperience is our biggest weakness, starting eight underclassmen.”
The Raiders will hope to grow quickly on the field to compete for the first Conference 11 title, now grouped with traditional powers Mills Godwin and Deep Run, along with county rival Lee-Davis.
The Atlee girls will face the same new format, hoping to improve on a 16-3 mark. The Raiders lose five from last year’s squad, but lean on the returns of senior goalkeeper Jordan Smith, and a strong returning defense led by University of Richmond commit Alexis Pringle, Abby O’Toole and Hannah Grasberger. Multi-sport standouts Jamari Blackwell, Molly Shields and Sarah Spinner will join senior leader Hannah Zeidler on the attack.
“Our chemistry is our team strength,” said Raiders head coach Bruce Lovelace. “Our top priority in the off-season was conditioning and technical training.”
Beth Rusticelli leads the Lee-Davis Confederates as one of region’s top goalies.
Along with dealing with defending state champion Deep Run in their own conference, Atlee will battle with Lee-Davis. Coming off a 6-9 campaign and losing several role players to graduation, the Confederates will lean early and often on one of the best goalkeepers in the region, senior Beth Rusticelli.
Rusticelli benefits from senior leadership on the defense, led by Megan Walters and Davi Neagle. Walters also plays midfield, joining juniors Savannah Doane and Megan Paul, along with sophomore Mason Courter.
Key newcomers include forward Lauren Wolfgang, defender Sarah Vasquez, and midfielders Catherine Bowling and Maddie Miller. All but Miller are sophomores.
The Confederate boys showed promise in 2013, albeit uneven, but lost to Henrico in the Capital District semis to end their season prematurely. Drew Shelton and Joshua Choo, both seniors, are ready at goal, while the offense is led by Raymundo Macias-Murillo and Jacob Kesler.
Anchoring the middle are seniors Evan Tyler, Chase Talley and Ryan Sheets.
At Patrick Henry, the boys squad is in rebuilding mode. The Patriots lost 13 players (and nine starters) to graduation, but do benefit from a nucleus of talent.
Returnees to Ashland from an 11-6-1 team are goalkeeper Hunter Davis, forwards Isaac Waggoner, Miguel Macias and James Shaw, defenders Connor McKee and Peter Graf, and along the midfield, Kyle Vaughan, Clay Thomas, Hunter Johnson and Jake Mullican.
“We’ve stressed team chemistry. Many players participate at various levels of club teams, and those teams have different visions,” said Patriots head coach Daniel McGraw. “We want the athletes to play the Patrick Henry way.”
McGraw added he feels the team is united, with his players desiring success while each understanding their roles. This, McGraw hopes, will be the foundation of making a rebuilding season more of a reloading season, and keep the winning going at Patrick Henry.
On the girls side, head coach Billy Farmer understands rebuilding, enduring a 4-9-1 campaign last spring. His Patriots continue the youth movement with one projected senior starter: midfielder Kelsey Nuckols. Junior goalkeeper Berkley Hall begins her third season in that position, bringing experience and top-flight talent.
Juniors Lydia Hall, Miranda Cowardin, Johanna Fallin and Taylor LeMay will help lead along with Nuckols and Berkley Hall.
“With six returning starters, we certainly have to use a lot of young players,” Farmer noted. There are six freshmen on the opening day girls soccer roster.
When playoffs begin, Patrick Henry branches out, playing in Conference 16 now with Albemarle, Halifax County and Orange County, no longer facing area teams come late May.
At Hanover, it’s a whole new era, now in the 4A Classification in Conference 20, facing a familiar rival in Glen Allen, and new foes Midlothian, Monacan, J.R. Tucker, Caroline and Dinwiddie.
For girls head coach Joe Broscious, Conference 20 is the least of his worries.
“Due to a lack in turnout, we don’t have a JV team this season. As a result, our varsity team is bigger than in years past,” Broscious said. “This is a positive because there’s going to be more competition among players for starting spots.”
Returning from last year’s 9-7 squad are senior goalkeeper Caroline Crowder, who signed last month to play at Longwood University. She’s joined by seniors Savannah Ward and Kendall Evans, juniors Allie Dry and Claudia Clark, and sophomores Kayla Haas and Kirsten Cleveland.
“We’ll be a bit young and inexperienced, but we’ll develop and grow,” Broscious notes. “We lost our entire starting defense from last year.”
The boys team, a disappointing 7-10-1 team last year, gets an infusion of youth, and success. Many members of an unbeaten JV team come to varsity, and head coach Laurent Body tempers the excitement with fear.
“We don’t want an excess of confidence; that could be a problem,” Body noted. “I count on our team captains, Nick Ziolkowski, Hayden Walter and Dillon Williamson.”
Junior Adam Farnsworth will start in goal, with Walter, Brady Anthony, Evan Wright and Jonathan Hughes anchoring the defense. Up front, look for Andrew Hazelgrove, Chase Kirby and Ziolkowski to set the offensive pace.