“We’re building right now,” the coach said. “As long as we’re improving, that’s the key. The rest will take care of itself.”
The Leopards have moved forward from last year, when they went 2-13-1 with a new coach, Victor Della Mea.
“It was my first year — but no excuses. Other teams were better on the nights we played them,” he said. “You have to learn from it. It’s not like we were outplayed every match. You just have to build on the positive experiences.”
Six starters return, including all-county first-teamers Rachel Poffenberger (senior striker) and junior Elyse Koterwas (junior midfielder), who were their two leading scorers last season. Poffenberger had a team-high 11 goals.
“Rachel is a technically gifted player, and I have faith she’ll step up and be the leader of the team,” Della Mea said. “But there’s no person who can carry this team by themselves. We’re going to play as a unit and succeed as a unit.”
Filling the roster hasn’t been an issue.
“We have big numbers this year, and there’s a lot of competition for spots,” Della Mea said. “The key is how the new players integrate with the other players. The integration process is further along than it was at this point last year.”
Another key returnee is Bill Fowkes, who will be back on the Leopards’ sideline as Della Mea’s assistant. Fowkes was the head coach when the Smithsburg girls won back-to-back 1A state titles in 2005 and 2006.
The Panthers might not win many games this year, but just the fact that they have a team is a big victory in itself.
“We had a hard time getting girls this year. We almost didn’t have enough,” coach Karen Morgan said. “We had 10 girls, and then we got four more, so we have 14. We’re going to be young and struggling again, but the girls want to keep this going, as do I. They worked hard to get girls to come out.”
About a half-dozen starters return from last year’s team that went 1-14. Of their five seniors, three are fourth-year players — Tatum True (midfield), Kelsie Munch (goalie) and Jaclyn Hixon (defense). Sophomore sweeper Sarah Mann is a returning standout, and senior Emily Johnson, a two-time state placewinner in the 55-meter hurdles in indoor track, is a key newcomer.
“It’s a start,” Morgan said. “I’m looking forward to working with this group. There’s a lot of potential. We just have a lot of work to do.
“They’re young, but they’re eager. I just want them to learn the game and love the game and improve each game. I want to keep it fun and have the girls play.”
The Saints return six starters from last year’s team that limped home with a 5-9 record, including junior forward Mary-Kate Afzali, an all-county second-team selection.
“She’s our big gun,” coach Ted Camp said. “We’re hoping for big things from her this year.”
Afzali scored seven goals in the Saints’ first seven games last year, before suffering a season-ending foot injury.
“When Mary-Kate got hurt, it was like a domino effect and we lost five starters in five games,” Camp said. “I think we could have been .500 last year.”
Other key players include midfielders Leah Peterson, a sophomore, and Tessa Thomas, a junior, and Rose Chuimento and Nikki Jenkinson. Chuimento, a senior, has moved from keeper to stopper after suffering a broken wrist, and Jenkinson, a sophomore, now is in goal.
“Staying healthy is a big goal this year,” Camp said.
St. Maria Goretti
Mark Barone is the Gaels’ new coach, taking over for Greg Noe.
Barone — who’s coached for a dozen years in the Hagerstown Area Youth Soccer League — has six starters back from last year’s team that went 3-15-3, including senior forward Theresa Barton, an all-county second-teamer.
Barton had eight goals through 12 games last year before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. The Gaels only had 16 total goals all season.
“It was a tough season for them last year. Losing Theresa was huge,” Barone said. “But they came back this summer and worked really hard.
“We’ve got a young team, we’re a very freshman-heavy team, but they’re coming together as a team. ... I think we could surprise a few teams out there.”
Junior Lauree Lorensen, a starting midfielder last year, has taken over in goal for all-county keeper Colleen Costello, who graduated.
“Those are big shoes to fill for Lauree,” Barone said. “But she’s taken the bull by the horns and gone with it.”