Saturday, December 20, 2014

Preseason Girls' Soccer Top 10

Lenape´s Lizzie Kinkler gets a big hug from teammate Allison Cox as they celebrate Kinkler´s goal in a 2013 game. Lenape is ranked second in the preseason. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)
Lenape's Lizzie Kinkler gets a big hug from teammate Allison Cox as they celebrate Kinkler's goal in a 2013 game. Lenape is ranked second in the preseason. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)

PRESEASON GIRLS' SOCCER

Records are from last season.

1. Eastern (21-2-2). Once again, choosing the area's top team is something of a coin flip between Lenape and Eastern. And Chapter 1 of this year's rivalry will take place Sept. 11, opening day for both teams. The preseason edge, though, goes to Eastern, thanks largely to an offense poised to wreak havoc. The combination of forwards Amirah Ali and Sydney Jackson will be nearly impossible for most teams to stop. The Vikings are equally strong on defense. Veteran Imani Taylor is back in net, and Jaylyn Thompson leads the back line.

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2. Lenape (23-2-1). Lenape's greatest strength again should be its depth. The team has talent all over the field and on its bench. Particularly strong this year is its midfield - headed by Lizzie Kinkler and Kenie Wright - which should be regarded as the best in the state. Forward Marissa Topolski was the team's leading scorer last season. Alicia Hampton is one of the best keepers in South Jersey.

3. Williamstown (19-3-1). A year after taking Eastern to overtime in the Coaches Tournament semifinals, Williamstown brings back enough talent to stake its claim among the area's elite teams. The Braves return a talented and deep offensive core, including Gab Masciocchi (12 goals, 13 assists in 2013), Ashley Engler (19 goals, 11 assists), and MaryKate Ulmer (11 goals, seven assists). The midfield is led by the versatile Gianna Pomykacz. Niki Malancone is one of the area's top defenders. And keeper Taylor Bynoe is one of the best all-round athletes in South Jersey.

4. Shawnee (12-5-4). Wins sometimes can be hard to come by for Shawnee in the grueling Olympic Conference, but the Renegades again have enough talent to compete with any other team in the state. Six starters return - notably, midfielder Taylor Ryan, a dominant player who can contribute in each third of the field.

5. Holy Cross (18-3-2). Many expected 2013 to be a rebuilding year for Holy Cross. The team responded by winning the Burlington County League Patriot Division, advancing to the Coaches Tournament quarterfinals, and reaching the championship game of the Non-Public A tournament. A host of talented players return for the Lancers, particularly on offense, a unit featuring Carolyn Eckerle (17 goals, 16 assists), Morgan Morrocco (14 goals, four assists), Erica Wallace (10 goals, seven assists), and Julieann Gee (11 goals, seven assists).

6. Cherokee (13-7-3). Cherokee is another area team perennially better than its record indicates. Five of the Chiefs' seven losses last season came to Lenape (three times) and Eastern (twice). The graduation of keeper Courtney Simpson leaves some big shoes to fill, but Cherokee returns plenty to remain an elite team. Ashley Koester is a four-year starter in the midfield. Savannah Singer and Isabella Therien lead a tough back line.

7. West Deptford (17-5-1). The Eagles return one of South Jersey's most well-rounded teams. Forward Samantha Budd was a 20-goal scorer in 2013. Sophomore Gabby Sileo (12 goals, three assists) enjoyed a stellar freshman season and should be better this year, and Nicole Pinto is a leader on a solid defensive unit.

8. Moorestown (17-4-1). The Quakers will have to find new ways to score goals after graduating some of their best offensive players. But they return one of the best defenses in the state. Eight starters return for Moorestown. Three on the back line return, including Jessi Button, one of New Jersey's most highly touted one-on-one defenders. Junior Carly Blessing, a tall and athletic keeper who has started since her freshman year, also is back.

9. Haddonfield (18-4). Haddonfield must replace some star power that graduated, but returns plenty of depth, and should compete for a fourth straight Colonial Conference Liberty Division title. Carly and Kaitlyn Bonnet and Madison Castellano lead the offense. Junior Taylor Sehdev is one of the top keepers in South Jersey.

10. Washington Township (6-11-3). The Minutemaids were young last season, but held their own against a tough schedule. Eight starters and 12 letter-winners return, including defensive midfielder Erica Monte Carlo and forwards Cathryn McCarry and Megan McKinley.

- Chris Melchiorre

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