|Casey Grange’s Central Catholic team last season won the program’s first state title. (Winslow Townson/For The Globe)|
Central Catholic back for more
Entering last season, the Central Catholic girls’ soccer team was asked one question by coach Casey Grange. “What’s our goal for this season?’’
“To win the Division 1 state championship,’’ said the Raiders.
Grange thought the idea too lofty and asked the girls to focus on making the playoffs and taking things from there.
“I told the girls I wouldn’t let them use that as our goal,’’ said Grange, who’s entering her second year as the coach at Central Catholic. “But then we went out there and we did it - so I’ve had to rethink things a bit when it comes to setting goals.’’
As it attempts to repeat, Central Catholic brings back six starters from last year’s team, which won the first state championship in the program’s 15-year history.
All-Merrimack Valley Conference players Lanie Jowett and Alex Riddle are returning, along with the majority of the defensive backfield.
“Defensively we have a ton of experience back,’’ said Grange. “We’re going to try to use our ability to put pressure on teams with our defense to create transition opportunities on offense.’’
Central Catholic graduated Globe All-Scholastic and MVC leading scorer, Mikayla Hickey, who is now at Seton Hall. Her 12 goals last season and ability to play on both ends of the field will be tough to replace.
Challenging the Raiders will be Westford Academy, Bishop Feehan, Acton-Boxboro, Whitman-Hanson, and Winchester.
Whitman-Hanson (17-0-1) went undefeated in the regular season last year, only to lose to Silver Lake, 1-0, in the first round of the playoffs. It will be without two-time Globe Division 1 player of the year Samantha Mewis, who finished last season with 30 goals and eight assists.
In the Dual County League, Westford Academy is again a team to beat; after losing to Central Catholic in the Division 1 North final last season the Grey Ghosts (14-6-2) have something to prove.
With nine starters returning, including DCL All-Stars Jackie Gallagher, Hayley Katkowski, and Caitlyn Paltsios, coach Tracy Capone has a solid nucleus.
Acton-Boxboro again will challenge for the DCL title, with six returning starters who will be eager to avenge their sectional semifinal loss to Westford.
Franklin was decimated up the middle. Senior captains Jen Cappola and Maddie Brown will be charged with a lot by coach Tom Geysen, who after two wins to start the season has 296 for his career.
Division 2 Medfield will be the team everyone’s targeting in this division. The Warriors clinched the program’s first state title last season, and with seven returning starters are eager to prove they’re not going anywhere.
“The message that kept coming up in our preseason talks was that we still have something to prove,’’ said coach Michael La Francesca. “They want everyone to know this isn’t a one-time thing.’’
Big things are expected out of junior Mimi Borkan, who was part of a Warrior netminding crew that allowed just nine goals all last season.
Medfield will be without
The Warriors also likely will be without senior captain Mary O’Driscoll, who suffered a concussion during the first game of the season. Cami McCody will replace O’Driscoll at forward.
“We’ll miss the leadership,’’ said La Francesca. “But she’s the same caliber of player.’’
Belmont and Danvers also will be right in the think of things.
Belmont has seven starters back, and nine back that saw tournament action. The Marauders will have some of the best goaltending in the league with Maria-Alice Menatas back.
The junior has proven she can play when it matters. She stopped three penalty kicks against Danvers in the tournament last season, allowing Belmont to miss its first two shots and still advance.
No doubt the Marauders will miss Globe Division 2 Player of the Year Laura Thurber, who has taken her talent to Dartmouth. But freshman Lucia Gozikowski looks poised to lead the team’s “youth movement,’’ according to coach Paul Graham.
Graduating five starters, four of whom were All-State players, would all but end the chances of most teams, but not Danvers.
With six starters back, including former All-American Corey Ersson, who should top the 100-goal plateau early this season, coach Jim Hinchion still has plenty to be optimistic about.
“What we lost in skill from last season’s team we made up in work ethic and effort,’’ he said. “We’ve won the Northeastern Conference eight of the last nine years and we expect to be right there again this season.’’
Sophomore Kylie Plaza is a youngster to watch, as she enters her second year of starting for the Falcons. Expect the offense to flow through her, as she scored a goal and assisted on two more in the opener.
“There’s no D2 team that can say they brought back everyone,’’ said Hinchion. “It’s up for grabs.’’
Division 3 Weston will be a team to watch. The Wildcats return their top two players from last season in Emma Dagres and Madeline Linde. Dagres can fly and has a way of finding the back of the net.
Shawsheen has nine starters back, after only graduating three seniors from last season’s team that went 15-2-2. Commonwealth Conference All-Star keeper Marissa Irwin is in line for another stellar season.