One of the surprising girls soccer teams from the 2012 season, the Warren G. Harding Raiders, are looking to do even more this season.
The Raiders lost 11 players from last season's squad that finished at 11-2-3, forcing Harding coach Diane Hernandez to start some freshmen, including four in the team's opening loss to Lakeview, 3-2, on Saturday.
"We've got a lot of young players, but they have a lot of competitive experience," Hernandez said. "Competitive experience isn't high school experience. We started four freshmen - that's 14-year-olds playing against a lot of 18-year-olds. I think they will obviously get better as the season goes on, and hopefully we'll have an even better season than we did last year."
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Lakeview’s Rachel Braunegg, middle, attempts to split the Harding defense of Emily Stevens (11) and Clarissa McKinney (9) while she dribbles the ball toward the Harding goal early in the second half.
One area that doesn't lack experience will be in defense, where Hernandez will have four returning lettermen. All-district center back (central defender) Emily Stevens and all-county defender Kristina Marino will lead the backline, while senior Kate Lacy will man the sticks behind them.
"In the past and this year as well, our defense has always been stellar," Hernandez said. "We have two center defenders that are experienced players. I think that's where we have lacked in the past has been on the attack. However, this year, we seem to have progressed in that area."
After exceeding expectations last year, the Raiders are hoping that this year will break the program's struggles when it comes to the tournament. Harding hasn't advanced past its first-round match since 2007.
"It's been a long, long time since we got through the first round of the playoffs," Hernandez said. "Our goal is to get through the first round of the playoffs. I think that we can hang with any team in this area. Hopefully, we can only have one loss going through the season."
LAKEVIEW UNDERESTIMATED: Although the Lakeview Bulldogs are the defending back-to-back All-American Conference, National Division champions, coach Shawn Varley said teams aren't wary of them as in years past.
The Bulldogs (1-0) are a little younger than in past seasons, as the roster includes six freshmen on it, but the central core of senior forward Alli Pavlik, junior midfielder Abby Pavlik and defender Sydney Paul is still intact and should give the team the experience it needs.
"I don't think we do," Varley said. "A lot of the area teams might be underestimating us just a little bit. The perception is that we're a young team, but I think that we're going to do really well."
CHAMPION'S DEFENSE TO LEAD: Golden Flashes coach Dan Houle has been blessed with a great defense over the past few years, and he expects that to continue this season with the help of two-time all-state senior Jenna Parry.
With the help of the senior sweeper, Champion allowed 15 goals in 19 matches during 2012, helping the Golden Flashes reach their second-consecutive district final and Parry earning her first-team All-Ohio honors.
"(Parry)'s an athlete. She's smart, knows what she's doing back there and she's the ultimate defender," Houle said. "She's also got speed - that's probably one of her biggest assets. She can correct any mistakes she may have made with her speed."
Between Parry and her seven senior classmates, Houle said he hopes the team will reach regionals for the second time in three seasons.
HOWLAND HOPING TO TAKE NEXT STEP: Joe Megyesi and Howland have fallen one step short of reaching the regional tournament the past two seasons, and the Tigers don't want to be denied this season.
The Tigers lost just three matches last season - Magnificat and Canfield in the regular season and Hudson in the district final. They allowed seven of the 21 goals scored on them all season in those losses.
"Last year, we missed the regional by one game," Megyesi said. "This year, we want to get to regionals at least. Our objective is 19 wins, and we definitely want to win our conference."
Midfielder Seyla Perez will be a major force for the Tigers once again, after earning her second-straight first-team All-Ohio honors. Other influential players will be Jenna Dorchock, Jordan Antler, Hope Sutton and sophomore Morgan Scott, who's formed a good partnership in the central midfield with Perez according to Megyesi.
"She's an attack mid, but at the same time, she's free to roam any place she wants," Howland coach Joe Megyesi said. With her size, her speed, there's a lot of times that she bailed us out last year. She will come all the way back to the defense at times, get the ball, help go and control it and make some passes with the centers and go on the attack."