Published Saturday, February 23, 2013
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
The high school soccer season tends to bring high expectations in Coweta County. This spring is no different.
With a top-five ranked lineup among Class AAAAAA boys and a majority of lineups expecting equally high levels of success while buoyed by returning starters, 2013 could be a banner year for the majority of teams, especially after just a handful of games that have been played during the first two weeks of the season.
East Coweta and Newnan expect to again be favorites in a quaint Area 3-AAAAAA alignment that while now including Douglas County, remains weakened by traditionally weaker programs.
Last season, the two rivals monopolized both All-Region 2-AAAAA teams. Ten of the girls honorees are back along with nine boys players returning between the schools.
Northgate's situation hasn't changed either while again grouped in arguably the most competitive area in Class AAAAA. It includes four state-ranked teams on the girls side - No. 1 McIntosh, No. 5 Union Grove, No. 6 Whitewater and No. 7 Starr's Mill. The Lady Vikings enter the year with plenty of talent to boast about including at least four college signees so far and a large group of underclassmen.
The Vikings, meanwhile, return leading scorer Levi Lewis in an Area 4-AAAAA alignment that also includes two state-ranked teams - No. 1 McIntosh and No. 5 Starr's Mill. Making the Class AAAAA state tournament continues to be an major accomplishment.
Youth is also a major theme around the county, maybe none more prevalent than East Coweta's girls, who enter the season with a roster dominated by underclassmen. Goalkeeper Kristin Jones is the only senior on head coach Chris Luppens' roster, but the experience level returning from a 15-5 lineup in 2012 is extremely high.
"I only have one senior and four juniors. The rest of the varsity are sophomores and freshmen," said Luppens, whose team opened the season last Friday with a 3-1 victory at Mountain View. "We're young, but we've got a lot of talent. Our starting lineup is solid, especially up the middle."
Junior forwards Serenity "Ren" Waters and Nikki Brandley comprise as potent a top line up front as any in the state while each entering their third years as starters. Both finished the 2012 season with 61 points with Brandley finishing with 26 goals and Waters adding 22.
Two more juniors, Anna Lauzon and Katie Sutherland return at center midfield and sweeper, respectively. Lauzon had eight goals and 18 assists as a sophomore and Sutherland had three goals from the back line.
There's just as much experience in the Lady Indians' five sophomores, which includes Lynnsey Danforth and midfielders S.K. Palmer and Abby Pepper, all of whom expect to start. Two more, Tara Frederico and Brittany Whelan return on defense.
A massive ninth grade class includes six on the varsity and 16 more that make up East Coweta's entire girls JV squad. Luppens feels as confident in his freshmen, playing as many as four simultaneously in the Lady Indians' 3-1 preseason win over Alexander.
"I don't expect us to skip a beat when they're out there," he said. "I'd be disappointed if we weren't challenging to win a region championship this year."
In what expects to again be a two-team race between the Lady Indians and Newnan, the Lady Cougars equally have a strong nucleus to build on despite losing a pair of All-Region defenders in Grace Gresham and Mary Brooks Gallagher. Also graduating was forward Kate Robeson, who finished with 16 goals and 3 assists in 2012.
Newnan's returners, however, start in goal with senior keeper Rebecca Whitlock, who helped lead the team into the second round of last year's Class AAAAA tournament while finishing 13-4-2. She recorded 13 shutouts while finishing with a 0.55 goals-against average and 87 saves as a junior.
The Lady Cougars officially opened the season last Friday with a 10-0 drubbing of Shiloh, following a 1-0 scrimmage win at LaGrange. A doubleheader with Grayson scheduled for Friday at Drake Stadium was washed out.
Having senior Jordan Ponce returning up front should offset some of the losses on defense. Ponce led the Lady Cougars with 19 goals in 2012 while named to All-Region and All-County teams. Julie Masonheimer also came on strong as an offensive threat for the team while rotating in with Ponce and Robeson.
Despite the losses on defense, juniors Lauren Hovey and Anna Lawrence return to bolster the back line. Lawrence added five goals and three assists last spring while Hovey didn't allow a goal off her outside backer position.
Senior Julie Whatley had nine goals and seven assists in 2012 while returning in the midfield for Newnan, which opens Area 3-AAAAAA play on Tuesday at home against Westlake.
East Coweta and Newnan boys teams also expect to be frontrunners for the Area 3-AAAAAA crown. The Indians opened the season among the state's top-10 while taking a No. 5 ranking into this week.
Seniors Ian and Conner Antley, both headed to Mercer, and senior goalkeeper Luke Oesterle, who has signed with Georgia State, provide bookends to what should be a talented lineup from front to back.
Offensively, the Antley twins combined for 62 goals and 21 assists as juniors led categorically by Ian's 34 goals and Conner's 16 assists.
So far, East Coweta has outscored its first-two opponents 9-1, officially opening the season with a 5-1 win over Mountain View.
Oesterle finished with nine shutouts in goal and made 74 saves during a 16-4 region championship season in 2012 that ended in the second round of the state tournament with a 3-2 loss to Mill Creek.
Oesterle should get a boost from the return of senior Ryan Wright on defense, though the loss of Times-Herald Player of the Year Jacob Harlan.
The Indian midfield is dominated by returning starters, three of whom scored at least six goals last spring. Junior Boomer Hayes had 12 goal and eight assists while senior Brandon Baksh and sophomore Jairo Ruiz each had six.
The Cougars also return leading scorer Nick Pelerose, who was named All-Region 2-AAAAA Most Valuable Player in 2012 after leading Newnan's boys with 23 goals and 7 assists a year ago.
Pelerose and senior Tyler Heard scored goals in a 2-1 scrimmage victory over LaGrange before officially opening the season with a 3-2 win over Shiloh.
Heard finished with 5 goals and 15 assists last spring while returning to center midfield this season. Also back on defense is senior Anthony Galvan, who finished with 2 goals and 4 assists in 2012.
Newnan will have to replace goalie Patrick McAlpin a four-year starter in net.
Northgate also has respective leading scorers from last spring returning to lineups. Lewis led the Vikings with 22 goals and 8 assists while Micayla Crenshaw had 18 goals and seven assists for the Lady Vikings. Both recently signed with Middle Georgia's soccer programs. Two more Lady Viking seniors - Jazmine Lewis (Grambling State) and Hannah Murray (Georgia State) signed with Division I schools this month.
The majority of Northgate's girls roster, however, continues to be made up of underclassmen. Forward Dallas Weaver leads a talented group of sophomores that received ample experience in their first varsity seasons a year ago. They include Taylor Deloach, defender Hayli Verbanic and midfielder Katie Mitchell.
Junior Taylor Hendrix, meanwhile, will again be counted on for leadership in the midfield.
The Lady Vikings opened the season with a 8-0 scrimmage win over Chapel Hill while getting three goals from Crenshaw as well as tallies from Deloach and Verbanic. Freshman Lily Barron added a goal and and an assist in her varsity debut. Ashley Keller and Brittany Deloach, both of whom saw action a year ago, had assists in the win.
Barron added her first official varsity goal in a 1-0 win over Carrollton on Feb. 12 in Northgate's season openers.
The Vikings lost to Carrollton 2-0 following a scrimmage win or their own against Chapel Hill. In addition to Lewis, Northgate returns striker Jonathan Cortez off a 12-goal season in 2012.
Cortez had two goals and an assist in the victory over Chapel Hill while Lewis added a goal and an assist.
Midfielder Jesus Fermin, who assisted on Cortez's final goal, also returns for the Vikings.
Northgate is forced to rebuild on defense after losing defenders Joel Harrison, Trent Golay and Wil Lutz, along with keeper Omar Cortez. Sophomore Brian Rudd, who scored the final goal against Chapel Hill, led Arnall to a middle school title while playing goal for the Knights in 2010.