Girls competition could be even closer than last year
Isabella Lucy of Naples shoves the ball into the net against the defense of Baumholder's Adwoa Sika during a game at last season's championship tournament. Lucy will be back for the Wildcats this season as they try to defend their Division II title.
There’s no room for error in DODDS-Europe girls soccer.
It’s hard to imagine the margin separating champion from challenger getting any closer than it was in 2012, when all three European divisional title games were decided by a single goal. But with established powers rejuvenating their talent bases and new contenders rising to meet them, 2013 has the early look of a competitive and memorable season.
After a snow-covered false start March 16, the season finds immediate momentum Saturday with a 10-game schedule involving teams from all four regions. An early April pause for spring break leads into the European championships May 20 through 23 at Kaiserslautern Military Community.
Here’s a look at the three European championship races:
Division I: Kaiserslautern will host the Division I championship game at the gleaming new KHS field; if things fall into place, the Red Raiders will also be participating in it.
Coach Brian Daly said his team is “hungry” to make the leap after a third-place finish in 2012, and the roster he’ll send into battle this month has the look of a potential champion.
Captain Ally Murphy, a first-team All-Europe midfielder and recent Alabama State University signee, returns for her senior season after leading the team in goals last year. She’ll be joined by returning All-Region midfielder Emily Crawford and Patch transfer Johanna Quinn, the recently-named Stars and Stripes girls basketball Athlete of the Year who brings the same brand of game-changing effort to the pitch as the court.
The Ramstein Royals and Patch won’t give their ground easily, however, as both boast the school populations and entrenched program needed to annually replenish rosters.
Patch has a number of lineup spots to fill with the departures of Quinn and reigning Stars and Stripes girls soccer Athlete of the Year Emma Murray.
Ramstein will defend its title under new head coach Katee Albertson. The Royals lost four of their DODDS-Europe-high six All-Europe selections - including freshman phenom Kat Seebeck - but will build around a pair of returning senior goal-stoppers in keeper Terri Leigh Obermiller and defender Alexis Vermeire.
Division II: It’s all but impossible to point out a frontrunner among the multitude of middle-sized teams clogging the Division II standings. With the status of Naples’ current reign in question, the list of potential champions is almost as long as the 15-team list of participating teams.
AFNORTH flirted with a championship before falling to Naples 1-0 in the title game. Semifinalists SHAPE and Marymount expect to contend again. Hohenfels, American Overseas School of Rome, Vicenza, Bitburg and Black Forest Academy will all be in the mix.
But one question hangs over each team’s title hopes, however: just how wounded are the Wildcats? Nobody absorbed a graduation hit as hard as three-time defending champion Naples, which lost all three of its first-team All-Europe performers.
Rebecca Lucy, the first-time coach now at the Wildcat helm, is optimistic regardless. She cited the leadership of seniors Morgan Dodge and Abby Waller, a robust turnout at preseason tryouts that yielded an influx of fresh talent, the “very experienced” coaching staff she’s assembled to aid her debut season and the weekly challenge of playing in Italy, the hyper-competitive hotbed of European soccer.
“We’re already competing quite a bit before we even get to Europeans,” said Lucy, the mother of the team’s lone returning All-Europe performer in junior striker Isabella Lucy. “We look forward to it, but it’s going to be tough.”
Division III: Brussels supplanted Rota as small-school champ in 2012 with a thrilling last-minute victory over the three-time defending champions.
Now the Brigands will play the role of the pursued.
Many of the key players from that classic game were seniors, leaving both teams involved in search of new contributors. Brussels will defend behind returning standouts Ali DeFazio and Paige Brown and an intriguing group of new additions, but coach Greg Marinich allowed that the losses “will have a significant impact on our ability to put the ball in the net and keep it out.”
That uncertainty could create space for a new contender. Menwith Hill, a strong third-place squad in 2012, returns All-Europe star Kaia Pierce and boasts the potential to bring a fresh face to the title game.