When the 2011 high school soccer season kicks off Saturday, there’ll be no lack of quality teams and quality players.
Last year’s youth movement saw to that.
Nineteen of the 30 first- and second-team all-Europeans of each sex in 2010 were underclassmen. And despite the usual attrition created by change-of-station moves, 12 female all-stars and about as many All-Europe boys return for this season.
Unfortunately for schools wishing to challenge last year’s champions, a disproportionate number of those standouts are returning to teams that won European titles in 2010.
SHAPE’s Division I boys, for example, welcome back Manuel Vela (seven goals, six assists in 2010) and Trent Castro (eight goals, four assists), along with a dozen seniors, according to new coach Tony Harris.
Harris, whose last DODDS coaching experience was in Japan, replaces DODDS Europe legend Tony Blasio. Blasio had guided the Spartans since the 1960s and led the team to the D-I title last May in the school’s first campaign at that level.
Topping the returning-stars list, however, are the Patch girls. Coach Tom Manuel can call on four All-Europeans — striker Emma Murray (11 goals, six assists), keeper Ellie Welton and defenders Sara Reynolds and Alysia Verones.
In Division II, senior All-European Sofia Cianciaruso, the midfielder who converted a 40-yard free kick into the title-winning goal against AFNORTH last May, suits up again for Naples. And while AOSR’s three All-Europeans all graduated, the perennially contending boys team is loaded with replacement candidates, according to head coach Anthony DeNicola. They include junior Pietro Dinmore and freshman Francesco Dinmore, younger brothers of one of the 2010 all-star grads, and “sophomore sensation” Lucas Miller, a midfielder.
The major exception to this year’s rich-staying-rich rule is defending boys D-III champion Ankara, which placed no one on the 2010 All-Europe team. D-III girls champ Rota, on the other hand, returns All-Europe striker Bri’anna Am’mons (12 goals in 2010), the only D-III girl on the 2010 All-Europe team. She is among nine starters back, according to coach Clarice Brown.
So is star power likely to prevail in 2011? Here’s the consensus:
• D-I boys: SHAPE’s favored, although Ramstein, anchored by All-Europe forward Jonathan McLouth (14 goals, five assists) and bolstered by four freshmen who play “year-round” according to coach Dan Nukala, should test the defending champs.
Nukala provided his own take on the race in an e-mail last week.
“Who to worry about in our division? Everybody,” Nukala asked and answered. “Division I is always a battle.”
• Division I girls: With its quartet of stars, Patch figures to repeat, but Ramstein, which can field a returning All-European in defender Mackenzie Crews, always poses a threat. Heidelberg, which took Patch to overtime in last year’s title game, is rebuilding after losing three All-Europeans.
• Division II boys: According to Hohenfels coach Shawn Rodman, the power in D-II lies in the private schools.
“… to look at the front-runners for Division II, I think you have to look to Italian schools (AOSR and Marymount) and probably BFA, which is always good,” e-mailed Rodman, whose own Tigers welcome back seven-goal, six-assist All-Europe senior midfielder Patrick Junior.
• Division II girls: AFNORTH, the 2010 runner-up, appears poised to break through behind All-Europe midfielders Kaley Harless (three goals, six assists last season), a junior, and Stephanie Seitz (five goals, three assists), a senior.
Also in the mix are Black Forest Academy, behind returning All-European Stephanie Friehe, and SHAPE, led by All-Europe senior sweeper Ellen Campany. And it’s unwise to overlook perennial powers AOSR and Marymount.
“The international schools always are good in soccer,” Rodman stated.
Despite Cianciaruso’s return, defending champ Naples occupies a challenger’s role in 2011 after losing two All-Europe first-teamers.
And then there’s the sentimental favorite, Mannheim, led in its final season of all time by All-Europe junior sweeper Amber Veranen.
“We’ll keep playing, until they lock the gates on us,” Lady Bison co-head coach John Crockett said Tuesday in an e-mail.
• Division III boys: Ankara won the first European title in school history, but striker Luca Santini, who posted a hat trick in last May’s 4-2 title-game victory over Alconbury, has moved back to Milan.
Alconbury, behind All-Europe sophomore midfielder-striker J.J. Black (four goals, eight assists despite missing two games), and Siognella, led by sophomore All-Europe striker Benjamin Jacks (10 goals, three assists), figure to make the small-schools title game this year.
• Division III girls: With those nine returning starters, look for Rota to repeat. No one else, on paper at least, can match that sort of experience. Unless it’s Menwith Hill, bolstered by sisters Arielle and Brianna Rogers, who transferred in, and returners Kaia Pierce, Monique McCreary and Rachael Solini.