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SHAPE's team may have the best chance to dethrone Patch High School's girl's soccer team this year. Pictures is Diana Juhasz, right, trying to get past Patch's Kaitlin Donoughe during the DODDS Division II girls championship soccer game, last year in Heidelberg, Germany.

SHAPE's team may have the best chance to dethrone Patch High School's girl's soccer team this year. Pictures is Diana Juhasz, right, trying to get past Patch's Kaitlin Donoughe during the DODDS Division II girls championship soccer game, last year in Heidelberg, Germany. (Raymond T. Conway / S&S)

Superstitious Patch coach Tom Manuel isn’t crowing about past successes or boasting of upcoming ones.

“We have a lot of new faces, a lot to figure out,” he says modestly, even though his team hasn’t lost to another DODDS team since 1999 and is a four-time defending European champion.

This season, Manuel’s team will be led by All-Europe first-teamer Haley Mitchem, along with Brianne Gemeinhardt.

Division II girls

If Patch finally loses to an American team this season, it might be to SHAPE.

“We’re going to be an awesome team,” Lady Spartans coach Shawn Whitehurst said. “We have a lot of returning seniors, and a good corps of returning ball-handlers and distributors.”

Leading the corps are All-Europe second-teamer Julianne Sympson, Ana Vazquez and Anniken Sletten, who’s “turning into a star,” Whitehurst said. SHAPE also fields a pair of Norwegian forwards, Elin Agren and Charlotte Grimstad, who “can outrun a gazelle,” in Whitehurst’s opinion.

If that weren’t enough, Whitehurst also can call on freshmen Whitney Taylor and Nicole Fox, “who could have been varsity players as eighth-graders.”

AFNORTH was the conference runner-up last season, and coach Bonnie Bauer has back a solid nucleus in keeper Claire Ward, midfielders Janessa Harmtan and Laura Rivera, all seniors, and junior forward Annika Carlson.

Bitburg’s Megan Quinn can be forgiven for envying her neighbors from the Benelux. The Lady Barons lost 18 of last year’s 30 players. “We’re rebuilding,” she said.

Mannheim coach Greg Lanier is in a similar position, with co-captains Elise Cobb, a midfielder, and Crystal Rios, a striker, at the core of a 21-player squad, two-thirds of which are freshmen.

“Most of them have lots of youth-services experience,” Lanier said. “It makes my job much easier. They already know the fundamentals, so I ... can teach them tactics. I’m expecting good things.”

A newcomer at Vilseck has Robert Lowe enthusiastic about his team. Senior Sabrina Tate, a track star, is playing soccer for the first time. And she’s doing it brilliantly, Lowe said, adding that she has “amazing skills."

Lowe also can call on junior defender Megan Williams, a transfer from AFNORTH, senior stopper Sarah Starr and junior sweeper Christina Cline. Young talent comes in the form of freshman striker Jackie Drago and sophomore striker Jessica Linka.

Black Forest Academy will have to overcome turnover problems, although junior wing Christina Rempel provides a solid foundation for a program that has improved steadily since joining the league in the mid-1990s.

At Hanau, returning goalkeeper Kyrie Bye-Nagel and midfielder Patricia Foster have put the basketballs away for another year and returned to the field.

Division I girls

Heidelberg also is riding a title streak, having won the last two European Division I tournaments. But the Lady Lions must plug the holes left by last year’s three All-Europe players.

However, coach Jim McCauley has three first-teamers and two second-teamers returning: forward Rebeccah Drennan, midfielder Michelle Thorne, fullback Megan Brousseau, goalkeeper Shiena Bustamante and defender Shannon Drennan. Add to that Vilseck transfer Monica Tubesing, newcomer Megan Briggs and improved fullback Megan Bruce, and the Lions appear fully in the hunt for title No. 3.

Also looking to be as solid as last year are Bill Belmear’s Ramstein Lady Royals, which he expects to be “as good or better than last year.”

Ramstein, which was 5-1 last year, welcomes back All-Europe first-team midfielder Evie Callaghan and second-team midfielder Collette Bannister, along with goalkeeper Andra Vanderneck, defender Chandra Harrison, forward Stephanie Brown and midfielder Allyson Gill. Joining them will be Olympic Development Program freshman Heather Harvey.

Kaiserslautern’s Brent Tryon is counting on talented freshmen Bianca Gerena, Anna Hrushka and Allyson Bunch to team with returnees Bridgitte Alexander, Brooke Stringfellow, Karen Jackson and Alex Dallas to improve on his predecessor’s 1-5 record.

The Lady Raiders are hurt by numbers, however, and Tryon said he’s having trouble keeping a feeder JV program going. “We’re by far the smallest school in Division I,” he said.

Anchoring Lakenheath are returning forward Katie Sloboda and midfielder Kirstin Holley.

“We’re strong overall,” coach Betsy Deacon said. “They’re playing as a team already.”

At Wiesbaden, “we’re real young,” said coach Jim Campbell, who this year has four seniors — Jennifer MeKeon and Nikole Gonzalez and goalkeepers Tiffany Kroom and Andy Gagnon, an All-European at Bad Kreuznach two years ago.

At Würzburg, goalkeeper Allison Toth and her sister, Sarah, will try to help new coach Lloyd Tucker improve on last year’s winless mark, while midfielder Betsy Hendrickson leads a large crew from International School Brussels, which was 3-3 last year.

Division III

Naples, the 2002 European Division III champion, has a new coach. Gloria Krom said she believes she has “walked into a pretty good team.”

Returning from last year are second-team All-Europe sweeper Tracy Light, all-conference goalkeeper Alex Petrucci, all-tournament forward Laura Keating, striker Gloria Bradshaw, forward Laura Thompson, fullback Erica Medina and wing Christina Smith.

Building on that core are newcomers such as freshman wing Katrina Durden and halfback Michelle Aguila, a regional championship basketball star.

The team, which scrimmages the boys, has the attitude to match its talent, she said. “They don’t seem to tire. They’re really pumped.”

As in the past, Naples should find Aviano its strongest competitor.

But Aviano coach Pam Hillestad is looking for some punch. “We lost three All-Europeans,” she said. “I feel like all my scoring threat is gone.”

Still, Hillestad said, she has the defensive talents of sweeper Jessi Campfield and midfielder Megan Engelhardt, who has been honing her skills in the rapidly expanding Italian female leagues.

Milan and the American Overseas School of Rome, though, aren’t expected to be hardy contenders. Vicenza, too, found the going tough last season, landing a lone player on the all-conference squad. But the Cougars will be looking to improve on that this season.

A challenge to what had become a strictly Aviano-Naples rivalry, however, could come from Marymount International of Rome, which won two straight titles in 1999 and 2000 and is returning to prominence this season, according to Hillestad.

In addition, Shawn McCarthy of Sigonella plans to muscle into that battle.

“By the end of the season, our goal is to play on Saturday (in the Med tourney) — hopefully for the championship,” he said.

McCarthy said his Jaguars, always plagued by numbers and turnover, will try to mold a winner by incorporating their 12 freshmen around their “great player” Christina Schumacher and returnees Whiney Morrell and Katrina Matti, who spent last summer at soccer camp in the States.

McCarthy said his team also will benefit from the completion of a second field at Sigonella. It will allow the team to practice on a full field and work on the transition game for the first time. “Before, we had the boys and girls, 50 players, on the same field. The boys worked at one end and the girls at the other.”

North of the Alps, 2002 Division III tournament teams Ansbach and Hohenfels will be facing challenges from Baumholder, Brussels, Bamberg, Bad Aibling and Giessen in the single-region race.

“We have a pretty strong team,” said Baumholder’s Kurt Schmidt. “We have 12 returning players among our 24 total.”

Chief among them, Schmidt said, are junior forward Katie Otterstedt and junior stopper Jill Cannizzo, along with sophomore goalkeeper Ashley Karayannis. They’ll be joined by newcomer Annika Perez, an athletic sophomore midfielder.

Quantity and quality are the story at Ansbsach, said coach Bruce Satterlund, who expects four freshmen to make his 27-player varsity squad.

They’ll join experienced hands Alison Hazen, Caroline Robinson, Katy Weihman and Laura Bond in helping get the Lady Cougars back into the European tournament. Satterlund also came up with an experienced sophomore goalkeeper, April Debak, and basketball stars Keke Johnson and LaChe Sykes are foregoing track to play soccer.

Kathy Clemmons’ Hohenfels Tigers will be a year older than the young team that went to Europeans last season. Back to try again are All-Europe forward Melanie Cloy, along with midfielders Beth Macintire and Michelle Bonneau and forward Whitney Clemmons.

In Giessen, Edwina Smith will be relying on her defense, manned by stopper Aiana Garin, all-conference midfielder Amellis Peart, fullback Courtney Hernandez and goalkeeper Erika Hill to hold the fort for her young team, which benefits from the return of III-North tourney MVP Janelle Anderson.

Bamberg, too, is very young, where Everlitis Rivera, a sweeper, and midfielder Michelle Clubb are the only experienced seniors, said coach Anita Hunt.

Bad Aibling will rely on midfielders Katrina Preston and Rachel Reese, along with goalkeeper Leann Cruz and defender Debbie Jackson for its new-look squad.

“Last year, we played mostly a defensive set,” coach Stu Arnot said. “This year we’ve got a lot of good, young offensive players.”

Brussels will play for the conference title before splitting off to battle Menwith Hill, Iceland, Lajes and Rota in the Division III-North qualifying tournament, which determines the two teams advancing to Europeans.

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