By BRIAN CUNNIFF
The high school girls soccer teams across the area have gotten their 2021 seasons started this week.
For the Cape-Atlantic League teams, conference alignment has gone back to its traditional form, with Lower Cape May and Middle Township in the National Conference and Cape May Tech and Wildwood CAtholic in the United Conference.
The following is a look at each of the area’s high school girls soccer teams:
CAPE MAY TECH
The COVID-19 pandemic not only led to just a six-game schedule last fall, but it also prevented Cape May Tech from getting a lot of players out for the team.
So for starters, the Lady Hawks are simply hoping to have a season that’s as close to normal as possible.
Tech enters the 2021 season on the inexperienced side, but does bring back six starters.
Alex Garcia is the team’s top player. Other returnees include Hailey Pinto, Emma Cleffi, Anna Smith, Alyssa Gery and Francesca Panzini.
Overall numbers are better as well with close to 20 players out for the team.
“We are looking for an uninterrupted season, which will provide the girls to have fun playing a game they all love,” said fifth-year coach Warren Wade.
Brian Dudley is Wade’s assistant coach.
Tech begins the season Thursday at Lower Cape May.
LOWER CAPE MAY
Lower Cape May brings back most of its starters from a team that went 2-7 last season and should be improved. But the Lady Tigers also must compete in a tough CAL National Conference that features talented teams such as Ocean City, Middle Township, Absegami and Mainland.
The team is still rather young, with Katie Suter (FB) and Lexi Cremin (F/MF) the lone returning seniors. Other returning players include juniors Logan McKeown (MF), Joanna Bonney (MF/F), Kiki Soto (GK), Addy Paz (MF), Jasmine Levengood (F) and Tessa Rutherford (FB) and sophomores Sianna King (F/MF), Tessa Hueber (MF), Braelyn Brant (FB), Isabelle Hristov (MF) and Kaitlyn McGuigan (FB).
The top newcomers include freshman Bella Lund (MF) and Kaia Ray (GK).
“We have a young team that is looking to compete this year,” said second-year head coach Darren Rutherford. “We are returning a good core of our varsity lineup from last year, and if we can continue to improve each day, we’ll get the results we are looking for.”
Meaghan Shedlock is Rutherford’s assistant coach.
Lower Cape May began the season with a 6-1 loss to Middle on Tuesday. McGuigan scored the lone goal. The team next plays Thursday at home against Cape May Tech.
Middle Township enjoyed an excellent 10-2-2 season last fall that included a scoreless draw over an otherwise unblemished Ocean City team, which was considered one of the best in the state.
The Lady Panthers lost a couple of players from their 2020 group but return many of their starters, lending belief that this can be another solid season.
Middle should be excellent offensively, thanks to the return of three players who scored at least six goals last season. But there’s some inexperience on the back line, with most of the starters gone to graduation.
Some of the top returnees include senior co-captain Abby Ridgway (FB), juniors C.C. DiMauro (F) and Eva Dimitrov (MF) and sophomore Olivia Sgrignioli (F). DiMaura, Dimitrov and Sgrignioli combined for 19 goals in 14 games last season.
Others with varsity experience include seniors Elaina Nelson (FB), Skyla Bowyer (FB) and Brianna Robinson (GK); juniors McKenna Gregory (MF, co-captain), Maddyn McAnaney (FB) and Hannah Price (MF); and sophomores Sofia Sgrignioli (MF) and Brooke Nabb (FB).
There are some talented freshmen who will push for varsity time, including Grace Repici (F), Carmen O’Hara (MF) and Keily Sanchez (MF).
Middle will face a tough schedule, competing against teams such as Ocean City, Absegami, Mainland and Cedar Creek in CAL National play, plus non-conference games against the likes of Millville, West Deptford and Our Lady of Mercy Academy.
“It will be a very challenging year for our program,” second-year head coach Mike Hickman said. “With the addition of several tough programs on our schedule, we will need to grow up fast.”
Hickman is assisted by Kaylee Beck.
Middle opened the season with a 6-1 win over rival Lower Cape May on Tuesday. DiMauro posted a hat trick and an assist and Gregory, Sanchez and Olivia Sgrignioli each added goals in the win.
Middle next plays Friday at home against Cedar Creek.
Wildwood is low in numbers, with less than 15 players in the program. But there are some talented returnees, plus the addition of a transfer, who should help the Lady Warriors compete.
Seniors Imene Fathi (MF) and Kara McLaughlin (FB) are two of the club’s better players. Another key returnee is junior Kaydence Oakley (MF), one of the more talented players in the area.
Others expected to play significant roles include juniors Brooke Steckel and Maya Benichou and sophomores Sophia Wilber and Sinaia Strohman-Hills. Wildwood also hopes for a boost from junior transfer Kalei Budney.
Wildwood is coached by Mark Scarpa (second season).
Wildwood began the season Wednesday with a 5-1 loss to Pitman. Oakley scored the Lady Warriors’ goal, assisted by sophomore Ashley Nagle.
Wildwood next plays Tuesday at Salem.
Wildwood Catholic lost seven starters and 11 players overall to graduation from last year’s 4-6 team, but there are still quite a few players back for 2021.
The Crusaders feature five seniors, led by four-year starter Kimmy Casiello (MF), Julia Belansen (FB), Ivy Bolle (F) and Delaney Robb (FB). Xiomara Walker (MF/F) and Roan Jacqueline (MF) also return. Sophomore Nola Quinn (F/MF), junior Carly Murphy (MF) and freshman Reagan Flickinger (FB/MF) will also play key roles.
Kara Saunders is in her eighth season as head coach.
Wildwood Catholic began the season Tuesday with a key 2-0 win at Buena in a CAL United Conference game. Casiello and Quinn scored the goals and freshman Grace Murphy had the shutout in goal.
Wildwood Catholic next plays Thursday at Holy Spirit.