By Gerry deSimas Jr.
AVON >> If the Avon High girls soccer team is going to win its first NCCC championship since 2008, they will have to start the season strong and end it the same way.
Avon will close its regular season with consecutive games against Ellington, Suffield and Granby – in that order.
Of course, Avon is well equipped to handle this challenge. The Falcons (18-1-2) won their second straight Class L championship a year ago. Avon lost eight seniors and four starters but there are plenty of talented players remaining on the roster.
“We have a good group back,” long-time coach Jim Murray said. “They have good skills, good ball possession skills, speed and are physical and strong. We have a few players who just don’t get knocked off the ball.”
Up front, the Falcons are quick with seniors Carolyn Smith (6 goals), Erin Heston and juniors Hannah Davey and Chamiyah Rowland (5 goals).
At midfield, senior Alexa Lisevick and junior Stephanie Saccocio are on the outside with Michaela Marcus and senior Britt Douglass playing in the center. Marcus had an impressive goal in a scrimmage against Tolland in the preseason, taking the ball downfield, shaking off a few defenders and scoring to get Avon going.
The Falcons had a balanced scoring attack a year ago led by Marcus and the now-graduated Catherine Jordan with 10 goals each. Six players scored at least four goals. That will probably be the method of operations again this season.
Defensively, All-NCCC sweeper Youn Jae Baek returns along with stopper Lauren Miller and outside defender Amanda Holtzman.
It’s not easy for Canton in the NCCC. A year ago, Avon played in the Class L for the fourth straight year and captured their second straight state championship. Suffield won the league with a 14-0-2 record. Granby and Ellington were strong.
The Warriors struggled to score in 2012, only putting 12 goals into the net. They allowed 48 goals, which begins to explain a 3-12-1 record.
But coach Kevin McKenna, beginning his seventh season on the bench, is encouraged with the turnout for the team. There are enough players to field a varsity and junior varsity team, giving the younger players an opportunity to grow as athletes against players closer to their own age.
“There is a good balance (of players) among 12th, 11th, 10th and ninth graders, which has created good team chemistry,” McKenna said. The goal for the Warriors is to win seven games or six victories and a tie to claim a spot in the Class S tournament.
The challenge will be to put the ball in the net and improve defensively. Two of the three captains this season – Alex Martin and Natalie Grisevich – are playing on defense. The other captain, Eric Detorie, is playing forward.
“The players get along on and off the field, which will produce a healthy and fun environment,” McKenna said. “I expect our individual and team efforts to be a strength this year.”
Top players: Seniors D Youn Jae Baek, D Lauren Miller, M Britt Douglass, F Caroline Smith, F Erin Heston, Juniors D Amanda Holtzman, M Michaela Marcus (10 goals), M Alexa Lisevick, F Hannah Davey (6 goals), F Chamiyah Rowland (5 goals), M Stephanie Saccoccio
Outlook: The Falcons lost just four starters from a team won their second straight Class L championship a year ago. They are seeking a replacement to Conrad in goal but they have experienced players across the field. Look for the Falcons to contend for the league championship and perhaps the Class L crown.
Of note: In the last four years, Avon has finished second in the NCCC but did well in the Class L tournament earning a spot in the final all four years. … Conrad and Jordan, respectively, are both playing Division I soccer at Bryant College in Smithfield R.I. and Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. …Avon will play two night games to close out the regular season. The Falcons host Suffield on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at the high school and travel to Granby to close out the regular season on Oct. 28 for a 6:30 p.m. start on Granby’s new turf field.