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#PrepTalkPreview: Girls soccer -- Plenty of talent back as Section VI eyes another big year

2015 champions: Clarence (Section VI, Class AA), Williamsville East (Section VI, Class A), Wilson (Section VI, Class B), Allegany-Limestone (Section VI, Class C), Ellicottville (Section VI, Class D), Sacred Heart (Monsignor Martin Large Schools), St. Mary’s (Monsignor Martin Small Schools).

Wilson lost in the state final. Clarence and Williamsville East each lost in the state semifinals. Sacred Heart also lost in New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association semifinal.

2015 All-WNY first-team underclassmen: Marcy Barberic-11 (Grand Island), Marissa Birzon-11 (Williamsville East), Riley Bowers-11 (Clarence), Emma Gervase-11 (Nardin), Maya Palmer-10 (Williamsville North), Madisyn Pezzino-11 (Grand Island), Hannah Spitzer-11 (Clarence).

What can Section VI do for an encore: In past years, many of Section VI’s champions’ postseason run has come to an end during Far West Regionals.

Last season, the area’s best altered the script, getting the better of its I-90 rivals for a change by sending three teams to the state final four with Wilson reaching the Class B state final.

Can Section VI match that historic performance again? Nothing’s impossible as last season shows, but Section V does hold home-field advantage for Far West Regionals in November. It also has history on its side as Rochester-area teams are 40-10 against Section VI in regionals since 2006. But …

“Our local soccer is catching up to the rest of the state,” Wilson coach T.J. Baia said. “I think you see that with the results last year and the results the last couple of years.”

For those scoring at home, Clarence became the first Section VI Class AA team to win a regional game two years ago, while Williamsville East dropped a tough one-goal decision in Class A. Three years ago, Holland not only won a regional game but went on to win the state Class C title.

“We just need to build on that and continue getting a couple teams through each year,” Section VI chairman Chris Durr said.

Fanning the Flames: Encore? That’s Williamsville East’s ultimate goal as it returns eight starters from last year’s 20-2 outfit, including top scorer Marissa Birzon. The Prep Talk Player of the Year and Ohio State commit scored a school-record 50 goals last season and holds the school career mark of 112 as she enters her fifth season. She scored all four goals in the section final against Grand Island.

Another key returnee for coach Durr’s crew includes defender Riley Fitzsimmons. Junior Tess Ford returns for her fourth season and will play center midfield. Other experienced returnees include seniors Alex Bone (midfield/forward) and Grace Beichner (sweeper) along with juniors Chloe Berti (defense) and Sarah Panepento (goalkeeper). Panepento started all 22 games last season.

The Flames did lose a four-year starter to graduation in Audrey McNamara.

“This team’s pretty motivated … but you can’t get back there without doing the other things first,” said Durr, noting the Flames need to survive sectionals before it can worry about states.

GI among contenders: Those looking to foil Will East’s quest of defending its Class A crown include usual rivals Grand Island, Iroquois, Hamburg and Amherst. The Tigers of Amherst could be a testy foe for all seasons as they return to ECIC II after a long stint in ECIC III. While Williamsville South graduated firepower in Jamie Boyer, the Billies can’t be discounted either as they should be a well-balanced team.

Grand Island could make a run, though, as the Vikings return all but one starter from last year’s 18-2 team. Two key players in GI’s quest to win sectionals figure to be Florida State-commit Madisyn Pezzino and UB-commit Marcy Barberic. Pezzino, a second team all-state selection, scored two of her section-leading 53 goals during the title-game loss to the Flames. She has 178 career goals and 40 assists for 396 career points. She needs 56 goals to match the state record for career goals set last year by City Honors’ Molly Petrucci. Two-time All-WNY pick and third-team all-state Barberic is coming off a 26-goal, 83-point season.

Besides Pezzino and Barberic, coach Dave Bowman said the Vikings have “a core of a half dozen or eight players that are just solid.”

Junior goalie Sarah Buykowicz has verbally commited to UB.

“With most players returning we’re hoping for another great season,” Bowman said.

Shark attack: Sacred Heart has 16 players back from last year’s title winner – including senior co-captain and leading scorer Taylor DiMarco. She is committed to Loyola (Md.). The defense will be anchored by fellow co-captain Krista Tomizzi.

Tatyjana Scalisi showed she has a nose for the net as a freshman. “What’s really great about Tatyjana is she’s tall, she’s quick and she has great ability to set herself up for the shot,” Sharks coach John Dobos said.

Stephan takes reins at Clarence: Dave Stephan has been coaching Clarence soccer teams (boys and girls) for 14 years. He still realizes he’s a rookie though as he takes over the Red Devils for Tom Furminger, who stepped down to spend more time with his family.

Stephan, who served as Clarence’s junior varsity coach the past two seasons, knows he will have to get up to speed to get familiar with the talent other programs in ECIC I and the section have in their cupboards. He has a pretty good handle of the ability of his own players, although he may be moving some pieces around.

Hannah Spitzer, left, and Riley Bowers are both returning first-team All-WNYers for Clarence. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Hannah Spitzer, left, and Riley Bowers are both returning first-team All-WNYers for Clarence. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

While the Red Devils graduated 17 – including three Division I players, they still have experienced Division I prospects on the roster. That includes Duquense-commit Spitzer and Ohio State-commit Bowers. Senior Anna Davies has a lot of interested Division I suitors and is looking at Louisville.

“We’ll be rebuilding in certain areas, but I’m hoping we have a good run,” Stephan said. “We have a very strong youth program. Clarence Soccer Club is a great feeder system.”

He said it: Allegany/Limestone coach Dale MacArthur on the Gators’ mission statement for the season, winning sectionals: “That’s always the goal. It doesn’t always work out that way.”

It did last season, as A/L has 11 returnees, including five starters, aiming for a repeat. Fourth-year starter and senior Danielle Spring led the Gators in scoring last season. Other returning starters include senior Maria Wallace, junior Bri Kellner and freshmen Molly McClelland and Alyssa Spring, Danielle’s cousin.

Wilson well-stocked: Besides Emily Kelly, who earned all-state tournament honors after a 39-save performance -- including 22 in a semifinal win – last season, Wilson returns 14 from that memorable run. Top scorers Kayla Neumann (12 goals) and Emily Paterson are back, with Paterson coming off a school-record 22-assists campaign. Neumann earned all-state. Rachel Senek (14 goals) and Jen Darlak also return, as are defenders Maddie Austin and Julia Seider.

“It’ll be a brand new season with brand new goals,” Baia said. “Last year was special, but it’s a new season with new challenges. We’re looking forward to it.”

Other contenders in Class B include Wilson’s league rivals Newfane and Akrorn, East Aurora and Tonawanda.

New faces at St. Mary’s: First-year coach Brittany Heist isn’t just inheriting a championship St. Mary’s squad. The Lancers’ lineup picked up a few additions from the now defunct Immaculata, which closed last spring. Heist expects at least one former Bear, senior Courtney Kline to make an immediate impact. Senior returnees for the Monsignor Martin Small School champions include Kristi Smith, Marissa Loniewski and Grace Fuller.

“Paired with some other transfers from Immaculata and a nice mix of all grade levels spread evenly, I foresee a lot of quick development and growth within the program during preseason,” said Heist, the former Lancaster star. “I am eager to see how the season goes.”

Talent watch: Besides Birzon, Pezzino, Barberic, Gervase, Bowers, Spitzer and Davies, another future Division I player to keep an eye on is first team all-state goalie Emily Kelly of Wilson. The junior has verbally committed to University at Buffalo.

Others include:

-- The DeCicco sisters of Amherst are coming off nice seasons. Abby, a fifth-year defender/midfielder, had seven goals and six assists as a junior. Quinn, a sophomore midfielder/forward, is coming off an 18-goal season. Senior goalkeeper Kayla Shutts is back for a third season.

-- Nardin’s Gervase heads into the season looking to earn her third straight Monsignor Martin Association MVP honor.

-- Ashley Rackley has been Depew’s leading scorer the past two seasons. She, along with speedy defender Mia Sugg, are four-year starters for coach Larry Jones’ Wildcats.

What’s new: For the first time, the Section VI Tournament will feature split brackets for Classes A and B.  That means the A-1 and A-2 champions, as well as the winners of B-1 and B-2, will meet in overall Section VI finals to determine which team advances to Far West Regionals.

In past years this didn’t happen because several teams opted out of participating in sectionals, something that still happens. “The athletic council decided we needed to do it so we were told to do it,” said Section VI chairman Chris Durr. Several other sports in the section split the A, B and sometimes C classes but that’s usually to avoid a giant bracket that features 16 or more teams.

Save the dates: Tonawanda High School Tournament (Tonawanda, Sacred Heart, City Honors and Medina), Aug. 26-27; Orchard Park at East Aurora, Aug. 29; Wilson at Newfane, Aug. 30; Clarence Tournament (Clarence, Nichols, Nardin, III-Baldwinsville), Aug. 31 and Sept. 1; Maryvale at Cheektowaga, Sept. 6; Orchard Park at Hamburg, Sept. 6; Amherst at Iroquois, Sept. 8; Lockport Tournament, Sept. 9-10; Williamsville South at Williamsville East, Sept. 10; Williamsville East at Amherst, Sept. 12; Grand Island at Clarence, Sept. 14; Williamsville East at Iroquois, Sept. 14; V-Aquinas at Grand Island, Sept. 20.

Championship time: Section VI seeding meeting Oct. 15; Section VI Tournament begins Oct. 17; Sectional finals, Oct. 27-29, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1; Regionals at Section V, Nov. 5; State final four at SUNY Cortland, Nov. 11-13; Monsignor Martin Tournament, TBA.

Who’s the favorite to win Prep Talk Player of the Year? Last season’s winner Birzon is an obvious choice. Other contenders include Bowers, Barberic, Pezzino and Spitzer.

Prep Talk Player of the Year for girls soccer: Marissa Birzon, Williamsville East

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