2016 team champions: Section VI - Clarence (Class AA), Grand Island (Class A), Newfane (Class B), Maple Grove (Class C). North Collins (Class D). Msgr. Martin: Nardin (Class A), Buffalo Seminary (Class B). Clarence lost in the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association semifinal, 2-1, to I-Arlington. Newfane lost in the the NYSPHSAA semifinal to IV-Chenango Forks, 1-0. Nardin lost in the state Catholic final to Long Island Sacred Heart, 1-0.
2016 All-WNY first-team underclassmen: Alexa Chiarenza-10 (Grand Island), Maya Palmer-11 (Williamsville North), Emily Kelly-11 (Wilson).
Under construction: The biggest change in the sport locally is the playing surface. More and more schools are installing artificial turf, with grass falling by the wayside. The consensus is that the switch can only improve the quality of play in Western New York.
New facilities are coming on line in such places as Williamsville and Kenmore this year. Chris Durr, the Section VI sport chairman and the coach at Williamsville East, says his players will be seeing a lot of the turf this season.
"Out of 16 games, we may have 12 to 14 on turf," he said. "Our kids will get used to it. I think it will improve the level of play for Section VI. Some Rochester teams play their whole season on turf. I'm hoping it will allow us to compete with them."
The turf will help teams practice in late October, when fields can be muddy but the stakes are great. They won't have to practice indoors or work out on borrowed fields in preparation for the playoffs.
Then there's the game itself, which is altered slightly when played on turf.
"Certainly the ball moves a lot faster," Durr said. "The bounces are truer, and you have more control of the ball. It's actually not as fast as it used to be, because most of the field turf now behaves like grass."
The Class of 2017: You might look at the returning list of All-WNY players and ask, where did all the forwards go? It turns out all of them, as well as all the midfielders, have graduated.
Western New York had the Co-Players of the State in Marissa Birzon of Williamsville East and Madisyn Pezzino of Grand Island. Several of the players of the group are headed to top colleges. You could make a case that it was the best local class of players in history.
Attempting an encore: Clarence and Newfane are coming off trips to the state final four, and that's a hard act to follow. Still, you'd have to think both teams will be fine. The Red Devils will see Emma Faso and Elise Williams move up into important roles. If Clarence slips in Class AA, Williamsville North may be ready to move up. The Spartans have a returning All-WNY player in Maya Palmer along with an all-ECIC midfielder in Candice Kasahara. Kayla Bailey, Samantha Diamond and Lianna VanSice are also back. Niagara-Wheatfield has a good young player in Maddie Evarts.
In Class B, Newfane has a couple of players who may be ready to take it up a notch and be a first-team All-WNY selection after making the second team last time: Kayleigh Daniels and Emily Foltz. Goalie Madalyn Traverse was all-Niagara-Orleans last season as a sophomore. Fredonia has a couple of second-teamers as well in Abigail Damico and Emily Kwiakowski; they are both seniors. Wilson has a goalie who is headed to the University at Buffalo in Emily Kelly. It's tough to lose if you don't give up goals.
The other classes: In Class A, some good teams will battle it out at sectional time. Grand Island and Williamsville East may have lost their stars, but they'll be fine. The Vikings have Grace Stranahan and goalie Sara Bykowicz back, while the Flames expect Tess Ford and Riley Fitzsimmons will be standouts. Amherst had a taste of the A-2 sectional title this year, and Quinn DeCicco and Emma Klein will be back for more glory.
In Class C, Maple Grove has a lot of talent back with such players as Sky Tarapacki, Marisa Schuppenhauer, Clare Crossley, and Adrianna Carlson. That team has a good chance to repeat its Section VI title. Class D has only seven schools, so we'll have to see how they play against each other in the regular season. Ellicottville has Evie Cortez returning.
Next girl up: Nardin is the defending champion, but lost nine seniors from last season. That means there are roles to fill and improvements to be made, but the Gators should be good. Olivia Jerge, Allyson Evoniuk and Jane Zugarek should be important players for Nardin.
Elsewhere, Nichols has plenty of talent back and will be a contender. Maren Geiger will be in the middle of the offense, while sweeper Sophie Gordon guides the defense and Camryn Warren and Marisa Warren are top midfielders. Sacred Heart lost 13 players from the 2016 team, so this year's team will be young. Seniors Alex Miller and Emily Yarbrough are the only starters back.
Mount St. Mary moves up a notch after winning the B title last season. The Thunder also had graduation losses, but Ruth Riggie was one of the top players in all of Western New York last year, as she was an honorable mention for All-WNY honors. She will be helped on offense by Megan Persico and on defense by goalie Megan Preisch.
Merger mania: Four combined teams are suiting up for the coming season. The most interesting one might be the team that will mix students from Medina and Lyndonville. The catch is that Medina plays in Section VI, while Lyndonville is in Section V. Both schools are in Orleans County, roughly 15 minutes apart.
Others mergers are Ellicottville and West Valley, Silver Creek and Forestville, and Westfield and Brocton.
Championship time: The various Section VI finals will be held Oct. 27 through 31. That will be followed by the Far West Regionals at Williamsville East on Nov. 3-4. The state championships will take place in Cortland on Nov. 11-12. Monsignor Martin playoffs begin Oct. 25. Monsignor Martin final is slated for Nov. 5 at Canisius College.
Who will be the Prep Talk Athlete of the Year? It's easy to think that the top goal scorer on a good team wins that, because that's the way it often works. Could this be the year that a goalie sneaks in? Wilson's Kelly might be the player to break the mold. Otherwise, the field is wide open.