Williamsville East was the only team from Section VI to reach last year's New York State semifinals. The Flames' first trip to states resulted in a heartbreaker, a 1-0 loss in sudden death overtime to Southside from Rockville Center.
East returns five starters, and is going for its eighth ECIC II title in a row. The Flames have a 48-game division winning streak. The unquestionable team leader is senior forward/midfield Katie Griffin. A four-year starter, she's verbally committed to Canisius College, where her sister, Jenny, plays now.
Joining Griffin are four-year starters Kayla Acklin and Morgan Begy. The three have led the Flames to the sectional finals each of the last three seasons, winning twice. East was 21-2-1 last season. It has reached the sectional final in nine of the last 10 years.
The Flames' nonleague schedule includes Williamsville North, Clarence and Amherst, all Section VI finalists last year.
Nichols is led by scoring machine Brianna Smith, a two-time All-WNY pick who shattered the school's single season scoring record with 59 goals last season. The senior forward has 100 goals combined in her last two seasons.
Nichols started this season winning Saturday's Clarence Tournament. Six starters return from last year's team that ended 21-2, defended its Monsignor Martin Association playoff title, and was runner-up in the state Catholic tournament. Last year's All-WNY goalkeeper Adele Jackson-Gibson is at Yale, but her Zoe, a defender, and Maya, a midfielder, return.
"This is the youngest team I ever had," said coach Larry Desautels said. "We lost five starters, but everyone who is back is better. We may start a lot of freshman and sophomores."
Clarence looks to defend its Section VI Class AA and ECIC I titles.
Junior Alex Rohloff doesn't look like she's missed a step after tearing her ACL in both knees the past two years. She was first team All-WNY last year.
"She's a gifted kid that does everything she's asked," said coach Tim Liffiton. "She's crafty with the ball and makes things happen. She's had two setbacks, but to see her play, it certainly doesn't look like it."
Also back are second team All-WNY Alexa Krebs and leading scorer Nicole Lauricella.
Clarence will travel to East Aurora on Sept. 18 for a game under the lights at 6:30 p.m.
Williamsville North coach Doug Kircher urges everyone not to read too much into his team's win over V-Aquinas in a scrimmage. The Spartans' roster has just four seniors. It's a big question how the team will handle itself in close games, against strong opponents or if it can play from behind.
"It's hard to say, the potential is there," said Kircher. "Losing 11 seniors, we still have the youth part to battle through. We'll see who's going to step up."
Senior defender Kristin Boreanaz, is a three-year starter who brings consistent and steady play to the field.
Center midfielder senior Hannah Bachwitz had good field vision, and she excels are distributing the ball and getting teammates involved.
North finished 10-2 last season in ECIC I with its only losses coming to Clarence.
With 12 seniors back, East Aurora has designs on repeating as Section VI champion. The Blue Devils have won titles in three of the last four seasons in two different classes.
The Blue Devils graduated just one starter from last year's team which lost in penalty kicks in the regionals. Leading a solid core of defenders is second team All-WNY Emma Bracken, Erin Holbrook, Brooke Schutrum and Hillary Baritot.
Holland graduated 14 seniors from last year's Section VI Class C championships team. This year's team will rely on Caitie Pfeiffer, who led the team in scoring and assists. The Dutchmen look forward to playing long time rival East Aurora. Last year Holland beat East Aurora for the first time in 14 years.
>Around & about
Returning All-Western New York first-teamers: Brianna Smith-12 (Nichols), Jenna Raepple-11 Grand Island, Katie Griffin-12 (Williamsville East), Alexandra Rohloff-12 (Clarence), Jeannie Taylor-11 (Grand Island).
Second teamers: Meghan Lipinoga (North Tonawanda), Kaitlyn Thompson (Wilson), Emma Bracken (East Aurora), Courtney Mann (Frontier), Maya Jackson-Gibson (Nichols), Sarah Lasker (Amherst), Alexa Krebs (Clarence), Catie Pfeiffer (Holland) and Molly Curry (Wilson).
Defending champions: Class AA-Clarence. Class A-Williamsville East. Class B-East Aurora. Class C-Holland. Class D-Maple Grove. Monsignor Martin-Nichols (large school), St. Mary's (small schools). ECIC I-Clarence. ECIC II-Williamsville East. ECIC III-Amherst. ECIC IV-East Aurora. Niagara Frontier League-Kenmore West. Niagara-Orleans-Albion. Buffalo-City Honors. CCAA I-Falconer. CCAA II-Frewsburg. CCAA III-Maple Grove.
>Tournaments take a hit
The number of in-season tournaments has drastically decreased this season, a casualty of last year's state budget cuts. Several schools dropped tournaments after the state cut regular season games from 18 to 16. (See remaining schedule on Page D5).
"For soccer, I think you look at a kid who plays three-four years of varsity -- that's 4-6 or 6-8 games [lost] over the course of their career," said Section VI chairman Chris Durr, who dropped out of Cohocton Tournament this year. "Over the course of a four-year career, that's half a season. That's going to affect records, career records. It's really all about the amount of experience a kid can get."
Williamsville North's Doug Kircher must really love to coach. He commutes every day from Pittsford, east of Rochester. The drive takes him approximately 75 minutes, depending on how many red lights he hits on Transit Road.
Kircher works for Monroe County. He views the time alone his car as an opportunity to plan things in his mind and reflect on what his team needs to work on.
Hamburg has dedicated its season to the memory of Jim Yoviene, a past president of the local Hamburg Monarchs, who died last December. For the third year the team will wear pink uniforms in support of female health initiative. In the past two seasons, the squad raised nearly $3,000 for Roswell Park's Team Cure Program.
On the field, Hamburg is expecting Marissa Lombard and Kaelim Gamel to have an immediate impact. Kaitlin Sorgi will provide solid goalkeeping behind a senior-dominated defense that includes Rachel Miller, Heather Prusak, Moira Foley and Megan Lesch.
Eden's attack is led by junior Danielle Lyndsley (17 goals) and Chelsea Krencik. . . . Among the players West Seneca West is counting on are Anna Purdy and Stephanie Szeluga, who logged plenty of minutes last year as freshmen. . . . West Seneca East returns four starters, including its captains Meg McGowan and Tori Suto. East meets its rival, West Seneca West, under the lights on Oct. 19. . . . Lake Shore returns 10 players including Brittany Mazzu, who was an ECIC II second team all-star, and junior Jacquelyn Fricano, who is back after missing last season with an ACL tear. . . . Starpoint boasts a strong defense with seniors Catie Hale, a four-year starter, and Shannon Bandinelli. Kristi Delabio had 19 goals and 12 assists last year as a freshman. . . . Jamestown will benefit from the play of last year's leading goal scorer Nicole Mahoney and speedy freshman Rachel Oehlbracht. . . . Mount St. Mary returns senior striker Bre Catapovic, All-Catholic North Division all-star, who had 51 regular season goals last season. . . . Always-competitive Nardin returns a pair of All-Catholic selections, senior Genny Goergen and Erin O'Brien. . . . All-Catholic South Division pick Raeanne Stillwell returns for St. Mary's, winner of the last three MMA small school playoff titles. . . . Allegany-Limestone will contend for the CCAA title with league all-stars Claudia Flood, Lindsey Forness and Lindsay Stoddard back. . . . Iroquois returns senior forward Chelsea Oberkrieser, a two-time league all-star in ECIC II. Depew senior forward Rachel Banasik, who has 80 career goals, is chasing the school record of 102.