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Grand Island is a no drama zone Vikings focused to reclaim title Girls soccer preview: Niagara Frontier League race expected to be a close one

Grand Island's goals for the soccer season are pretty typical: win the league, win the Section VI title, reach states -- and then there's the one goal no amount of practice will achieve.

"We have to keep the drama to a minimum," said senior goalkeeper Kristin Wegrzyn. "We're girls and one of our goals is no drama. With girls, it's hard to not think about it. Guys play like they always do. Girls tend to take it on the field, and it's embarrassing when players are arguing with each other. Everyone has to be on point. We want to be like a family."

GI has plenty of incentive to play together. The Vikings were stripped of the Niagara Frontier League title last year by Kenmore West.

GI had been NFL champion the nine previous seasons before the Blue Devils shocked them, 1-0, in the last game of the 2008 regular season.

Coach Dave Bowman said the dynamic of this year's team is different, and that the nerves and apprehension that dogged last year's team on the season's biggest stages are gone.

"My girls are making it quite clear among themselves that it's not an option to lose to Kenmore this year," he said. "They were kind of devastated last year that they let themselves down and everyone who came before them. They had it for nine years, Kenmore got a taste of it, now they want it back."

This season's regular season games between the NFL rivals are just six days apart. The teams meet on Oct. 1 at Grand Island and on Oct. 7 when GI travels to West. The Blue Devils are playing on a refurbished field this season.

Helping GI in its attempt to reclaim its title will be a pair of returning All-Western New York players, juniors Jeanna Raepple and Jeannie Taylor.

Raepple was also second All-New York State and led the Vikings in scoring with 27 goals. At a recent practice an assistant coach asked her how many goals she was going to score this year. Her only response was she planned to surpass last year's total.

Taylor earned All-WNY as a defender. She gained considerable experience playing this summer. She's now comfortable starting the offense from the back and giving direction to players in front of her.

Kenmore West will not relinquish its NFL title very easily. The Blue Devils return five starters -- twins and captains Jenna and Lexi Panepinto, junior captain Charlotte Clark, senior captain Caitlin Donahue and Colleen Hannon.

Jenna was named first team All-NFL last year as a freshman. She been a starter since eighth grade. Coach Jen Gilham described Jenna as "our network" saying she has a great shot, serves the ball well, and can kick the ball through every avenue.

Grand Island will open its regular season on Friday at home against Niagara Falls at 4:30 p.m. And the drama unfolds from there.

e-mail: mmonnin@buffnews.com

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