The cause is hard to pinpoint, but the effect is pretty clear to enter the season. On the boys side of high school soccer in Delco, a bunch of teams are trying to figure out who they are, many replacing upwards of seven or eight starters. On the girls side, question marks also abound, but of a more specific nature. Strath Haven, for instance, is looking for steady goalkeeping. Penncrest is rebuilding its defense (albeit with three returning players, one starter). Garnet Valley must overcome injuries.
Those are all significant, but they fall well short of, say, the conundrum that Springfield boys are facing, replacing 90 percent of a roster. That posits the girls field as diametrically opposed to the boys: Compiling a girls super 7 is determining who returns the most talent, while the boys are about who lost the least. That makes the hierarchies easier to construct in one regard, and more difficult in another. Instead of grasping at straws as to which squads to include, the girls field presents a number of options that are difficult to sort.
Here are the preseason rankings that ran with previews last week. (Note that these do NOT take into account weekend games.)
1. Episcopal Academy
The Churchwomen finished atop these rankings last season, and they belong there to start this season. I wrote about them for the girls preview feature, and it’s a testament to the program that they can lose two All-Delcos and change coaches for a second straight year and still be viewed as favorites in a league as deep as the Inter-Ac. Molly O’Brien, an All-Delco last year, is one to watch.
2. Strath Haven
The Panthers have the reigning player of the year in Lizzie King, which puts them ahead of so many teams, particularly since she specialized in turning rare instances of service into gold last season. The forward line that features King and the sisters Forbes, Grace and Maddie, should score often. But changes in defense and the loss of goalkeeper Katie Fisher mean the question marks reside at the other end of the field.
The Lions improved greatly last season, and many of those pieces are back. Scoring won’t be a quandary thanks to Olivia Mancarella and Tara Higgins. While they defense requires some development as the season goes on, they’re starting with a high level of talent.
4. Garnet Valley
Were it not for injuries to Britney Dragoni and Julia Burnell, the Jags would be higher. And while those absences don’t spell disaster, they will test the program’s depth. One bright spot: GV has started slowly the last two years and rallied, which endows Paul Costa’s outfit with the patience not to let the level drop if they hit adversity.
The Fords could have one of the best defenses in the Central League with Maddy Santoro, Brianna Blair and Clare Janzer. Coach Alexandra Hill seems to always find attacking players to fill out the ranks, and in a league where the question marks seem to slant predominantly to the defensive side, the Fords competence in that aspect of the game is magnified.
6. Agnes Irwin
Mike Welsh, who was at Radnor last season, takes over the Owls after the graduation of a special class of 2016. The Inter-Ac is always daunting, but particularly if it’s as high-scoring as last year, this squad may have a tough time keeping up. It’ll be interesting to see how Lydia Bartosh, Maria Pansini and Annie McConnon, players that excelled as underclassmen in complementary roles, will step up into the spotlight.
7. Archbishop Carroll
Radnor and Carroll were neck-and-neck for this spot, with the lower rungs of the Super 7 apparently sponsored by Radnor Township. The Patriots have a little more continuity returning, while Radnor has a few pieces like All-Delco Maura Holst and goalie Alexa Solomon, but a new coach always entails an adjustment period.
Honorable mention: Radnor (Jake Solderitsch takes over with an All-Delco playing pedigree and plenty of capable players to work with); Springfield (The Cougars were better than the two wins they tallied last year, and a little coaching stability under Brian Coleman could bring that out of them).