Area high schools are kicking off their soccer seasons with high hopes for their teams and players. The North Gwinnett Voice talked with local coaches to find out what to expect from the season to come.
Buford High School
Megan Hill is the head girls soccer coach at Buford, and she highlighted her team’s young leadership as one of their top strengths.
“We are returning 11 sophomores this year,” Hill said. “We are a close-knit team with a strong bond that helps with team camaraderie on the field.”
She admits there can be an experience aspect to having such a young team, especially when competing against older players, but Hill thinks her team’s solid passing and possession game, along with their energy and aggression, can still give them an advantage on the field.
Hill highlighted Carley Borgelt, Victoria Bahr, Emma Danley, Abby Kilman, Skylar Gindelsperger and Kennadie Marchand as her stars going into the season, but expressed a firm belief that other spotlight players will rise to the occasion as the season progresses.
“We are excited to see what this 2022 season will bring,” Hill said.
In contrast, the Buford boys head coach Michael Wentzler sees his team’s seniority and experience as their primary advantage going into the season.
“We have a number of seniors that have been playing at the varsity level for the past three years, so they have a lot of experience,” Wentzler said.
He also added, “There are a couple of freshmen that should be looking to make an impact on the team this season.”
After a number of COVID related setbacks kept the team out of the state playoffs last year, Wentzler hopes his players will be able to develop their cohesive system and style of play as well as improve how they function as a unit.
He acknowledged Josh Mott as one of his top players after the junior scored 11 goals for the Wolves last season. He also commended seniors Lucas Stephenson, Nathan Montini and Caleb Mott as “tremendous leaders for the team.
“Freshmen Sergio Garcia and Josh Kim are expected to make an immediate impact on the team for us as well,” Wentzler added.
“Overall I think we showed a lot of growth last year and we are just looking to build on those successes and continue growing as a program,” Wentzler said. “I think if we hit our stride at the right time, we should be competing for a region championship.”
North Gwinnett High School
Jeffrey Becker, head girls soccer coach, is optimistic about his team’s mix of seasoned veterans and new talent.
“I believe this year starts a new era for North soccer, and we have the perfect veterans to lead us and the perfect young group ready to take over,” Becker said.
Believing his team should realistically be challenging for the region this year, Becker hopes his players can focus more on possession in attack rather than relying so much on their athleticism to move the ball forward.
He highlighted seniors Riley King and Jackie Hamada as two of his standout veterans, as well as commending Caroline Varitek, Chaislyn Godleski, Meredith Hamada, Iliana Hernandez and Isabelle Pozna as key players.
“With so many new players stepping into starting positions, we will have a new-look team, but the work rate and the desire to win will be the same as always,” Becker said.
The boys head soccer coach, Chris Leone, places a high level of confidence in his team’s chemistry.
“A lot of these guys have been playing at a high level for club and for NGHS for years now,” Leone said. “Knowing how each other plays and what they are looking for in game will be a big positive for us.”
The North Gwinnett boys soccer team won their region for the first time since 2007 last year, and Leone hopes they can build on that success by becoming more efficient in possession and solidifying their defensive shape.
He praised Damian Segura, a former Atlanta United Academy player, as a game-changer for the team, and also highlighted Kevin Jo, Kyle Black, Logan Collins and Alex Forrand for their technical skill and exceptional leadership.
“We expect to play a fast-paced, high intensity style of soccer that should be appealing to neutral fans of the game as well as people unfamiliar with the sport,” Leone said. “The expectations and hopes are high this year, and it should be a great team to watch.”
Lanier High School
Lanier’s head girls coach, Shelby Carlyle, sees her core group of senior leadership as instrumental for inspiring the relatively young team. She feels confident that the team’s leaders can help institute her goals of fostering a dynamic offense and creating more scoring opportunities by getting the most out of the squad’s youth.
“We have several talented freshmen that we’re looking forward to having on the team,” Carlyle said.
She highlighted senior defender Naomi Moleka and senior attacker Emily Andrews as two of her key players both on the field and in leadership roles.
“Our team is excited to compete for another playoff run,” Carlyle added.
The Lanier boys soccer team were co-region champions with Central Gwinnett High School last season but were knocked out of the playoffs by Carrolton following a penalty shootout.
Head coach Ezra Crumley feels confident his team’s wealth of experience will contribute to a strong season.
“We are a junior class heavy team, and those guys have a lot of playing time from freshman season until now,” Crumley said. “So, we hope to use that experience to our advantage as we work our way through a very competitive region.”
Crumley highlighted senior captain Aymar Ramos as well as seniors Santiago Masquera-Bonilla and Alessandro Polania and juniors David Rumble, Zach Smith and Jacob Haynes as his returning starters and key leadership.
He also praised junior goalkeeper Ben Haynes, who he believes will bring the same caliber of leadership and ability following the graduation of four-year starter and three-year captain Daniel Guzman.
“We respect all opponents and feel each game has a history of its own, however, the history you create can determine where you are in the future standings,” Crumley said. “We look to compete each game from the first touch to the last horn.”
Buford’s varsity soccer teams are set to host their first region matches of the season against Shiloh at 5:30 p.m. for the girls and 7:30 p.m. for the boys on Tuesday, Feb. 15.
Lanier High School’s varsity girls and boys soccer teams play next in home matches against region competitor Winder-Barrow on Tuesday, Feb. 15. The girls’ match starts at 5:30 p.m., followed by the boys’ game at 7:30 p.m.
North Gwinnett’s varsity girls soccer team is set to play an away game at Parkview at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15, followed by the varsity boys’ game at 7:30 p.m.