S. ABINGTON TWP. — The Abington Heights girls soccer team went undefeated during the regular season and advanced to the district title game last season, but the Lady Comets are tasked with replacing many starters who played a big role in that success.
Defenders Abby Brown, Paige Morgan, Meghan Noone, along with midfielders Emily Clauss, Carina Salerno and Emily Mahoney and forwards Hannah Kowalski, Kelly Seechock and Lauren Simakaski have all graduated.
Abington Heights returns just three starters in junior midfielder Anna Marchetta, junior defender Jenna Patel and sophomore goalie Abbey Steenback.
Steenback showed great poise during her freshman season, especially during the team’s win over Crestwood in the District 2 Class 3A playoffs. She made two saves in the penalty shootout to help seal the victory.
“I coached her in seventh and eighth grade and was fully aware she had the capability of doing it,” said Abington Heights head coach Errol Mannick. “She’s a natural leader and didn’t fold under pressure.”
Sophomore Riley Mulherin returns as a forward after finishing second on the team with 19 goals last season, junior Morghan Stiles is back as a forward, and sophomore Talya Grimaldi returns on defense and is expected to step into the sweeper role.
“(Riley) gave us a lot of scoring and a lot of scoring early,” Mannick said. “Now that there’s more pressure on her, she’s going to have to mature a little bit and become a little bit more consistent.”
Mannick also believes Stiles may be poised for a breakout year.
“She was injured for about half the season and was still nursing it a little when she came back,” he said. “Earlier in the season, she did a really good job so I’m excited to see how she progresses.”
Senior Leia Parry will likely contribute as a forward or midfielder, and senior Emily Cacioppo may see time in the midfield.
Parry thinks the ability to bond as a team will be very important with many new players.
“It’s going to be about hard work and building trust with each other,” she said. “We’re going to incorporate a bunch of new girls into the starting lineup, so I think we just have to build off each other.”
Juniors Olivia Marchetta and Tori Wells are competing for time on defense.
Sophomores Maddie Lucas and Kayla Przekop may see time in the midfield, and sophomores Grace Phillips and Elyse Simakaski are working as defenders.
Several freshmen might also see varsity minutes this season.
Karen Daly and Maggie Seechock are in the mix on defense, Lauren Lefchak may be an option as a midfielder or forward, and Lucy Abdalla could see time as a midfielder.
”We have a lot of pieces to fit together,” Mannick said. “It’s going to be a learning experience. It may even be something that changes as the season goes on.”
Mannick feels the returning players picked up some valuable lessons from the seniors on last year’s team.
”I think they learned that having a team that works together is the key to any kind of success,” he said. “Even though they may be competing against each other, they are all really willing to help each other and include younger kids in the fold.”
Marchetta also touted the leadership skills the nine seniors passed on to the younger players.
“We lost a lot of seniors and starters, but everyone paid attention to their attitudes and hard work,” she said. “I know all the girls are willing to work hard, remember those girls and want to follow their example.”
She also believes Mannick played a big part in uniting the team last year.
“He really cared for us and made us come together as a team,” Marchetta said. “I think he was a great addition; he made last season a great one.”
Mannick expects Scranton Prep, Valley View and Wallenpaupack to be among the top contenders in the Lackawanna League.