Parkland goes for six in a row
Deja vu all over again. Same old, same old. History repeats itself.
All those cliches are applicable when it comes to the Parkland girls soccer team in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and District 11. Coach Al Haddad’s Trojans enter the season with five consecutive EPC titles and four straight district crowns.
And guess what? They’re the favorite in both again.
Parkland returns a solid nucleus after beating Nazareth 1-0 in double overtime to win the EPC and downing Easton 5-1 in the Class 4A district title game.
The Trojans expect formidable competition, including Easton, Emmaus, Nazareth and Whitehall.
Two teams to watch are Freedom and Northampton. Both squads could break into that upper tier this year.
There are three new coaches in the conference — Rob Spatzer at Central Catholic, Angelo Amato at Bethlehem Catholic and Michael Missmer at Northampton. Missmer coached at Pen Argyl for several seasons.
This is a look at the 18-team conference: 1 favorite to win it all
1. Parkland. The Trojans (23-3 overall, 14-2 EPC last year) remain the gold standard in District 11, as Haddad, in his 14th season, has 243-53-15 record. He’ll continue to close in on 300 thanks to a lineup that includes seniors Ava Schaller and Zia Reed and juniors Zoe Schutter, Alex Marstellar, Jocelyn Fowler and Maeve Leonzi. Postseason success remains the expectation.
3 contenders to watch
1. Emmaus. The Green Hornets (11-6-2, 9-5-2) experienced an up-anddown campaign a season ago — by their lofty standards. They snapped Parkland’s 70-game win streak in early September, failed to qualify for the eight-team EPC tournament, then regrouped to reach D-11’s 4A semifinals. Coach Sarah Oswald’s club boasts a solid double-digit senior class, including EPC all-stars Gianna Albanese and Alexa Ryan.
2. Nazareth. Dedicated. Fun. Hard working. That’s how coach Copeland “Ziggy” Lewis describes his Blue Eagles (13-8-1, 10-5-1). They’re also deep with talent. Juniors Abby James and Anita Vera were conference all-stars last season. Other top returnees include Hayden Berner, the team’s No. 1 goalscorer, Emma Kilareski, Kerry Quinn, Alexis Doherty, Rachel Billet and Skylar Jordan.
3. Whitehall. Coach Chris Bleam’s Zephyrs (17-4, 14-2) were the regularseason surprise a season ago, rattling off 12 straight wins before their first loss. They couldn’t carry that top form into the postseason, though they still reached the semifinals in the conference and district tournaments. Eight starters return to the lineup, including seniors Kate Bonshak, Ella Holmes, Sofia Pittas, Grace Clary and Cassie Due.
5 players to check out
1. Brooke Bisko, Bethlehem Catholic. An elite talent on a middle-of-thepack
Golden Hawks’ team, she has been a constant force from her forward position with 27 goals as a junior, 25 as a sophomore and 26 as a freshman.
2. Kate Bonshak, Whitehall. The Zephyrs’ senior striker is speedy, skilled and was the EPC’s MVP last year. A Virginia Tech recruit, she amassed 25 goals and seven assists, earning Morning Call player of the year and all-state honors.
3. Haley Gschrey, Freedom. As a freshman forward for the Patriots, she burst onto the local scene with 29 goals and 13 assists. She matched the 29 goals as a sophomore and enters her junior year with 137 career points.
4. Ava Schaller, Parkland. Last year, she emerged as the Trojans’ top offensive threat with 21 goals and six assists — including seven goals and two assists in the postseason. The Lehigh recruit is a preseason All-American nominee. 5. Caroline Weirich, Pocono Mountain West. The senior two-way midfielder and team captain earned EPC all-star (first team) honors despite playing on a two-win squad. She amassed 14 goals and one assist to top the Panthers. 4 storylines to follow
1. Up in the Mountain. Like last year, when Stroudsburg (14-6, 12-4) enjoyed the most postseason success of the Mountain Division schools, this season projects as a three-team race between the Mountaineers, Pleasant Valley (137-1, 11-4-1) and Pocono Mountain East (11-9, 10-6). PME returns eight starters and could perhaps be considered a slight favorite. Pleasant Valley and Stroudsburg, which welcomes back EPC all-star Avery Francis, are right there, though.
2. Some Steel appeal. Coach Tim Hall’s Easton program owns every Steel Division title since the EPC formed prior to the 2014 season. That’s five straight, if you’re counting at home. The Red Rovers (16-7, 13-3), who graduated 12 seniors from last year’s team, will be pushed, particularly by Freedom. Coach Bob Eaton’s Patriots (10-8-1, 9-6-1) feature several standouts, including junior Haley Gschrey and senior Doris Muncan — both EPC all-stars a season ago. Liberty could contend, as well.
3. Superior Skyline strength. It’s possible that the top six teams in the EPC, or five of the six, play in the Skyline Division. Of course, not all six (Central Catholic, Emmaus, Nazareth, Northampton, Parkland, Whitehall) will qualify for the conference tournament, as teams in the same division play each other two times compared to one game against non-division opponents. Last fall, only Northampton (7-11, 6-10) failed to finish with a .500 overall record among Skyline squads.
4. Sweet summertime success. It’s safe to say no team in the EPC, boys or girls, is more optimistic about the season than the Northampton girls. The Konkrete Kids went undefeated over the summer, 13-0, to win the LVSSL title — the program’s first. Michael Missmer takes over as coach and he has a core group of seven seniors, including EPC all-star Abbi Czarnecki. Will the summer success carry over?
Parkand’s Ava Schaller controls the ball as Downingtown East’s Maddie Eckels defends in a PIAA tournament game last November.