Park­land goes for six in a row

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - BY MICHAEL BLOUSE Michael Blouse is a free­lance writer.

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?

DAVID GAR­RETT/SPE­CIAL TO THE MORN­ING CALL

Parkand’s Ava Schaller con­trols the ball as Downingtow­n East’s Mad­die Eck­els de­fends in a PIAA tour­na­ment game last Novem­ber.

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