BY ANDY ROWER | MIRROR SPORTS — Anthony Wayne returns a dozen players from a 2017 team that tied Perrysburg for a Northern Lakes League title and reached a ranking as high as 10th in the state poll.
“I’m really excited about the 12 returners, but we’re also very excited about the some of the young players that are coming in,” said AW coach Lori Williams.“We expect to be pretty young this year.”
In fact, the 2018 Generals team will consist of just five seniors, 11 juniors, a sophomore and six freshmen.
“This is a pretty big freshman class,” Williams said. “We had 22 girls that came in as freshmen and it’s a pretty talented group as well. Some of those girls are going to be playing both JV and varsity, but we do expect a lot of freshmen to get minutes this year – and probably pretty significant minutes.”
After totaling 51 saves and 11 shutouts in 2017, junior Keaton Grabarczyk will return as Anthony Wayne’s goalkeeper this year.
Playing just in front of Grabarczyk will be junior left back Maddy Theis, junior right-center back Emile Gardner (2017 third-team NLL selection), senior left-center back Jerzy Zito and junior right back Kaylee Kahl. All four are returning varsity team members.
“We took our outside backs that started last year in Zito and Gardner and moved them inside with Keaton, so the spine of that defense is really solid with a lot of communication,” Williams said. “It will be really helpful to get us organized and on the right page.
“Both of our new outside backs got significant time last year, so I expect our defensive unit to be pretty strong.”
The Generals’ defensive midfield will include another pair of returners in senior Taylor Gadus (2017 first-team NLL and second-team district) and junior Sam Schofield.
“Both Taylor Gadus and Maddy Theis are coming off of going to nationals with their club team,” Williams said. “Playing at that level will help bring that experience over and make our team that much stronger.”
Two more returners, senior Izzy Merkel and junior Shelby Herrington, will handle midfield duties this year.
“I think we probably have six midfielders that could play on any given day,” Williams said. “Depending on the opponent and how we have to unlock different things, we have different personalities to be able to do so.”
Though AW did graduate its top three scorers in Jen Fortner, Emilie Reese and Hannah Dress, Williams still expects her 2018 squad to be “a pretty offensive-minded team.”
“A lot of our depth is more in the offensive side of the field,” she said.
This year’s forwards will include junior Hannah Rybicki (four goals and eight assists in 2017), classmate Jocelyn Crossley (three goals, three assists) and freshman Alaina Uncapher.
The final Generals returner, junior Brooke Hamblin, could see time as both an outside back and outside forward this season.
“I think Brooke is going to be a little firecracker off the bench for us,” Williams said.
Additionally, junior Lila Common should see time as a forward, while freshmen Brynn Gardner and Payton Miller could see time in Anthony Wayne’s midfield.
Also fighting for playing time will be seniors Ashley Fink and Sophia Miller, sophomore Haley Boyer and three more freshmen in Kate Kemmer, Jenna Rybicki and Sophia Schneider.
“I feel like one of the strengths of our team is very much going to be how it’s a complete team,” Williams said. “We’ve talked a lot this offseason about the fact that we’re not looking for the 11 best soccer players. We’re looking for the 11 right soccer players.
“So, depending on how we want to play that game tactically, we want to have the right personnel on the field.”
After playing in the state championship game last year, Perrysburg is rightfully expected to be the team to shoot for in the preseason.
“We expect Perrysburg to be very strong,” Williams said. “We just have some tremendous talent between the Perrysburgs and the Northviews. Southview is also going to make a case.
“I think it is going to be a gauntlet up here in North-west Ohio and really get all of us battle-tested for the playoffs.”
The Generals will open the season at Mentor at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 18.
“I think we’ll be ready for that first Mentor game,” Williams said. “I expect is to be far better by the Bowling Green game (October 10) by the end of the season. Especially with our youth, I expect us to grow throughout the year – maybe even at a faster clip than what we normally do.
“When you lose in the playoffs, it’s always a little heartbreaking and you immediately start looking at, ‘OK, when do we get to start doing this again?’ So, Mentor has been circled on the calendar for a long time and the girls are ready.”