By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
WAVERLY — Waverly has advanced to the Section IV, Class B championship games in each of the last three years, and despite heavy losses from last year’s team, coach Tara Hogan has her sights set a fourth straight appearance this fall.
(Waverly opens the 2019 campaign Tuesday at Groton.)
“We lost seven girls to graduation, and three more didn’t come out this fall,” said Hogan. “But, we always want to make it as far as we did the previous season. I always want to set the bar high. I expect that we will make the playoffs, and I expect to get back to the finals.
“I like the fact we’ve been knocked down a little bit because there’s going to be more competition,” noted Hogan. “We have more to work for, it will make for a more interesting season, and should only make our team stronger.
“Being realistic, having 15 girls to stay healthy throughout the season is asking a lot, but the girls will rise to the occasion. They expect to play deep into the postseason,” added Hogan.
Hogan said her line-up was still a work in progress a few days before the 2019 season opener.
One position that is set is goalkeeper, where junior Kaitlyn Clark returns.
“She is the only keeper we have right now,” said Hogan. “I have no one else on the team who has expressed interest, or shown any natural talent to play there. It’s a scary position to be in.
“She’s getting more and more confident in the goal. She’s a positive force on the field for us,” she added. “I’m hoping to see more aggressiveness from her this season.”
As always, defense is a priority for Hogan.
“I always work from the back up,” she said. “I focus on defense first. We won’t do anything up top, if we don’t have a strong defense.
Senior Cora Smith will play center-back.
“It’s not exactly where I want to play her because I think playing her at center-back contains her, but I really don’t have any other options,” said Hogan.
“She has become more vocal, and is stepping up as a leader.
“We won’t have a sweeper in front of Cora because she can handler herself,” added Hogan.
Freshman Kennedy Westbrook will likely start the season on defense.
“I think she can play anywhere on the field for us,” said Hogan.
Eighth-grader Paige Robinson is an option for the third defender spot.
“She plays club ball, and is quite good, but is just getting her feet wet on varsity, and needs to play with a little more confidence,” said Hogan.
Senior Christina Buiniskis and sophomore Bella Romano are also vying for time on defense, along with freshman Alyvia Dadonna.
Junior Tessa Petlock, who started in the midfield last year, is another option on defense, as is 8th-grader Lea VanAllen.
“Lea is smart, physical, has played a lot of soccer, and is fast. She is also a forward, but I may need her on defense.
“Tessa has proven herself in the midfield, but I know I could trust her on defense,” Hogan said.
It’s proved to be a conundrum for Hogan.
“It’s like I have to rob Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “I have to steal from the forwards to have a solid defense.
“I have a lot of options, which is great. I have a lot of versatile players, but I hate having to put them in spots where we need them, when I know they could do so much more in other spots.
“Either way I’m looking, I have a lot of gaps,” added Hogan. “There are spots on the field that are not as strong as they have been in years past.”
Senior Melina Ortiz, who will play Division I soccer at Siena College next year, and junior Gabby Picco will anchor the midfield in the 3-4-3 for the Lady Wolverines.
“Gabby, Melina, and Cora work so well for us in the middle of the field,” said Hogan.
Petlock, Haley Moran, Robinson, Dadonna, and possibly Allison Campbell are candidates to play outside-mids.
Senior Sadie VanAllen at forward is another sure-thing in the staring line-up for Hogan.
“She has speed and experience up front,” said Hogan.
Lea VanAllen is another option there, if she’s not needed on defense.
“Ideally, I’d like Lea up front because she has speed and a good shot,” said Hogan.
Campbell and first-year junior Kylie Payne could see time at the third forward spot.
Looking at her roster, Hogan says versatility and leadership are the team’s strength.
“We have a lot of girls who can play anywhere,” she said. “And, some of our newcomers, like Lea VanAllen and Paige Robinson have a lot of experience with club ball, so they know the game.
“Unfortunately, we have a large gap between the girls who play year-round, and those who don’t,” notes Hogan. “The positive things is our veterans are doing a great job of mentoring and being positive influences.
“I’m hoping the girls keep that positivity going into the first week, and they respond to the challenges they haven’t had in the last couple years,” Hogan added.
Hogan also has a couple of concerns, including the aforementioned “gap.”
“The gap between girls who are experienced, and those who aren’t is a concern for me.
“I’m also concerned with our fitness,” said Hogan. “We have 15 girls, and I’m going to be asking a lot of them to play a full 80 minutes. It will be asking a lot of these girls to play 80 minutes … we have four games in the first eight days — it’s going to be tough.”
AROUND IAC SOUTH LARGE SCHOOL DIVISION
“Newark Valley is the team to watch,” said Hogan. “They’ve continued to get stronger, and could be our biggest challenge in the division.
“We only beat SVEC 1-0 in one of our games last year, and I expect them to be tough again this year.
“Notre Dame is young, but always formidable,” she added.
IN PHOTO: Waverly’s Melina Ortiz (left) and Gabby Picco.
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