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Valley Sports Report
ATHENS — Athens girls soccer coach Rich Pitts is excited about his team’s depth, and an infusion of young talent into the program. He believes it could lead to a successful 2023 season.

“I like our depth. If we ever catch an injury bug, we’ll still be OK,” he said. “We’re athletic … our younger girls are super-athletic. We have a lot of good quality athletes.”

“All the girls came in, even the ones who haven’t played a lot, have all come in and worked really hard.

“The depth, though, for sure is a strength,” added Pitts. “I think I’ll be able to take a few more chances on some of the young ones. They are working hard, and learning the game quickly.”

Pitts believes a return to the top of District 4 is a possibility if things come together for the Lady Wildcats.

“We lost 5-0 in district last year, but it was closer than that. I don’t think we’re that far away.

“Being senior loaded, this could be a year we surprise,” said Pitts. “If some of the younger girls do what I think they can do … some of our younger girls can be difference-makers. Not to put any pressure on them because there is none, but if they develop, mesh, and shine like I think they can, I think we can pull it off.

“We’d have to have a little luck, but this team has as much talent as the second team that won a district title a few years back,” he added. “In the last three years, this is the best chance we’ve had since we won it.”

Junior Carmelita Pomaquiza will man the keeper spot for the Lady Wildcats, with freshman Kaitlyn Leonard as backup.

“Carm sat behind Karlee Bartlow the last two years, but worked hard,” said Pitts. “She’s going to be solid for us.”

Seniors Mya Thompson and Megan Flynn will start at center backs, while senior Lizzy Shaw and junior Savannah Persun man the outside back spots.

“We have all four back from last year,” said Pitts. “They played together all last year, and did a really nice job. They worked hard in training … I expect a strong season from them.”

Junior Grace Galloway and Elizabeth “E.J.” Denlinger could see time in the back, and sophomore Mary Elliott could see time at center-back.

“E.J. is kind of a jack-of-all-trades,” said Pitts. “I could play her in any position on the field, including keeper because I think she’d be a great one.”

Senior Abbie Panek will start at the defensive midfield spot, with sophomore Liz Gorsline, an NEB transfer, and freshman Brinley Nichols at the center-mid spots.

Freshman Delanie Patton will start at offensive center-mid.

“The two freshmen, and Gorsline all play at a pretty high level in club, so I feel like I can put them there and they’ll be fine even as youngsters.”

Denlinger, freshmen McKenna Jarvis and Brielle Mayo, and sophomore Olivia Thompson could all see time in the midfield.

Senior Amber Galvin will spell Patton at offensive-mid, and senior Rachel Jelliff will see time at defensive-mid.

Junior Addy Wheeler and senior Kendra Merrill will start at the forwards for the Lady Wildcats.

“We have two proven players up front,” said Pitts.

Junior Chloe Ostrander should see time in the midfield or at forward.

Sophomores Savannah Finan and Danica May could also see time at forward.

“I really like Savannah Finan,” said Pitts. “She came on in the scrimmages … she has wheels, and a nice shot. She can get in behind, I think she’ll surprise people this year.”

“(May) hasn’t played since the fifth grade, but I couldn’t tell by watching her,” added Pitts. “I love her potential.”

Pitts said his biggest challenge, and his biggest concern, is a roster of 41 girls.

“Managing 41 girls is my biggest concern,” he said. “This is a part-time job for real, but it’s a real part-time job this year.

“My assistants have been good, but it’s difficult,” noted Pitts. “You’re managing 41 personalities, it can be pretty difficult because you want to make sure everyone has a great experience.

“The senior group has been pretty good about keeping the pulse of the team — keeping everyone involved and a part of things,” he added.

A large group of talented young under classmen exacerbates the dilemma.

“We have a strong group of sophomores and freshman,” noted Pitts. “The challenge is how do I get them enough playing time to keep them plugged in for the future because we are very ‘now’ oriented.

“They’ve had great attitudes, though.

“We’ll play a bunch of JV matches … so they’re going to get games,” added Pitts.

AROUND THE NTL: Pitts is looking at the NTL as a mine field in 2023. Troy is the defending three-time champ — the last two outright and the first (2020) a tie with Athens.

“I think because of the history of the program, everyone wants to knock off Athens, and I think that’s the case with Troy now, too, because (coach) Wayne (Pratt) has brought them back into prominence,” said Pitts.

“I think we get everyone’s game.

“I don’t know that there’s going to be an easy out in the NTL this season,” noted Pitts. “From east to west, it’s going to be a battle every night.

“I don’t know that there’s a set favorite, although Troy is the favorite — they are the defending champs, so until knocks them off, they are the champs,” continued Pitts. “(Troy) has graduated some talent over the last couple years, but they still have some quality players.”

Troy isn’t the only team to watch, says Pitts.

“As long as (coach) Gary (Haley) has his daughter Olivia (Haley), Wyalusing is going to be all right, and it’s not just her,” said Pitts. “When you have a player like her, though, it makes things difficult.

“Northeast Bradford lost a bunch, but they still have Shumway and a couple other girls,” he noted. “I don’t think they’re an easy out, especially over there on that field.

“NEB and Wyalusing have those home-field advantages that play to their strengths.

“Williamson is a year older, and they had a bunch of kids playing travel, so that makes them dangerous,” continued Pitts.

“Towanda has Anna Dunn, Catherine Dunn, Abby Locke, three quality players that can make a difference in a game.

“I told the girls, I don’t think it will be just the non-league games that get us ready for districts,” added Pitts.

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