Sports Editor

HHS Rucks, SCHS Longmoore

Harmony's Carlie Rucks (left) and St. Cloud's Nikki Longmoore fight for a ball during their regular-season game last season, a 2-0 Longhorns win. The two teams will likely fight for the top spot in the Orange Belt Conference and District 5A-9 like they did last season.

Harmony’s girls soccer team defended its Orange Belt Conference title last year, and will try to the same to its District 5A-9 title, which it won over St. Cloud as both qualified for the regional playoffs. The Longhorns and Bulldogs again vie for the title against most of Osceola County, Lakeland Jenkins, Davenport Ridge and Haines City.

Poinciana (3A-11), Liberty (4A-7) and New Dimensions (A-9) will again go up against Polk and Highlands County foes.

Harmony

The Longhorns claimed their second district championship since 2014 last year under Coach Scott Marlega, before losing to Vero Beach, a recurring foe, in penalty kicks in an emotional Class 5A regional playoff game as they pieced together a 19-4-2 season.

Marlega has historically built his teams from the back, so replacing sweeper Morgan Cecil and fullback Caite McHugh may be a chore, but the other nine starters return.

Marlega has historically built the team from the back, and a stout defense returns that includes goalie Angie Santos and a group of fullbacks and midfielders that includes reigning Player of the Year Yeni Calles, Calie Horn, Lindsay Larisa, Samantha Hizer, and Carli Rucks.

Santos posted 16 shutouts last season, including a 3-0 win over St. Cloud in the District 5A-9 title game and hasn’t allowed a goal in district or OBC play in two years. She’s backed up by fellow junior Kiara Abbott.

Autumn Horn, who led the team with 17 goals, and junior Jenna Butcofski, who tallied 21 assists, are also back along with Kara Osborne, MacKenzie Kish, McKenzie Eaddy, Samantha Blanchard and Victoria Martinez.

All totaled, 102 of Harmony’s 108 goals from last season return, so Marlega anticipates another successful season.

Freshmen Erin Jones (fullback) and Reinna Scott (forward) may make an impact this season, Marlega said.

 “We return 17 varsity players and 11 seniors from back-to-back OBC and district championship teams, but most of all we have a very talented and close knit group of girls, a lot of which have been playing with and against each other at the middle school and club level since they were in sixth grade,” he said. “We are also a hungry group, intent on getting back into regional play and get revenge on Vero Beach, after knocking us out of the playoffs the past two seasons.”

The Longhorns tied Vero Beach 1-1 and defeated Poinciana 8-0 to open the season.

St. Cloud

The Bullodgs were 13-6-1 last season and should be solid again as the Bulldogs return 10 starters.

They are also anchored in the back by goalkeeper Krystal Cruz-Torres and defenders Madelyn Barthle, Delaney Hanneken and Nikki Longmoore. The midfield should be solid as well with Aniesha Neff, Rylie Pyewell, Elise Schmidt and Hannah Archibald. Andrea Hernandez should provide some of the scoring punch.

“We gained some strength with this year’s freshman class as well,” Coach Shawn Beck said. “We are working hard in hopes of returning to the district championship game again this year.”

Poinciana

The Eagles, led by Coach Jorge Molina, were 12-8-1 and reached the regional playoffs for the first time last season, after he inherited a winless program three years ago.

But, the team’s main scoring punch, Cameron Turner (who signed with Campbell and played in all 19 of the Camels’ games as a freshman this fall) and Jendaya Nesbitt have graduated. Senior Maygan La is back to play goalie for the third season.

Also returning are midfielders Aaliyah Baez, Nichole Chano and Juliet Sin. The roster also includes Akemah Isaac, Danna Mena, Gabby Lorenzo, Janely Bustamonte, Mishell Valverde, Queen Lewis, Raegan Turner (Cameron’s sister), Valeria Celis and Yeislian Rosado.

Poinciana competes in a district with Hardee, Lake Wales and Sebring.

Celebration

The Storm, off a 5-12-1 season under Coach Ed Kuzma, brings a young team into the season, made younger when senior goalie Laura Leon went down with a preseason injury.

The team returns forward Meghan Melissinos, midfielders Bella Foster and Nena Abrahams and defender Cecilia Hernandez. Newcomers include freshman midfielders Lyan Casamualhapa and Paola Di Damasao and junior defender Daniela Pena.

“We’re looking to earning a .500 season and developing our young team,” Kuzma said.

Gateway

Coach Andre Escobar is enthusiastic about the Lady Panthers’ potential for this season, despite losing some depth to Tohopekaliga’s opening.

The team will build around veteran center-backs Saralez Mejia and Ortenciz Abreu, center midfielder Imarly Canaveral and defender Alyha Velazquez-Diaz. The scoring should come early from junior forward Nastassia Pearcy, but freshman Melina Trinidad has shown an ability to “play like her life depends on scoring a goal,” Escobar said.

Giovanna Cappobianco is the junior goalkeeper.

Newcomers Adriana Rivera and Aubri Christensen are fighting for starting varsity spots.

“ Our Strength is our defense,” Escobar said. “Imarly has a lot on her shoulders but is up for the challenge. If she can consistently feed our forwards we will be a contender come playoff time.

Escobar thinks the Panthers can challenge the “old guard” of Harmony, Jenkins, Ridge and St. Cloud come tournament time.

“This year should be different if a few plays go our way,” he said.

Osceola

The Kowgirls were 5-11-1 last year under Coach Tonee Laguerre last season, but she has talent to build around this year in offensive midfielder Leizmarie Cotto Rodriguez, defensive midfielder Maritza Molina and Jazlyn Zepeda, who can play anywhere on the field.

Forward Itala Casanova Ollarves and midfielder Loredana Aleman Carrasquero are the top newcomers.

Liberty

Susan Bagley, who has been involved with many Chargers’ programs, takes over a girls soccer team that’s seen less-than-limited success the past three seasons, so she’s cleaned the slate in order to put together and strong defense and some scoring punch.

Freshman goalie Mirydad Del Valle has shown promise early. Juniors Amaris Gomez and Brittany Alejas should factor in the offense. Senior Mili Ghandi will contribute to the defense. Other players showing promise include Damaris Santos, and Eileen and Jennifer Vazquez and Jescelia Sanchez.

Tohopekaliga

Sarah Hagen, who played professionally with the Orlando Pride and Houston Dash, realizes this season is about setting the foundation for the Tigers’ program.

“We don’t have any expectations regarding our overall record but as a coach I want to create an atmosphere where my players increase their tempo of play, their knowledge of the game and the consistency in their performance,” she said.