WINCHESTER — This would have been a sad season for the Winchester High girls’ soccer team, which once again is state title caliber, if this particular group, dominated by 15 seniors, had not already experienced a great deal of tournament success.

Senior year has finally arrived for star strikers Hannah Curtin and Ally Murphy, but they are more than satisfied to compete with their Middlesex League Liberty rivals, two of which it beat on the way to last year’s North title.

Winchester already has several seniors who are committed to play in college, including All-American Curtin (Dartmouth) and two-time All-State Murphy (Princeton). Prominent newcomer Ellie Rappole is headed to Yale, defender Katie Degnan will play for Connecticut College, midfielder Ella Stone at Skidmore College, forward Jordan Weinberg at Gettysburg College and midfielder Maille McMahon at St. Lawrence College.

Even more seniors will be auditioning this season for the their shot at playing collegiate soccer.

“(Monday) night we had our first official training session,” said Winchester coach Rick Emanuel, whose team has won four consecutive ML Liberty titles, and the state title in 2018. “It was 70 degrees on a cloudless, September evening on the turf, under the lights. It was a magical moment we might not have truly appreciated under different circumstances. We are grateful to have a chance to play together at all.”

The COVID-19 restrictions include the players wearing masks through four quarters of play, with two-minute breaks between quarters to allow the players relief from wearing the masks. There will be no heading the soccer ball, and no throw-ins or corner kicks. The latter two will be indirect kicks instead. Other rule changes can be found on the MIAA website.

“We don’t have a choice with the new restrictions so we’re adjusting just fine,” said Emanuel. “These athletes are pretty resilient so they’ll adjust to whatever is thrown at them.”

The new Sachem players include seniors Kate Emanuel and Rappole, a first-year player who played on development teams, which restricted her from playing for her high school up until now.

There is also junior Devon Krayer, sophomores Tessa Geddes, Carly McMahon, and Regan Miller, plus freshman Mia Kurtz.

The Winchester’s four senior captains are all multi-year decorated players and postseason stars. Georgia Lawrence will lead the defense as a central defender, Ella Stone will lead the midfield, while Curtin and Murphy will be in their third year of terrorizing ML Liberty defenses (fourth, actually, as they came off the bench as freshmen).

Senior Colleen Gogolin returns in goal and appears to be a full-time starter, after splitting duties the better part of the last two seasons.

Lawrence and Degnan lead what should be a solid defense. Stone will be joined by Sofie Lanou in leading the midfield, after Lanou missed last year with a knee injury. Weinberg is a leading candidate to join Curtin and Murphy up front.

With the Sachems boasting a deep and talented roster, the possibilities for who plays where are numerous.

“This is an extraordinarily special team, both in terms of talent and character,” said Emanuel. “United Soccer Coaches just ranked us No. 9 in the nation.”

Other seniors include midfielder Sofia Arnet, and forwards Lila Cohen, Molly Egan and Mattea Leone. Forward Lilly Stone and fullback Susie Kotwicki are juniors, and midfielder Charlotte Hofheinz and forward Ava Murphy are sophomores.

While the schedule is limited to 10 games, the fact they are all against the Sachems’ ML Liberty rivals means there are going to be high-quality soccer matches on a weekly basis.

“We’ve adjusted our goals to be more inward facing than outward,” said Emanuel. “Instead of a state championship, we simply want to appreciate the reduced days we have together. We’ll continue to be involved in the community and volunteer. Because we have so many seniors that will continue their careers in college, we’re focusing a lot on individual growth and development, getting players ready to succeed at that next level.

“We will still be focused on our 10-game schedule of course,” the coach continued, “and clearly recognize that the five other teams in our little mini-league are some of the best in the state. In a season like this we will take nothing for granted, starting with our preparation for Reading on Saturday.”

The season-opener will take place on Saturday afternoon (due to PSATs) at Hollingsworth Field. The game with the Lady Rockets will begin at 2:30 p.m. The Sachems host Reading the following Saturday (9 a.m.) at Knowlton Stadium.

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