GROTON -- Steven Naboicheck's Lady Crusaders soccer team took a big hit with the graduation of stalwart goalkeeper Kailyn Rekos who accepted a full scholarship to the University of Delaware.
Naboicheck noted that the seniors he lost to graduation were keys to its successful run to the CMass semifinals, last November.
"I think the seniors that we lost were definitely contributing players," the coach said. "The one we cannot replace is Kailyn. I don't think we will miss a beat in any other areas. I think we have a very strong returning group."
Over the summer, the Lady Crusaders conditioned themselves through both captain's practices and individual workouts. Naboicheck was already noticing a vast improvement in the fitness department of this year's squad in August in comparison to last year.
"It is very clear to me that the players on varsity returned very fit," Naboicheck said. "They worked hard this summer and touched the ball a lot. The difference between preseason this year and preseason last year is night and day. I'm excited."
The competition level will only get tougher for the Lady Crusaders as they have been promoted to Div. 1 this season. Regular season opponents feature the likes of Tewksbury, Nashoba and Algonquin.
"I think that the potential is there to be as successful," the coach said. "The difference is going to be that we are competing in a different league now.
"We are going up against schools who in some cases are two and three times bigger than us. We normally play against predominately Div. 1 schools in Mid-Wach B."
Leading scorer Brittany Belanger returns to the Lady Crusaders this season for her senior season. Belanger led Groton-Dunstable with her nine goals and four assists. Joining Belanger out front at the striker position is freshman Sydney Volpe.
According to Naboicheck, Belanger is back and better than ever.
"She has come in very strong," said Naboicheck. "She is looking great. So I am very excited for her. We have a freshman named Sydney Volpe who is going to also provide some excitement up top."
In the midfield, Groton-Dunstable returns Elaina Biasi and Vicky Prescott, who were part of the three-pronged Lady Crusaders' offensive attack with Danni Kenney, who graduated.
On the flanks will be senior captain Olivia Rubeski, a multi-sport athlete who was a force to be reckoned with both on the pitch and lacrosse field.
"Speed kills and she's got it," smiled Naboicheck. "She has come in very strong. Then we have some other returning players like Marielle Beyh, who is very strong and in the back, we have other options."
Groton-Dunstable's strongest asset coming into the season appears to be its defensive line, all but one player from last year's squad is returning.
"The only person missing from our defensive line, and she graduated, is Meg (Frieter)," said Naboicheck. "I don't really see us missing a beat. The girls are extremely excited. They can see the way they're playing now is kind of equivalent to what they were doing at the end of last season. So, if this is the starting point, it just gets better from here."
Groton-Dunstable will be captained by seniors Rubeski, Prescott and junior Lindsey Werner. G-D opened its season Wednesday at Tyngsboro.
The Lady Crusaders open their home slate with Nashoba on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
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