GROTON -- Groton-Dunstable girls' soccer head coach Steven Naboicheck is excited for the 2014 campaign to get underway.
And with good reason. In the two seasons Naboicheck has been coach, the Crusaders have made back-to-back Division 2 Central Mass. Tournament appearances. Last year, the Crusaders fell to Wachusett in the quarterfinals on a frigid November evening, 4-0.
Naboicheck, entering his third season, is very high on his team's chances at making a run at the Midland B league title.
"My expectations for this team are sky-high," Naboicheck said. "I expect us to win the Midland B title if we concentrate on three things: Focus, intensity and determination -- that's what it is going to take for us to be successful this season."
The Crusaders come into the season budding with depth, having graduated just two seniors in Liv Rubeski and Vicki Prescott. According to Naboicheck, teams across the Midland B have taken drastic hits due to graduation.
Groton-Dunstable will play a predominately Midland A and B schedule with the exception of games against Bromfield and Tyngsboro.
The Groton-Dunstable defense looks stout with the return of Central Mass All-Star junior center back Brianna Considine.
"She is an absolutely dominant center back," Naboicheck said. "When you watch her on the field, she is everywhere the ball is. She is a creative passer who makes her teammates better."
Captaining the Crusader back-line is senior Danielle Johnson.
Sophomore Sydney Volpe will see starting minutes on the defensive flank. Volpe is a lockdown defender who Naboicheck has little qualms putting on the opponent's top goal-scoring threat.
"She shutdown our league's leading goal-scorer in our last regular season game against Quabbin," Naboicheck said. "She didn't even let the girl have a shot. Volpe is a very versatile player who could also see time at center midfielder and in the central defender role.
Danielle Johnson, Sydney Volpe and Elena Biasi provide us with the ability to shake things up with three center mids.
"The girls are going to get tired having to play both offense and defense. Having three good choices in Johnson, Biasi and Volpe in the middle is going to really give us a good shot at winning the league."
Rounding out the Groton-Dunstable last line of defense are junior Katie Wogan and senior Marielle Beyh.
"Both girls came into the preseason incredibly fit," Naboicheck said. "Katie is our free kick specialist.
" She has an accurate strong foot. She is one of the few high school girls who can drive an accurate 30- to 40-yard ball."
Junior Marianna Murphy is pushing for time at the central back position.
The cool, composed Murphy is a natural athlete with a strong on-field presence.
Senior goalkeeper Elyssa Briggs injured her hand in the summer league, but Naboicheck expects her to return for the start of the season.
Groton-Dunstable carries just one freshman on its roster and goalkeeper Madison Tamarro is it.
Tamarro was called up from the JV club to replace the injured Briggs.
"Madison is a smart and fearless goalkeeper," Naboicheck said.
"She is extremely athletic with good size. She is the future of Groton-Dunstable goalkeeping."
Shifting to the offense, Groton-Dunstable is in good hands with the return of Biasi, who was an All-State player last season.
"Biasi has great vision of the field," Naboicheck said. "She is the quarterback of our team.
Elena is a calm, confident passer. She is starting to get her fitness back after recovering from ACL surgery prior to last season."
Junior Kara Jussaume will fill duel-roles at center midfielder and outside defender. At the other wing midfield position is senior Lindsay Werner. Werner came into the season with fitness levels greater than that of players on the U.S. national team.
"We do the well-known 'yo-yo fitness test' with all of our players at the start of practices," Naboicheck said. "Lindsay scored nine-points higher than the standard score of 30. The test measures speed and endurance. Lindsay will fill in a new role at outside mid."
Nicole Moody and Sarah Rice are vying for spots on the outside wing.
The Crusaders will run a threesome of strikers at the top with senior Arianna LaCombe, senior captain Brittany Belanger and sophomore Nikki Little. LaCombe is a strong player who has already accepted an offer to play collegiately at Norwich Academy (V.T.).
Groton-Dunstable has a lot of speed up top with Belanger and Little.
Belanger has blazing closing speed coupled with a fearless attitude.
Little, according to Naboicheck, is likely the fastest girl on the pitch. Little played on the Crusaders' varsity as a freshman and has impressed in the preseason with her ability to win 50-50 balls and finish at the net.
"I think that three-way rotation at forward will be great for us," Naboicheck said.
Also vying for minutes this season are Becca Herlihy and sophomore Emily Gulick.
Sophomore Niki Eggimann is an extremely fast and very athletic player who will see time at the wing midfield and wing defender.
Rounding out the senior class is wing midfielder Nicole Georges, who worked extremely hard in the offseason to improve her fitness. Georges brings intelligence and a reliable skill-set to the Crusaders.
"We have a lot of depth and that's a very good thing," Naboicheck said. "There is a ton of versatility on this team. I have complete confidence in our girls to get the job done. "From the first-team on down to the third-team -- they are all good players."
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