JUNIOR HANNAH KNAUER is one of several veteran players being counted to spark the Grafton girlsâ€™ soccer team in the quest for titles in the North Shore Conference and beyond this season. Press file photo
GHS girlsâ€™ team opens high-expectation season with wins on Hilton Head trip
While most other area soccer teams were battling chilly spring weather along with opponents last week, the Grafton girlsâ€™ squad took a warm approach to the task.
The Black Hawks made the most of a spring-break trip to Hilton Head, S.C., for the second straight year by winning two of three games against out-of-state foes.
â€śIt was a great trip. The weather was rainy, but it was warm, and we got to play against some good teams,â€ť Grafton coach Don Arnold said.
â€śIt was a great chance for us to get in some good soccer and bond as a team.â€ť
The Hawks, who are pegged as one of the title favorites in the North Shore Conference this season, opened the season with a 4-1 win over St. Vincentâ€™s Academy of Savannah, Ga., on March 30. A 2-1 loss to highly regarded Hilton Head on March 31 was followed by a 6-4 win over Frederica Academy of Savannah last Friday.
The match against Hilton Head, one of the top-ranked teams in South Carolina, was â€śa fantastic game,â€ť Arnold said.
â€śIt was a very physical, intense game against a real quality opponent.
Hilton Head scored in the 26th minute on a 20-yard shot that deflected off a Grafton defender, but the Hawks countered at 43 minutes with a goal by Tess Safstrom, assisted by Emma Fatla.
The Seahawks got the game winner on a head ball in the 63rd minute.
Hilton Head finished with a 15-13 edge in shots.
â€śThe result wasnâ€™t what we wanted, but we played at a high level,â€ť Arnold said. â€śIt showed us what we are capable of, even this early in the season.â€ť
Against Frederica Academy, Grafton outgunned a foe led by standout midfielder Morgan Brian, a member of the U-20 national team. Brian had three goals, but the Hawks
offset the assault with a balanced attack that included scoring from five players.
After Brian put Frederica up, 1-0, in the third minute, Grafton scored five unanswered goals. Angie Mann tied the game in the 18th minute, followed by goals from Safstrom
(21st minute), Hannah Eichler (23rd), Carley Pfannerstill (26th) and Zoie Bauer (31st).
Brian scored in the 44th and 48th minutes, but Safstrom made it 6-3 at 62 minutes with an assist from Mann.
Also credited with assists for Grafton were Alyssa Arnold, Cassey Patula, Safstrom and Abby Freeland.
â€śWe got our offense going in that game,â€ť coach Arnold said. â€śWe also made a defensive adjustment and put Emma Fatla on Brian in the second half. She did a great job of
slowing her down after that.â€ť
In their season opener, the Hawks had little trouble against St. Vincentâ€™s. They raced to a 3-1 lead in the first half on goals by Mann, Fatla and Arnold and capped the scoring
with a second-period goal by Eichler. Alli Demerath, Safstrom and Maddy Huibregste were credited with assists.
Last year, Grafton fielded a young team that went 20-6-2 and advanced all the way to the WIAA Division 2 state final before losing, 1-0, to Catholic Memorial. The Hawks posted a 4-2-1, fourth-place mark in conference play.
With most of last seasonâ€™s top players back, Arnold likes his teamâ€™s chances to make bold statements again.
â€śWe had so many players contribute last year, and a lot of them were young,â€ť he said. â€śOur core group was sophomores, and they are a year older, smarter and even quicker.â€ť
In addition to Patula, a senior defender, the Hawksâ€™ letterwinners include a long list of juniors â€” forwards Pfannerstill, and Eichler, midfielders Fatla, Safstrom and Gabi Kuester, defenders Hannah Knauer and Kimmy Bader and goalkeeper Alissa Viste â€” and sophomores Arnold, Demerath, Dickmann, Huibregste and Mann.
Fatla, Knauer and Viste each earned all-conference first-team honors last year. Eichler was named to the second team, and Pfannerstill and Dickmann received honorable
Coach Arnold is also counting on contributions from varsity newcomers such as freshman Bauer and sophomore Haley Orlowski, both skilled forwards.
â€śI think this group has great potential,â€ť he said. â€śIf they can stay healthy and keep working hard, they can go a long way. Right now, theyâ€™re getting better every day.â€ť
This week, Grafton was scheduled to continue nonconference play Tuesday against Kettle Moraine Lutheran and will host University School at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Hawks will open its league schedule April 12 with a 7 p.m. game at Homestead.