Grafton girls restock with quick-strike sophomores for another title-chasing run
The Grafton girls’ soccer team caught more than a few folks by surprise last spring when they went on a WIAA tournament run that culminated in an appearance at the Division 1 state quarterfinals.
Coach Don Arnold’s Black Hawks blended varsity veterans and first-year talent in fashioning a 15-4-3 overall record that included four straight shutout tournament wins before a season-ending loss to Waukesha West.
“Last year, I don’t think anyone in Division 1 thought we were for real,” Arnold said.
“We were a young team that played with a lot of excitement and surprised some people. We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores, but they played at a really high level.
“This year, I think we can expect the same thing.”
The Black Hawks lost several key players on last year’s team to graduation, most notably defender Sarah Eichler, a North Shore Conference first-team honoree.
However, Grafton returns most of its starters, including sophomore forwards Hannah Eichler and Carley Pfannerstill, a pair of second-team All-NSC players again expected to provide most of the team’s offensive punch.
Eichler scored 20 goals and had nine assists last year, while Pfannerstill had 15 goals and nine assists.
The Hawks’ other 11 letterwinners include four seniors — forward Katie Best, midfielders Ali Lorge and Melissa Henke and defender Molly McElligott — junior defender Cassey Patula and four sophomores — midfielders Emma Fatla and Tess
Safstrom, defender Hannah Knauer and goalkeeper Alissa Viste.
Bolstering the team’s depth will be seniors Ashley Aman (goalkeeper) and Rachel Janczak (forward) and sophomores Gabi Kuester (midfielder) and Kimmy Bader (defender).
Perpetuating Grafton’s youth movement will be five freshmen who have excelled at the club level — forward Angie Mann, midfielder Alyssa Arnold and defenders Alli Demerath, Audrey Dickmann and Maddie Huibregste.
Coach Arnold has pegged Dickmann to take over the sweeper spot in which Sarah Eichler excelled last year as the anchor of the Grafton defense.
“We’re got a lot of talent on this team, including a nice corps of freshmen who have played together,” coach Arnold said.
“They’re freshmen by name but not skill-wise.”
The Hawks finished 3-3-1 in the perennially tough North Shore last year, playing a schedule that prepared them well for the postseason. Coach Arnold said he believes this season’s squad can improve on that mark but isn’t putting any extra
weight on winning a league title.
“Being in the conference gets you ready for the tournament, and that’s how we’ve always approached it,” he said.
Grafton opened the season by splitting a pair of games in Oshkosh last week and then traveled to Hilton Head, S.C., for spring break this week. The trip will include three nonconference matches against teams in Georgia.
On Monday, the Hawks defeated Frederica Academy, 5-0, in a game at St. Simons, Ga.
Grafton grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first half on a pair of goals by Mann, who was assisted by Fatla in the 10th minute and Arnold in the 30th minute.
In the second period, Eichler, Pfannerstill and Demerath all scored, with assists credited to Pfannerstill, Eichler and Fatla, respectively.
“We started out slow, but the girls got things going after that,” Coach Arnold said. “We have an exciting team that can really go after the ball.”
Grafton will continue its vacation schedule with games in Savannah, Ga., on Thursday against St. Vincents and Friday against Savannah Country Day.
Next week, the Hawks will open conference play Tuesday, April 13, with a 7 p.m. home game against Homestead.
Oshkosh West 2, Grafton 0
The Hawks played a tough foe on even terms for most of a nonconference game April 1 in Titan Stadium at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh but couldn’t find the net.
“We had several scoring opportunities. It was a back-and-forth game,” coach Arnold said.
West finished with 17 shots on goal to Grafton’s 16.
Grafton 2, Bay Port 0
Pfannerstill did all the scoring for the Hawks in a season-opening win in Oshkosh on March 30.
She netted a pair of shots in the second half, assisted by Safstrom in the 48th minute and Fatla in the 65th minute.
“It was a really fast field, and it took us a half to adjust,” coach Arnold said.
“We had the wind at our backs in the first half, but we did better going against it in the second half.”
SOPHOMORE FORWARD Hannah Eichler (right) will again be one of the major scoring threats this season for the Grafton girls’ soccer team. Press file photo