GRAND ISLAND — Sometimes, you just can't help drawing attention to yourself.
Winning five straight Niagara Frontier League championships and 74 consecutive league games does that, occasionally.
It took NFL girls soccer coaches contacted this week a combined five seconds to name their team to beat in 2019.
All eyes are focused once again on Grand Island, where head coach Dave Bowman's Lady Vikings open their league season in search of their unprecedented sixth straight NFL championship.
On the line from Day One is the Lady Vikings' historic streak — 74 straight NFL regular-season games without a loss — when they open their season with a whopper, under the lights, at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at Lewiston-Porter.
Key losses to graduation at GIHS are last year's NFL Player of the Year defender Alexa Chiarenza (UB), who went on to earn All-Western New York and All-New York State honors as well, and defender Julie Eichel and midfielder/forward Sarah Berlinger.
Among the main Grand Island returners are all-NFL and all-WNY forward senior co-captain Brooke Amato, senior midfielder Kayla Robinson, senior co-captain Abigail Blair, senior co-captain Eve DiCarlo and keeper Lydia Sweeney, who doubles as one of the top girls basketball players in all of Section VI.
Amato, DiCarlo and super sophomores Avery Mondoux and Peyton Khadra each had two goals in an 8-1 non-league win over Akron on Friday. Freshman Ella Rudney had 4 assists.
Bowman's team has earned it's place at the top of the league standings, but they'll get plenty of stiff competition this year from local schools throughout Western New York, including Niagara County large schools Lewiston-Porter, North Tonawanda, Niagara Falls and Lockport.
Head coach Norm Forney's Lew-Port Lady Lancers finished an impressive 13-5 a year ago, claiming a share of the Section VI Class A-2 championship with Amherst, losing dramatically on penalty kicks after a 0-0 regulation tie.
Forney says there's plenty of optimism at Lew-Port with a strong collection of returning players, but his top defensive player this year, senior co-captain Stephanie Frazier, seriously injured her knee in the offseason and will be out for the season. Two other key starters from a year ago, Lexi Lindamer (Mercyhurst) and Riley Crum (Niagara University) are lost to graduation.
Still, Lew-Port, fresh off an 11-0 win over CSAT on Saturday, is led by senior outside midfielder Ella Massaro (7 goals last year), who netted a hat trick against the Eagles.
Key returners also include sophomore center mid Sarah woods, who led the NFL in assists last year (10 goals, 18 assists for 28 points) as a freshman. Rounding out Lew-Port's impressive list of key returners is senior center mid co-captain Sophie Lindamer, senior Lenee' Bowes, Lew-Port's second leading scorer with 11 goals as a junior, senior keeper co-captain Claire Skowronski, twin siblings Alexa and Elle Schultz, both senior defenders and senior center back co-captain Jordan Casey.
In Lockport, head coach Mike Finnerty's Lady Lions are off to an impressive 1-0-1 start with a young team. Just a year ago, they were the youngest NFL team.
Junior forward Olivia Bruning has two goals on the season, including the game-tying goal against Ken West on Saturday with just four minutes to go in the game.
Key LHS losses to graduation are a few in Alyssa Schieb and Hannah Anderson, but key returners are aplenty in Lions' Country, led by senior captains Jenna Bernaer and Alyssa Edbauer — the teams' only two 12th graders this year.
Other blue and gold key returners are junior co-captain Liberty Wendt, and fellow juniors Brynn Wittcop, Rebecca Cioara, Cam Schiavitti, Michaela Reid, Megan Krulisky and Maritina DiMillo, who assisted on Saturday's tying goal; and sophomore Megan Guay. In goal for LHS is junior Lauren McKay.
At Niagara Falls, first-year girls soccer head honcho Rich Meranto brings years of coaching experience overall to his new role.
Key returners this season include senior defender Kayla Petri. “I just think she's an incredibly intelligent player who is able to defend flawlessly and also moves the team from the back,” coach Meranto said.
The Lady Wolverines opened their season with a narrow loss to Lockport, but NFHS got strong play out of senior co-captain Melanie Rott, who scored their lone goal, as well as Petri and keeper, just a sophomore, Mia Linde.
“Grand Island is always tough and they should be solid again this year,” Meranto said. “The league will be pretty competitive. No one will roll over anyone.”
In the Lumberjacks City, head coach Hannah Crouch's North Tonawanda Lady Jacks are optimistic after finishing 9-7 a year ago and returning a solid core of players.
Key losses to graduation include defender Bridget Wilson, defender Sam DelPorto and midfielder Olivia Hooley.
Back are key returners that include forwards Macey Gioeli and Kaylee Valebtic; defenders Emily Barone and Jessica Haines and defenders Elix Ambrusko and Izabelli Finley.
The keeper position remains “up in the air,” coach Crouch said, with junior Jessica Tyrrell and freshman Isabella Hooley battling for the starting spot.
“We're looking forward to the season, with nine seniors and seven kids who are in their fourth year on varsity, so we have a lot of experience,” coach Crouch said.
Head coach Pete Cerny's Niagara-Wheatfield Lady Falcons will be led in 2019 by their senior captain, midfielder Briana Zayatz. Other N-W seniors this year are Hannah Wilson, Allie Dena, Jessica Maroney, Paige DiCarlo, Andrea Efthemis, Cara Janowski, MacKenzie Jacobs, Abby Mason and Ava Asklar.
• STARPOINT (Last Year: 8-8): Head coach — Beth Couch, key losses — Julia Mascaro (5-year varsity player), Liz Bradley (goalie); key returners — senior sweeper Stephanie Penna, junior center mid Kristin Pickard
• BARKER (Last Year: 1-12): Head coach — Ryan Carberry, key losses — Shelby Ewald (capt.), Senior returners — Bailey Sutch, Dakota Leising, Kaitlynn Dauphinee, Kylie Annable, Kaitlyn Rounds, Rachel Parfinski.
• NEWFANE (Last Year: 4-9-1): Head coach — Chelsea Johannssen, key losses — Erin Dunn, Lila Maurer, Madelyn Traverse, Sarah Milczarski, Macy White, Kaitlin Beiter, Senior returners — Cameron Cain (capt.), Briana Tinoco, Lauren Gaurghen (capt.), Katie LaRuffa (capt.)
• ROY-HART (Last Year: 6-11): Head coach — Richard Jennings, key losses — Madison Fry, Emily Metz, Taylor Rhinehart, Meghan Washington, Senior returners — none. Junior — Rylee Young, Hanna Willard, Mallory Steiner, Mackenzie White, Cecilia Santo, Mya Quinn, Maddy Colley, Clara Jones, Shelby Wolfe and Rileigh McCabe.
• WILSON (Last Year: 8-7-2): Head coach — Thomas Baia, key losses — Hannah Darlak, Sarah Lewis (capt.), Isabella Schultz (capt.), key returners —senior Skylar Munnikhuysen (capt.), senior Melanie Gray (capt.), junior Kenzie Beyer.