Strong contenders looking to unseat Trojans

Center Grove has had the top girls soccer program in the area for years, maintaining a chokehold on the local sectional. The Trojans have advanced to the semistate round in each of the past three seasons.

But nobody’s run lasts forever, and a few local squads feel as though now might be the time for a changing of the guard.

Franklin and Greenwood in particular feel good about their chances of ending the Trojans’ run atop the Johnson County pecking order. Both pushed Center Grove in sectional play last fall, and both have most of their marquee players coming back.

Center Grove isn’t going to give up their perch quite so easily, but Trojans coach Mike Bishop acknowledges that the gap between his team and the rest of the county has been closing in recent seasons.

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“They’re definitely getting stronger every year,” Bishop said. “It’s tougher and tougher to game plan.”

That was evident during the 2015 postseason. Franklin took Center Grove to penalty kicks in the sectional semifinal before falling short, and Greenwood grabbed a 1-0 lead on the Trojans in the final before the reigning champs kicked it into gear and came away with the win.

This fall, Center Grove will again be extremely deep and talented — but the county’s other squads have plenty of talent back, and they’re all taking aim at their local nemesis.

Franklin boasts the area’s top player in Delanie Hill, coming off a 41-goal season that saw her earn a spot on the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association All-State first team. Former boys assistant David Young inherits an experienced lineup ready to make some noise.

Meanwhile, Greenwood has a lethal scorer of its own in Kayla Rance, who tallied 30 goals a year ago. The Woodmen are leaning primarily on their junior class, but they’re not concerned with contending next year — they’re hungry to win now.

Even Whiteland, which has been unable to break through in the sectional in recent years, is feeling good about its chances this fall thanks to a large and talented senior class.

Can any of them catch Center Grove on the pitch this year? The Trojans still have to be considered the area’s favorites until proven otherwise — but their road to the sectional is filled with more potential potholes than they’re used to.

Is one of the contenders ready to seize the throne? We’ll all find out soon enough.

Girls soccer preview capsules

Center Grove Trojans

Coach: Mike Bishop

Last year: 15-5-1, lost to Brebeuf in Evansville Semistate semifinal

Who’s back: Kelli Hippenmeyer, Holleigh Johnson, and Emmie Ward, seniors; Tetyana Clements, Braxton Gentry, Emma Jones and Molly Williams, juniors; Ella Thompson, sophomore

Who’s gone: Hope Brumbaugh, Sophie Chiado

New kids on the block: Natalie Kinstler, senior; Kailee Joseph, sophomore

Outlook: The Trojans are again loaded and ready to make a deep postseason run. The defense is strong in front of the goalkeeping tandem of Thompson and junior Morgan Martin, who filled in capably when Thompson was injured for part of last season. Joseph, a transfer from Whiteland, should be able to add to a team that didn’t have many holes to begin with. Competition from Franklin and Greenwood will be fierce, but the Trojans remain the top dog locally until someone can prove otherwise.

Bishop says: “We’ve lost a few players, but hopefully we’re not going to miss a beat. We’re very deep, and the juniors we had last year will definitely take over from where the seniors left off. So I look for some pretty good stuff, honestly.”

Franklin Grizzly Cubs

Coach: David Young

Last year: 11-5-2, lost to Center Grove in Whiteland Sectional semifinal

Who’s back: Delanie Hill, Angie Amin, Allison Barnard and McKenna Birch, seniors; Abby Booe, Sarah Sullivan and Maddie West, juniors; Maddie Alexander and Emily Hill, sophomores.

Who’s gone: Caitlin Booe, Maci Eads

New kids on the block: Kenzie Hufford, freshman

Outlook: Formerly an assistant with the Franklin boys, Young takes over a group of girls that endured a pair of agonizing near-misses last season, losing shootouts to Mooresville in conference play and to Center Grove in the sectional. Leading the charge to reverse those outcomes in 2016 is Hill, who earned All-State honors after scoring 41 goals as a junior. Barnard returns in goal, with a veteran defensive trio (Amin, Sullivan and West) in front of her. The Grizzly Cubs should again be a threat.

Young says: “They’re right there, and that’s why we’ve got to keep preaching to the girls that the wins will come. We’ve got to figure out why we didn’t get the wins out of those other seven games.”

Greenwood Woodmen

Coach: Joe Mushrush

Last year: 11-8-1, lost to Center Grove in Whiteland Sectional final

Who’s back: Taylor Neely, senior; Ashley Allen, Brianna Conley, Madelyn Moan and Kayla Rance, juniors; Veda Craig, sophomore

Who’s gone: Cierra Frazier, Kennedy Rains

New kids on the block: Hanna Anderson, junior

Outlook: The Woodmen showed plenty of growth in Mushrush’s first season at the helm, and with seven starters back, hopes are again high. Neely will be counted on to lead a roster dominated by 13 juniors, including Rance, who scored 30 goals last season. Conley heads up a less experienced back line in front of Moan, but Greenwood has plenty of veteran talent in the midfield and up front. This team is hungry for a sectional title and just might be able to make it happen.

Mushrush says: “The best part about this team is that the quality of people that we have is outstanding. They’re all really good kids, and they work hard and they do what they’re supposed to do. … They’re really focused, and they’re not only focused on soccer; they’re focused on everything else that they do.”

Greenwood Christian Cougars

Coach: Chris Dibble

Last year: , lost to Covenant Christian in Indianapolis Ritter Sectional final

Who’s back: K

Who’s gone: Ellie Wilson

New kids on the block: R

Outlook: x

Dibble says:

Whiteland Warriors

Coach: Alyson Cotter

Last year: 9-7-1, lost to Franklin in Whiteland Sectional

Who’s back: Meredith Cavaleri and McKenzie McCoy, seniors; Madison Hill, Madisyn Proctor and Emily Williams, sophomores

Who’s gone: None

New kids on the block: None

Outlook: With all but two players back and 10 seniors on the roster, the Warriors are confident that this could be their breakthrough year. Cavaleri and McCoy anchor a veteran defense and are part of a senior class determined to win a sectional match for the first time. Whiteland could be a dark-horse contender for Mid-State Conference and sectional titles if all goes according to plan.

Cotter says: “I’d like to continue to progress as the season goes on. We finished third in the conference last year, so it would be nice to finish higher than we did — maybe win the conference and do well in sectionals.”

Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2715.