Kirtland enters the 2021 season as just one of four girls’ soccer teams state-wide riding a winning streak into the new year.
Nine months ago, the Hornets became the first public school to win the Division III state championship.
Kirtland returns just five starters from that squad that finished 19-1-3 overall, but new faces in the lineup aren’t forcing a change in the expectations.
“I believe that we have a culture that prides itself on making deep tournament runs and I don’t see this year being any different,” said 18th-year head coach Ed Bradac. “This group of seniors has played in three straight Final Fours and has won a state championship, so they know what it takes to be successful once the state tournament starts.”
The key for the 2021 Hornets is to avoid riding on the coattails of the preceding teams.
“One of the major challenges that we will have is not living on our past success. New group, new expectations,” Bradac said. “I think we have a great deal of depth on the team this year and that has been evident during practice and scrimmages as we are trying to figure out what our starting lineup will look like on August 13 against North.”
The Hornets won’t have to put too much thought into who will spark the team on the offensive end.
Senior forward Erika Zschuppe returns after being named the Division III Player of the Year last season. Zschuppe scored 53 goals, including all three in the state championship game. Zschuppe also recorded 11 assists.
A national All-American, Zschuppe already is Kirtland’s all-time leader in career points scored with 272. Cassee Kiplinger (’09) is second on that list with 174. Zschuppe also is the program’s all-time leader in goals scored with 122 (Kiplinger is second with 66).
“Entering her senior year, Erika has solidified herself as the top player in the state of Ohio regardless of division,” Bradac said. “She is simply a special player. Erika will be instrumental in leading this young team and I know she is excited to get the season started.”
Senior midfielders Giulianna Vladic and Reilly Greenlee will play key roles in creating offensive opportunities and distributing the ball to Kirtland’s other playmakers.
Vladic finished second on the team with 19 assists last year while Greenlee scored five goals with seven assists.
“Giulianna had an amazing junior year. She grabbed the starting holding midfield position and never let go. She is lethal on set pieces and her decision-making is outstanding. It was an easy choice naming Giulianna as one of our captains this year based on her work ethic and knowledge of the game,” Bradac said. “Captain Reilly Greenlee is our everything player. She can play any position on the field and is a truly gifted athlete. Her value to this team is hard to measure because she does so many good things when she is on the field.”
Kirtland graduated its goalkeeper in Corinne Aquila, setting up defenders Macy McIntosh and Corinne Greenlee with an even bigger role in protecting the net this season.
McIntosh, a senior, scored one goal last season but it was a big one as it helped the Hornets defeat Liberty-Benton in the state semifinals.
“Macy is going to be called on to lead a young defense this year and I know that she is up to the challenge,” Bradac said. “Macy is another one of these special athletes that can pick up any sport and excel.”
Greenlee, a junior, is athletic and versatile.
“Much like her sister Reilly, Corinne can play any position on the field,” Bradac said. “She is going to be called on to do a lot for this team this year. Depending on the situation, we will place Corinne in positions that will make us the best team possible. Much will be asked of her this year.”
Protecting the net will be the responsibility of freshman Kennedy Boyd.
“Kennedy will step into a position that has been a strength of this team for well over a decade and I believe she has the potential to fill those big shoes,” Bradac said.
Once again, Kirtland will prepare for its postseason run against a challenging schedule. That means the Hornets will be tested each and every game.
The Hornets look to stay healthy and use the regular season to come together as a team to be in the best position possible when the playoffs begin.
“(We need to) avoid any major injuries and develop team chemistry,” Bradac said. “We return five starters from last year, so it is going to take time to have the new starters mesh with the returning starters.”
Kirtland opens the season at North on Friday, August 13. The Friday Night Futbol game is part of a doubleheader between the Hornets and the Rangers. In between the girls’ and boys’ games, the four squads will team up to provide Empower Sports participants with a soccer clinic.