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Holmdel, N.J. - Optimism is in the air for the Holmdel High School girls soccer team for the 2019 season.

Second-year coach James Gelpke believes his Holmdel squad is on the cusp of bringing everything together this fall to be a competitive squad in the Shore Conference.

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The Hornets are a young, but experienced bunch with a lot of players returning from the team last season, who Gelpke expects will take their games to the next level in 2019.

“Our goal is to build off last season,” Gelpke said. “We were a young team last season. Most of our players were freshmen and sophomores last year and are now sophomores and juniors. We should see the big transition of them being more comfortable on the ball and more comfortable on the field. We should be able to put everything together at some point this season. We’re not there yet, but we’re close.”

Holmdel finished with a 6-8-4 mark last season, including picking up a victory over Monmouth Regional in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 tournament via a Fran Pelro goal in the penalty-kick shootout. 

Pelro and Cate Cino are two big departures for Holmdel going into the season. Pelro led Holmdel with 12 goals last season and Cino anchored the Hornets’ defense.

The Hornets will depend on a host of players to lead their offense this season, starting with Lindsay Guarnaccia and Katie Vassilakos.

Vassilakos ranked second on the team in goals scored with five and in total points with 12 last fall as a freshman. Gelpke sees Vassilakos as a major scoring threat and has high expectations for the sophomore this upcoming season.

Guarnaccia had a nice sophomore campaign for Holmdel last season with four goals and an assist as a starting midfielder.

One of the better players in the Shore Conference in the eyes of Gelpke, the junior will provide Holmdel with great stability in the midfield and help lead the offensive attack moving up the field.

Sophomore Gianna Buffa is expected to be a big part of the Holmdel offense. Buffa has gotten off to a great start in the preseason, scoring three goals in Holmdel’s first scrimmage against Wall.

Julia Brusco will contribute a lot to the Holmdel offense with her great speed as an outside midfielder. Sophomore Sam Sportelli will be another scoring threat for the Hornets.

“We might not have a 15 goal scorer, but I think we can have around four to six players that can score seven to nine goals for us this season with the sure talent we have,” Gelpke said.

The strength for Holmdel this season will come out from the back on defense.

Juniors Lindsay Cannon and Caroline Rebele both return to anchor the Holmdel defense as outside backers.

Fellow classmate Sofia Mancino will be a key member of the Holmdel defense as well as the team’s offense, leading the charge out of the back.

Mancino scored four goals last season for Holmdel. One of the toughest players in the entire conference in the eyes of Gelpke, Mancino is expected to have a great year for the Hornets.

Newcomer Sydnie Nied is also expected to make an impact for Holmdel on the back line defensively this season, after playing on Holmdel girls tennis team last year.

Guarnaccia will also be a big part of the Holmdel defense in the midfield, especially when it comes to winning 50/50 balls. 

“We’re going to be solid in the back this year,” Gelpke said. “We have good depth there. We have players on the cusp of being good varsity players. Hopefully we can put all the pieces together.”

Gabriella Porchetta is the lone returning senior on the team this season. With four years of varsity experience, Gelpke expects Porchetta to be the voice of the Hornets this season as the leader of the team. 

Sophomores Lexi Wojie, Izabella DeMatos and Jenna Oroso will all make key contributions to the squad this season. 

Wojie will be the team’s starting center midfielder after tallying a goal and three assists last season. Oroso and DeMatos each bring back experience from seeing varsity time last season and will provide the Hornets with depth in both the midfield and on the back line.

In net, the Hornets are still looking to see who will win the starting goalkeeper spot for this season.

Sophomores Hailey Sharpe and Katrina Walier both return with varsity playing experience from last season.

“We’re comfortable with both goalkeepers,” Gelpke said. “Both girls have areas they need to improve in, but have areas of strength. We’re still figuring out what works best for the team. It’s not a problem when you have two quality goalkeepers that you’re looking to play.”

Junior Olivia Ferranti is another goalie that could see time in net for the Hornets this season says Gelpke. 

So far this preseason, Gelpke is very happy about what he has seen from his team in practices and their scrimmages against tough teams like defending NJSIAA Group 2, Group 3 champions Middletown North.

After playing a lot of Group 3 and 4 schools last season, Holmdel is well prepared for the opponents on their schedule this season said Gelpke.

With most of the team having experience from last season, added with the talent on the roster, there’s no doubt Gelpke believes that Holmdel will be a competitive team this fall and will be in every game they play. 

The question will be can Holmdel finish off some of those games with a victory? Their coach believes they can. 

“I think we’re going to do that,” Gelpke said. “If had to predict the season, it would be more so of a gradual increase performance-wise. Younger players as they get more comfortable tend to get better. Our girls are getting bigger, faster and stronger everyday. Hopefully the progression over the next two to three months will help put us in a situation where we can do something in the division, the Shore Conference Tournament and states.”

Holmdel opens up the season next Tuesday on the road against Middletown South.

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports