LIVINGSTON, NJ -- After spending eight years as an assistant in the program, Brian Carr has taken over as the head coach of the Livingston girls soccer team for 2019.

Outgoing coach Paul Raiz stepped down after guiding the Lancers to a 196-101-27 record over the last 16 seasons, including North 1, Group 4 titles in 2010, 2013 and 2016 and three Essex County championships.

Fortunately for Carr, Raiz did not exactly leave the cupboard bare. There's a solid nucleus in place from a team that reached the sectional final in 2018 before losing to rival West Orange.

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Junior forward Lauren Belcuore notched team-high totals of 14 goals and eight assists as a sophomore, and she figures to be one of the top strikers in the county this fall. Belcuore has committed to Villanova University to continue playing soccer after her graduation in 2021. Senior forward Megan Padilla will join Belcuore on the front line after contributing two goals and three assists last year.

The midfield is headed by senior Kayla Parsons, who had four goals and three assists while controlling play in the center of the pitch a year ago. And, while Carr will have to work in a new goalkeeper this season, he is heartened by the prospect of the defense being bolstered by the return of senior Caitlyn Leffler on the back line after she missed last season recovering from a knee injury.

The Lancers will also count on seniors Savannah Belcuore (three goals, four assists), Avery Conklin (three goals, two assists), Hannah Ma, Chase Maklansky, Karina Malhotra, Leah Silvestri and Stella Scheier. Juniors Victoria Wang, Alexis Scherago (two goals, two assists), Hailey Reuter and Samantha Lichstein could also play key roles.

"We have a balanced squad with an experienced senior class," Carr said. "We're hoping to compete at the top of the conference and the county and make a deep run in the state tournament."

Livingston, West Orange and Montclair should head the field of top contenders for the Essex County Tournament championship won by West Orange last year. West Orange, Montclair, Kearny and Randolph are some of the teams Livingston figures to battle when the Section 1 tournament begins at the end of October.

The Lancers open their season Thursday, Sept. 5 against Columbia on the road at Meadowlands Park in South Orange. Their first home game is Saturday, Sept. 7 against Nutley at 9 a.m. Four of Livingston's first five games are on the road. The only regular season matchup against defending county and sectional champion West Orange is set for Oct. 2 at Livingston.