Defensive-minded Tigers look to move up in tough MSL field

Circleville Tigers Girls Soccer

2022 season: 9-8-2, 2-5-1 in Mid-State League Buckeye Division for seventh-place finish

Coach: Joe Stitt

Key returnees: Senior defender Payton Ford (first-team all-league and all-district in 2022), senior defender Emma Groff (second-team all-district), senior forward/midfielder Faith Yancey (first-team all-district and second-team all-league), junior keeper Kylie McCain (second-team all-district and honorable mention all-league), junior defender Addisyn Ndayitwayeko (honorable mention all-district), junior Makya Cockerham, junior Bella Morningstar, sophomores Ava Justice, Mya Nardi, Kaylin Mankin and Ella Mckeiver

Key losses: Sabrena Funk, Presley Coyan and Nilyn Cockerham

Key newcomers: The Tigers have a large freshman class of 12 players that coach Stitt believes will be able to contribute this fall.

Season outlook: Circleville loses leading scorer Nilyn Cockerham from last season’s team and will look to junior Makya Cockerham (six goals, four assists in 2022) and senior Faith Yancey (12 goals, six assists) to help lead the way offensively.

“We have to change quite a bit in our midfield and attack due to graduation, but speed will be our strength there, and it is no secret to the local coaches,” coach Joe Stitt said. “They all know by now that Faith Yancey and Makya Cockerham are two of the faster players in our area.”

The Tigers return two-year starting junior keeper Kylie McCain to the net. She authored nine clean sheets and made 133 saves as a sophomore.

Stitt believes a core strength for the red-and-black this fall will be defensively.

“We have a lot of experience on defense with Payton Ford and Emma Groff anchoring the middle of our defense and we also return Addisyn Ndayitwayeko and Mya Nardi, plus we have a solid keeper in Kylie McCain behind them,” he said. “We’ll add freshman Bailey Zheng to that collection of players, and I believe it is going to be a pretty strong cohesive group.”

Eleven schools will compete for the Mid-State League championship this fall, as the eight Buckeye Division schools are joined by Bishop Rosecrans, Fisher Catholic and Wellington from the Cardinal Division.

Previously, the league had crowned two divisional champions (the Buckeye and Ohio), but the Ohio Division schools left the league following last school year to form the Central Buckeye League.

Fisher Catholic had previously played in the Buckeye Division, while Bishop Rosecrans and Wellington competed in the Ohio.

“One of our biggest challenges this fall will be our schedule, because it is incredibly difficult with league plowers Bloom-Carroll, Fairfield Union and Teays Valley. Hamilton Township has been improving each year and will also be a challenge, plus we have hard-working teams like Liberty Union and Fisher Catholic and rivalry games also with Logan Elm and Amanda-Clearcreek,” Stitt observed. “Then, we add Bishop Rosecrans and Wellington into the mix, and it makes for a real gauntlet.

“On top of that we have Athens, Jackson, and Unioto on the non-league schedule, all of which are coming off of very successful seasons. We are going to have to work hard to keep our energy level up all year long to make it through this schedule. We will be very battle-tested and ready come tournament time.”

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