Olivia Williamson (copy)

Faribault junior goalkeeper Olivia Williamson enters her fourth year as starter. (Faribault Daily News file photo)

The Big 9 Conference girls soccer season opens with games Aug. 22. Faribault is in non-conference action taking on Cannon Falls.

Mankato West and Red Wing play that same day in the first conference matchup.

The conference has seen five different programs reign supreme in this decade. Mankato West is the defending champion and winner of two of the last three.

Let’s dive in to how teams are shaping up heading into the fall.

Teams are listed in order of 2018 conference finish. All players’ grade levels are for the upcoming 2019 season unless noted.

Mankato West

The Scarlets were a perfect 10-0 in conference play to win their second Big 9 title in three years. After a one-goal loss in the 2018 season opener to eventual Class A state runner up Orono, the Scarlets went unbeaten the rest of the regular season before falling in the state quarterfinals. West finished 17-2-1 overall, 10-0 in conference and allowed just three opponents to score multiple goals. It led the Big 9 with 4.1 goals per game and .7 allowed. No other team scored more than 2.7 or allowed fewer than 1.3. The Scarlets graduated eight from last year’s team, including two all-Big 9 attacker’s and a midfielder as well as two honorable mention midfielders. Back are all-Big 9 defender senior Ali Rutz and senior Claire Hemstock. West finished 2018 ranked No. 9 in the state in Class A. Longtime head coach Crissy Makela returns to the sidelines.

Northfield

The Raiders came up just shy of defending their 2017 title. Northfield finished 10-5-2 overall and 8-1-2 in conference. It closed strong after a 3-3-2 start to the season and advanced to round two of the Section 2A playoffs. Three of six players who earned all-conference recognition return. Seniors midfielder Erin Morris and defender Maddy Ims were all-Big 9 and senior mid Sophie Roback was honorable mention. Twelve total graduated from last year, including in net, so the returning leadership will have to take on bigger roles. Head coach Sebastian Burset, who has experience with the Northfield Soccer Association, enters his first year in the role.

Owatonna

The Huskies struggled against a tough early season schedule in 2018 before finding their footing. An 0-4-1 open preceded six straight wins and nine of 12 to end the regular season. Owatonna finished 10-7-1 overall and 6-2-1 in the Big 9. It advanced to round two of the Section 1AA playoffs. All-Big 9 junior attacker Grace Wolfe and all-Big 9 senior defender Rosie Sullivan return to counter the loss of top players at midfield and attack. Honorable mention seniors defender Kaia Elstad and midfield Asia Buryska return. Six graduated from last year for a team that appears to be even more senior-laden in 2019. Nate Gendron returns for his second year as head coach.

Rochester Century

Credit to most of the Big 9 for scheduling challenging non-conference games. The Panthers took some lumps getting out to an 0-5-2 start in 2018, with three non-con games and three more against the top three in the Big 9. But they righted the ship to win or tie eight of the last nine in the regular season. The Panthers finished 7-7-3 and 6-2-3 in the Big 9. They lose all-conference talent at midfield and defense, but return senior defender Alissa Levenic, sophomore attacker Addi Clarey and honorable mention seniors midfielder Ellie Oyen and Cristina Erickson. Karen LaDue returns as head coach.

Mankato East

The Cougars were 8-8-1 overall and 7-4-1 in the Big 9. East took a circuitous route to .500 last year with two three-game win streaks and a six-game losing streak. Returning are all-Big 9 performers senior goalie Emily Eckheart and freshman attacker Ella Huetl and lose an honorable mention defender. The Cougars were second in the Big 9 with 2.8 goals per game and with an experienced goalie could make a jump up. Head coach Lizzie Vetter returns for her third season.

Albert Lea

The Tigers were the youngest team in the conference last year and return all but one player, a defender. All-Big 9 performers junior midfielder Jacy Rosas, senior goalie Melissa Vogt and sophomore defender Esther Yoon return. Also back is honorable mention junior Laura Flaherty. Albert Lea finished 7-7-2 overall and 4-5-2 in the Big 9. David Schultz returns as head coach.

Rochester John Marshall

The Rockets will look to improve on offense after scoring multiple goals in just three games in 2018. Despite it, John Marshall managed a 5-7-1 overall record and a 4-5-1 mark in the Big 9. JM will have to replace seven seniors but get two of three who earned postseason honors. All-Big 8 midfielder Abby Alcock and honorable mention senior attacker Alexa Mottley are back. Five midfielders graduate as well as an all-Big 9 defender. Brian Dahl returns as head coach.

Red Wing

The Wingers finished 2018 at 3-7-3 overall and 2-5-3 in conference. They were a shootout loss to Kasson-Mantorville away from the section final. Red Wing graduated its starting goalie as well as all-Big 9 performers at midfielder and attacker. Back is honorable mention midfielder Ella Sutherland. Former Winger Taylor Becker enters her second year as head coach.

Winon

The Winhawks went 5-9-3 overall and 3-7-1 in the Big 9. Winona did pick up a Section 1A playoff win. Senior all-Big 9 midfielder Jill Serleth returns while an honorable mention defender graduated. The Winhawks have to rebuild the defense that lost three seniors but return everyone else on the field. Katie Pearce debuts as head coach taking over for Rachel Stein.

Rochester Mayo

The Spartans graduate five seniors while returning some top talent. All-Big 9 junior midfielder Lily McBane and honorable mention and sophomore attacker Layna Erredge are back. Mayo went 3-14 overall with all three wins coming between Aug. 30 to Sept. 13. It was 3-8 in the Big 9 and ended the season on an overall 10-game losing streak. Andre Bailey returns as head coach.

Faribault

The Falcons graduated six members of the 2018 squad that finished 3-13-2 overall and 1-9-1 in the Big 9. Team leader at attack, all-Big 9 Samantha Holmberg, is playing collegiately and honorable mention Marta Schonebaum also departs after her senior season. Faribault does return starting goalie Olivia Williamson who enters her fourth year starting as well as seven of nine defenders. The Falcons will look to build on momentum from a 2-0 section playoff upset of Albert Lea, the program’s first playoff win in over a decade. That came after a 4-2 win over Austin, its first Big 9 win since 2014. Maddie Justin returns as head coach.

Austin

The Packers blanked John Marshall for their lone regular season win in a 2-14-1 overall and 1-9-1 Big 9 season. Austin’s season was highlighted by a 3-0 section playoff win over Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa. All-Big 9 sophomore midfielder Hope Dudycha returns to a team replacing five seniors including an honorable mention defender. Jake Levisen enters his fourth season as head coach.

Reach Sports Editor Mike Randleman at 507-333-3119 or on Twitter @fdnmike.

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Sports reporter for the Faribault Daily News. Graduated from Iowa State University in 2016. Originally from Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

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