Get ready for a ‘slugfest’ as H-DNL girls soccer returns

Photos by Ray Hamill/

By Ray Hamill — Get ready for the next chapter in what is annually one of the most competitive sports in the H-DNL, as the H-DNL girls soccer season kicks off this week.

League play officially got under way on Tuesday afternoon, when McKinleyville beat Del Norte 4-0, with the rest of the H-DNL scheduled to play on Wednesday night.

This year’s league will be split into a Big 4 and a Little 4, with wide-open races expected in both.

Three different teams have won the past three Big 5 titles, including Arcata in 2021, Fortuna in 2019 and Eureka in 2018 (and unofficially in the spring of 2021 as well).

And any one of them could win it all again this year.

The McKinleyville girls also should be very competitive with some key returning players, while the Del Norte Warriors will play in the Little 4 this year.

So who’s the favorite?

“I think it’s going to be some stiff competition this year,” McKinleyville head coach Adam Canepa said during the preseason. “I feel like Eureka will be better than last year, and they won NCS, and Arcata’s always good, so they’re going to be a handful.

“And Fortuna’s solid. It looks like they’re hitting the season in form.”

Eureka head coach Tommy Learmouth returns almost all of his section championship team and the Loggers will be many people’s favorites.

But he’s expecting a battle.

“Fortuna’s strong,” said Learmouth, whose team scrimmaged the Huskies in the preseason. “And McKinleyville is led by by some good seniors and Arcata always puts together a good team. They have probably the best coach in the area.

“I think it’s going to be a slugfest.”

After playing the Little 4 teams once each, the Big 4 teams will face off against each other three times each over what will be a hectic five weeks with the games coming fast and furious.

Eureka has a core group of talent returning players. Including reigning league MVP Lila Ekholdt, as well as defensive leader Maia Hales and playmaking midfielder Ella Tollefson.

They also have quite probably the deepest roster in the league.

But the defending champion Tigers also have several key players back, all of whom will be extra motivated after being edged by Eureka on a penalty shootout in the NCS championship game in 2021.

Senior captains Gracie Townsend, Kyla Berman and Maddy Conley are all expected to play a big role in the coming weeks, as our standouts Zoe Macknicki, Alia Prentiss and Quinlyn Rush-Copple.

The Huskies, meanwhile, are off to an impressive start, including winning the Mack tournament over the weekend.

Team leaders Chloe Cox and Taylor Brooks have been leading the way early, along with teammates Brylee Barsanti and Malia Bolden, and the Huskies are 4-0-1 heading into their league opener.

The McKinleyville girls, on the other hand, have shown us in recent years that they can beat anybody on their day.

The Panthers are led by the ever-dangerous Thea Trout and Soffia Reyes, a pair of seniors as good as any players in the Big 5.

Others too have been stepping up in the preseason, including Taya Gomes and Liz Mengel and the team’s entire back line.

The Little 4 should be just as competitive.

The Crusaders are the defending champions and a perennial small schools NCS contender, but Ferndale pushed them all the way in last season’s section semifinal and should be right in the mix once again this fall.

A young South Fork is always dangerous against the smaller schools under long-time head coach Ann Constantino and will be led by senior Summer Contreras, while the Del Norte Warriors are continuing to build and should match up competitively against the smaller schools.

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