By Ray Hamill — There was certainly no shortage of talent in H-DNL girls soccer this year, and the league coaches seem to agree.
A total of seven different players tied for the Big 4 and Little 4 outfield MVPs, with two others named MVP goalkeepers.
In the Big 4, Eureka teammates Lila Ekholdt and Maia Hales were named co-MVPs, along with Fortuna’s Malia Bolden and McKinleyville’s Soffia Reyes.
In the Little 4, Madelyn Shanahan of champion St. Bernard’s was named co-MVP, along with South Fork’s Summer Contreras and Ferndale’s Reaghan Langer.
The MVP Goalkeepers, meanwhile, are Caitlyn Canepa of McKinleyville in the Big 4 and Deja Payne of Del Norte in the Little 4.
Juniors Hales and Ekholdt both played pivotal roles in leading the Loggers to a league and North Coast Section championship double.
Hales anchored the defense and has been among the most consistent players on the North Coast for the past two seasons.
“Maia has grown into our vocal leader at the back, and she’s been probably the most consistent defender in league, I would say, for the last two years,” Eureka head coach Tommy Learmouth said. “She’s been absolutely tremendous for us and she always plays with a wisdom beyond her years.”
Ekholdt could be the most naturally gifted player in league and had another big campaign after overcoming an early-season injury.
“Lila had a rough start to the season and to see her come back and play the way she did was incredible to watch,” Learmouth said. “She continues to show that she’s one of the best — if not the best — players on the North Coast.”
“Our team doesn’t function nearly as well when she’s not on the field,” McKinleyville head coach Adam Canepa said of the senior offensive standout who led the league in points. “She’s just a phenomenal athlete and one that I feel really lucky to have coached for four years.”
Bolden, another senior, also was a rock at the back for the Huskies and another hugely consistent defender who played a key role in leading her team to the NCS semifinals.
As one opposing coach put it, she was the most difficult defender to get past in league play.
Caitlyn Canepa and Payne, meanwhile, each were outstanding between the posts for their respective teams and helped keep them in games against tougher opposition.
“I think it’s well deserved,” Adam Canepa said of the honor. “She works as hard as anyone I’ve ever had as a player. She stays after practice to let people shoot on her, she practices on her own, she plays club soccer. She’s just worked extremely hard to get to where she is right now, and she’s just a super nice person.”
Payne was instrumental in the Warriors’ breakthrough season, as they won a playoff game for the first time ever.
“I can’t say enough good things about Deja,” head coach Cyndi Hansen said. “It was hard in the beginning playing against Big 4 teams and it pressured her in a lot of ways. But she persevered and it showed towards the end of the season.”
The sophomore shot stopper allowed just two goals in seven games leading up to the NCS quarterfinal defeat to Eureka.
“She’s fearless in the goal, has skill, coordination and talent,” Hansen added. “I am so proud of her and elated she got recognized with MVP Goalie.”
Ella Tollefson, Kaitlin Giacone and Saedra Joseph were each also named to the all-league team for Eureka.
Talented playmaker Tollefson could easily have been recognized as league MVP and was arguably the most creative player on the North Coast this fall.
Arcata’s Zoe Macknicki, Kyla Berman and Alia Prentiss each also were named all-league, as was McKinleyville’s Taya Gomes and Fortuna’s Taylor Brooks.
Shanahan, meanwhile, played a pivotal role for the Crusaders on their way to a league and NCS double.
“Maddy is a special player. She is like having another coach on the field,” SB head coach Brian Finck said of the junior multi-sport standout. “She is intelligent, hard-working determined, motivates her teammates and leads by example.”
Contreras left her mark on the South Fork record books and closes out her high school career with more goals (48) than any other player in program history.
“Summer provided invaluable leadership on and off the field,” head coach Ann Constantino said. “As our only four-year player she used her experience to motivate and inspire others.
“The quality of her play was always top notch and we will miss her greatly.”
Langer has been just as dangerous in front of goal for the Wildcats, who enjoyed another impressive season.
The junior standout was always a focus for opposing coaches and played a pivotal role in the Cats’ title push.
Shanahan’s teammates MaTaya Amen-Sherman, Alyssa Boham, Hannah Finck and Kodi Meyer each also were named to the all-league team, as were Del Norte’s Alexis Aguirre and Channey Schaad, Ferndale’s Regan Russ and Miriam Munoz-Guerrero and South Fork’s Olivia Perkins.
The all-league selections and MVPs are voted on by the league coaches.
Arcata — Gracie Townsend, Quin Rush-Copple, Sionna Khattab, Sophie Griffen
Del Norte — Mayleah Jackson, Aurora Mitchell, Lilly Schaad
Eureka — Claire Maples, Angelina Connant, Lorena Hernandes, Kira Morris, Paige Rodgers, Sidney Madsen
Ferndale — Tinnley Pidgeon, Clara Christensen, Jayden Murphy
Fortuna — Chloe Cox, Brylee Barsanti, Allie Cox, Raigan Brooks
McKinleyville — Thea Trout, Lacie Rink, Elizabeth Mengel, Gabby Watson
South Fork — Jalynn Worswick, Caidence Young
St. Bernard’s — Torrin Baty, Adrianna Granados, Arabella Maki