Originally Published at telegram.com, Aug. 28, 2023: https://www.telegram.com/story/sports/high-school/2023/08/28/keep-an-eye-on-these-six-central-mass-girls-soccer-stars/70648102007/

The high school girls’ soccer season starts next week and there are plenty of stellar athletes returning to the pitch this fall in Central Mass. Here are a few to watch:

Margaret Johnson

Senior, Whitinsville Christian

Johnson is a fifth-year senior who helped lead Whitinsville Christian to the Division 5 state semifinals a year ago. Johnson also will serve as the team captain for the second consecutive season.

Crusader coach Beth Cutler said Johnson is exploding the on scene.

“She’s going to be one of the best players in the entire state,” Cutler said of Johnson, who has committed to play soccer at Division 1 soccer at Marist following high school.

“She has a great sense of competitiveness, and she’s an amazing athlete,” Cutler said. “She’s super quick, super fast, super strong, and she can leap out of the gym.

 She’s very intense as an athlete, and she competes all the time. Everything kind of clicked for her last year.

“She brings that intensity to every game, every practice, and every drill,” Cutler added.

Cutler said Johnson is also willing to do whatever is needed to help the team.

“If I stuck her at striker, she could score 50 goals,” Cutler said. “But I have a small team, and we play in a really, really good league. So a lot of times she is playing center back or defensive center mid for us. She has to play where we need her, and she never complains.”

Lola Follansbee

Senior, Grafton

Follansbee has been an impact player for Grafton since her freshman season, largely fueled by a strong work ethic both on and off the field, according to Grafton coach Matt Bazinet.

“She always strives to do her best but at the same time always puts her team first,” Bazinet said. “She cares more about the team’s success than her individual performances. This is what has allowed (her) to be a leader for all these years. Her tenacity on the field and never-give-up attitude affects the entire team in such a positive way.”

Follansbee returns after leading the Gators in goals a year ago with 17. Grafton finished 10-0 in SWCL A, 19-1-3 overall, not losing a game until dropping a 1-0 decision to Oliver Ames in the Division 2 state semifinal.

“We expect her to pick up where she left off last season,” Bazinet said. “I know (Lola) and the team were upset after the end of last season, so they are going to give it their all to get back to where we were and hopefully more this season.”

Off the field, Follansbee takes the same approach that she does on the field.

“The amount of hard work she puts in soccer is the same she has in school,” Bazinet said. “She takes pride in her ability to not only perform on the field but in the classroom as well. She is able to balance her time and make sure she does her best to represent Grafton as a student and athlete.”

Ava Magnuson

Sophomore, Sutton

Magnuson enters her sophomore season at Sutton with a state title on her résumé after the Suzies captured the Division 5 crown last November, edging Monson 3-2. Magnuson left her mark in that game, scoring twice in the first half.

Sutton coach Jensen Shipp said Magnuson’s success is the result of all the time and effort she has spent over the years making herself a better player.

“Her ability to manipulate the ball in tight spaces and dribble at speed, under control, in bigger spaces as well make her dangerous every time she has the ball at her feet,” Shipp said.

“I think the biggest improvement from Ava I have seen since first meeting her is her understanding of how her movement off the ball can better set her up for success when she gets on the ball,” Shipp added. “Her understanding of the whole game and how to play based on the location of the ball, opponents, teammates and spaces have made her an even better player and that much harder to defend.”

Shipp said he also expects Maguson to continue to evolve her game as well as her leadership skills.

“We want Ava to show her ability every time she steps on the field,” Shipp said. “To create for herself and create for her teammates when we have possession of the ball and, as a captain, to inspire her teammates to reach higher levels.”

Magnuson scored 27 goals and added seven assists in 2023 and was named to the T&G Super Team. She was a Dual Valley Conference all-star and CMADA Class C Tournament MVP.

Zhunay Moulton

Sophomore, Auburn

Moulton is coming off a successful freshman campaign when she finished in eighth in SWCL A scoring with 18 points (14 goals, 4 assists).

Auburn coach Emily Para said Moulton is a naturally gifted athlete who creates many problems for the opposition.

“She is fast and aggressive, but her ability to get around defenders with her change of speed and agility is what makes her so fun to watch,” Para said.

Para also said Moulton has put the time in to become a very skilled and technical player.

“She is smart on the field and has great vision,” Para said. “It’s also fun to watch her just know where the net is and find the back of it even when you think she’s not going to be able to get the shot off. She wants to win, and that competitive drive is something she’s always had.”