By Mike Ramczyk

Hailey Ball (right) battles with a Union Grove player Saturday in Union Grove (Rick Benavides/Standard Press).

After finally being knocked off the Southern Lakes Conference throne last year by Union Grove, the Burlington girls soccer team enjoyed a strong postseason run.

Powered by stars Morgan McCourt and Jessa Burling, the girls defeated a higher-seeded team to win a regional final and gave top-seeded Waunakee all it could handle in a 3-2 sectional semifinal loss.

Burlington had won five straight conference titles but came in third place a year ago.

The Demons registered a 10-5-2 overall record, 6-2 in the SLC.

The girls will have to pick up the pieces without leading scorer McCourt and Burling, and sophomore Sam Naber, who was a key player as a freshman last year, is focusing on her volleyball scholarship to Marquette and not playing soccer this spring.

But it’s all good for eighth-year head coach Joel Molitor, who welcomes back plenty of talent.

Numbers are strong, with 48 players in the program.

“We’ll be looking to win conference this year, as well as gear up for another state tournament run,” Molitor said. “Last year we exceeded the goals we set as a team, and we hope to do that again this year.”

Burlington returns 15 letter-winners, including first team all-SLC goalie and Division 1 Iowa State University recruit Cora Anderson, a junior.

Senior Cassidy Askin was honorable mention all-conference on defense last year, and sophomore defender Victoria Van Dan earned first team all-conference.

Other returning letter-winners are seniors Madison Macaluso, Felicity Zelechowski and Emily Ball; juniors Amelia Crabtree, Payton Kretschmer, Gracie Geyso, Serra Brehm and Jaedyn Bieniewski; and sophomores Ellen Graham, Chloe Uhlenhake, Alex Lopez and Abi Runkel.

Junior Katie Harris leads the group of newcomers to varsity.

Sophomores Minna Brown, Gwendolyn Busch and Trinity Zelechowski, along with freshmen Juliana Golla and Anika Preusker, will also be key newcomers to varsity, according to Molitor.

Molitor likes the team’s balance of youth and experience, and he says there are opportunities for girls to step up.

“This is a young group, with several newcomers to the team, but there are returning letter-winners who will be hungry for a larger role on the team,” Molitor said.

Molitor will be joined by assistant coaches Jeremy Fitch, Jake Cacciotti and Steven Dukic.

Burlington opens its 2019 season April 4 at Wauwatosa West.

The first home game is the next day at 5:30 p.m. against Cudahy.

April – 4: at Wauwatosa West. 5: CUDAHY. 9: WATERFORD. 12-13: at Wisconsin Dells Invite. 16: at Elkhorn. 18: WESTOSHA CENTRAL. 23: DEFOREST. 27: at Oregon. 30: WILMOT. May – 3: RACINE HORLICK. 4: at The Prairie School. 7: at Delavan-Darien. 9: at Badger. 14: UNION GROVE. 16, 23: SLC tournament. 28: WIAA Regionals.