With most of its starting midfield back, the Verona girls soccer team is banking on speed and cohesion paying off as it aims to unseat Middleton as Big Eight Conference champion.

The Wildcats have seven starters returning from a team that went 5-1-3 in conference (7-5-5 overall) to tie Janesville Craig for third last year.

Junior Ani Quade returns as the team’s leading scorer (12 goals, 11 assists) and can play midfielder or forward. Other returning starters are junior midfielder/forward Hanna Steiner, junior midfielder/forward Mia Hoeve, senior midfielder/forward Julia Gilboy, junior midfielder/forward Olivia Rawson, sophomore defender Kirsten Poppen and junior defender Grace Kaatz.

Steiner was second-team all-conference last season.

“We tend to have a lot of dynamic play from the players who play in the middle,” seventh-year coach Jen Faulkner said. “They create a lot of scoring opportunities, and we will look to them to put goals on the board for us.”

Verona has three players back who were honorable-mention all-conference last year in Quade, Rawson and Poppen. The Wildcats will have to fill the void of Chandler Bainbridge, who was first-team all-conference and the Big Eight Player of the Year as a defender last season.

Gilboy is the lone senior for Verona. Faulkner is counting on her for production on the field and as a mentor off the field.

“She took on a leadership role in the offseason, motivating the girls to play, train and leading captain’s training,” Faulkner said. “She is a leader on and off the field.”

The Wildcats have a large contingent of junior players who could see expanded roles.

“Most of these players have been with us since they were freshmen,” Faulkner said. “Now that they have a couple years under their belts, it is time for them to shine.”

The Wildcats have five freshmen who could see playing time.

“We will be looking for big minutes from our freshman goalkeeper Elsa Queoff,” Falkner said. “We have some new players who will be able to step on the field and contribute right away, especially in our defensive line.”