How do you improve upon a 2013 high school soccer season in which seven local teams reached their respective state tournaments, three local teams made up 75 percent of the Class 4A boys state semifinals representation and two of them faced off for the 4A championship?
Doing so would be a tough task, but the area will try to continue its soccer success as a new season kicks off Monday, the first day Georgia High School Association programs can compete in 2014.
In last year’s Class 4A boys title game, Dalton ended a dominant season with a 5-0 victory over rival Southeast Whitfield to claim the second state championship in Catamounts soccer history. Southeast had advanced to the title game with a semifinals victory against Northwest Whitfield. Factor in Murray County’s boys making the Class 2A state playoffs, Coahulla Creek and North Murray’s boys making the Class 3A bracket and Northwest’s girls also advancing to state and it’s a year that set a new standard for area programs.
Here’s a look at area teams as they begin their quests for more success:
Christian Heritage alum Zach Miller is the Lions’ new head coach. The 2008 graduate has taken over from his own former coach, John Seehorn, after serving as an assistant to him last season.
While he is still getting used to being in charge, Miller has high hopes for this season.
“It has been a good transition and a little confusing sometimes as far as all of the ins and outs, but practices have gone real well,” Miller said. “After spending eight years coached by coach Seehorn and then being able to see his job from the sidelines last year, that helped out a lot.”
Especially early, the Lions — who return six starters — will need their defense to carry them, Miller said. Goalkeeper Will Jackson, defenders Christian Cady and Ben Crawford and midfielders Hutch Crawford, Cameron Hawkins and Jay Hawkins will be counted on, with junior left wing Nate Smith the only returning starter on the front line.
“We will not be a very strong offensive team because we are a little shorthanded,” Miller said. “We will have to be in better shape and outrun everyone. We haven’t had the entire team out yet because of basketball season, but I am fully confident in our team.”
The Lady Lions have a new coach as well, with Caleb Mahoney moving over from the staff at Morris Innovative. A 2007 Christian Heritage graduate, Mahoney coached Christian Heritage’s boys in 2012.
Christian Heritage’s girls were 2-8 last year, but Mahoney likes what he has seen and can’t wait to see more when basketball season ends and his roster expands.
“We are going to be a really athletic team and in very good shape,” Mahoney said. “These girls can run forever, and I am not worried about running out of steam with this group. I feel good about it if we can stay injury-free, because we don’t have a lot of depth.”
Senior Carley Causby returns at stopper, and Sarah Massengale — the leading scorer on the basketball team — will mind the net and have defensive help from senior Mollie Crawford.
Striker Jordan Suddath suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury last year, but Mahoney expects her to be at full speed because she has played most of the basketball season. Freshman midfielder Mayely Velazquez and sophomore wing Rachel Gleaton will key the offense.
“We should have a strong defense from the start, but all of our offensive players are young,” Mahoney said. “How they develop and handle the game will tell us early the kind of season we will have.”
Christian Heritage’s boys open their season against visiting Excel Christian on Feb. 18, with the girls opening Feb. 21 at Marietta’s Walker School.