By Sports Staff
The new season in local high school girls soccer will be new in a lot of different ways.
There are new coaches at Coahulla Creek High School and at North Murray, and the Christian Heritage girls will be making a new journey in a new league.
But there are several constants as well. Dalton’s girls are looking for a return to the playoffs after behind the only team to make the Georgia High School Association playoffs last season. Southeast Whitfield coach Kevin Kettenring remains the coach of the Lady Raiders, but he will have additional duties as the new coach of the Raiders as well.
Coahulla Creek’s Eric Parker will also be pulling double duty as the coach of the Colts and Lady Colts.
While the Lady Lions face an uphill campaign in their first year playing against GHSA competition, coach Adam Bolin said the climb would have been steep whether in the GHSA or in the Georgia Independent Schools Association.
“In general, whether we were in the GISA or the GHSA, it would be a challenge just because we lost eight seniors and they were a big part of the team with experience and leadership,” Bolin said. “It is a process to rebuild and regroup and move forward.”
But moving forward means there is little comfort in last year’s 11-3 campaign in which Christian Heritage advance to the GISA state quarterfinals.
The Lady Lions are in Area 7-A with Darlington, Mt. Paran, North Cobb Christian, Trion, Walker and Whitefield Academy. The top three teams from the area will advance to the state playoffs, with the regular-season champion receiving a bye in the first round
“We have a very young team, but we have a good corps of girls to build on and come back,” Bolin said. “We are excited about the transition to the GHSA and are excited about the challenges to come.”
Molly Crawford was a GISA All-State selection last year, and the junior will be counted on to step into the leadership role from her center midfielder position.
“She is very much a leader, and she has been contributing in a lot of really big ways,” Bolin said.
The Lady Lions have also been shorthanded in practice as a good chunk of the roster is either on the basketball court of involved in other activities right now. Goalie Sarah Massengale, forward Jordan Suddeth and defender Ransley Defoor are the main returners missing, while two-year part-time starter Kamie Amos, who is already out at practice, will assume a bigger role this season as the starting forward.
“Our numbers are small right now, and we have basketball and cheerleading going on, so some of the girls will take a little time to get in soccer shape,” Bolin said. “We will see what happens, and once we get them out, we should have 14 to 17 total on the roster.”
Christian Heritage opens the season March 2 at home versus The Walker School.
The Lady Colts were surprisingly competitive in their inaugural season with an 11-3 record, but they start the second year with a new coach, missing some players from last year and looking toward the freshman class to fill some holes.
Parker has taken over as coach of Coahulla Creek’s boys and girls teams, and just six players are back from last year’s team. The Lady Colts narrowly missed out on a trip to the Class 2A state tournament after suffering a penalty-kick loss to Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe in the region tournament.
“Right now, the challenge is finding the people in the right spots and making decisions to create opportunities on the offense and stop teams on defense,” said Parker, whose team will compete in Region 5-3A. “We want to find the right formations to find out where people need to be.”
One person who is in the right spot is sophomore forward Regina Pacheco. After scoring 24 goals as a freshman, Pacheco will be expected to contribute more despite defenses focusing on her.
“She has a lot placed on her shoulders. She has to contribute and find a way to get goals for both herself and the other players,” Parker said. “We have to find a good way of getting the ball to her and let her use her talents. When she finds her opportunities, she can lead us to wins.”
On defense, returners Maria Vazquez and Gisel Maldonado will be on the back line, while Melanie Pacheco returns at midfielder. A lot of the other starting positions are still up in the air.
“It is a work in progress,” Parker said. “The girls have been working hard, and we are real curious to see how everyone is looking as the season starts. We have an idea of where we are going, and we are trying to advance where we need to for the girls to be successful.”
Coahulla Creek opens the season by hosting Northwest on Friday.
The Lady Catamounts had a small senior class in 2011 and lost just three starters to graduation, but they’re not exactly reaping the benefit one would expect the following year.
“We were looking to only have a few shoes to fill,” Dalton coach Tony Carlson said. “I already had a couple players in mind to fill those spots. ... (But) since the end of the season last year, we’ve had various players not return.”
Center midfielder Ale Salaises, sweeper Chyio Carrizales and right midfielder Yanet Hernandez are the returning starters from last year’s squad, which was the only area girls team to reach the GHSA state playoffs. Dalton lost in the first round of the Class 3A bracket to Gainesville and finished the year 9-4-1.
Region 7-4A is sub-divided, and Dalton joins Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield in Sub-region 7B. The top four teams from each sub-region advance to the region tournament, and those reaching the semifinals earn a spot in the state playoffs.
“That lineup, there’s a slim margin of error,” Carlson said. “Northwest, last year even though it was a non-region game, they played us 2-1. Southeast was a one-goal game. Heritage beat us 1-0 last year. I’m looking at a very tough sub-region.”
Carlson expects freshmen twins Mia and Callie Smith to be among possible contributors, and Alex Brumbelow could challenge for the goalkeeper spot. Both are currently playing basketball for Dalton, which will compete in the Region 7-4A tournament this week.
“The positive side to this in the short time we’ve had to look at players and positions is I’m very pleased with what we’re looking at,” Carlson said. “Last year we were blessed with a very talented freshman squad. This year we’re blessed with an equally talented freshman squad. We’re going to be a talented young squad.”
The Lady Cats’ season opens Friday with a home match against sub-region foe Ridgeland.
A new program, a coach new to the task and a roster full of players new to the sport.
There’s a lot of fresh things about the Lady Tigers.
Irene Quintero is Morris Innovative’s coach in the inaugural season. She tried starting a team last season, she said, but not enough girls were interested. The Lady Tigers’ roster includes 12 names, with the potential for additions.
“This year we were able to round up a good amount of girls,” Quintero said. “The girls are excited to have a team.”
On a team full of people with little organized soccer experience, senior midfielder Alejandra Hernandez might be one of the stars.
“She has a lot of experience,” Quintero said. “She has been playing since she was a little girl. She has played a lot in leagues in the community.”
Quintero also noted Midfielder Liz Arezalos as another quality player.
“I think them together forms good chemistry,” Quintero added. “They help keep the team running pretty smoothly.”
This is the coach’s first gig, but she has a lot of playing experience. A 2008 graduate of Dalton High, she played in many community leagues growing up.
“This is my first time coaching, so it has definitely been a learning experience for me as well,” she said, noting the team has practiced for around two weeks. “I’ve seen my girls progressing since we started.”
Morris Innovative, which will compete in Region 7-2A, begins its season today at home against Pepperell.
Experience on the field is something the Lady Indians will not be lacking this season. Experience with success is.
Murray County returns seven starters and will have 10 seniors on the roster this spring, but the Lady Indians were winless last year while playing in Region 7-3A. Now, Murray County has moved down in classification to Class 2A, and coach Mandy Ledford welcomes the change.
“Moving down to Class 2A makes me super optimistic,” Ledford said. “We have a lot of experience coming back, and we are hopeful for a successful season. All of the girls are hard workers, and I am very proud of the girls.”
A big reason for optimism is the return of senior goalie Kelsey Pack, who Ledford said will play in college next year at Tennessee Temple.
While Pack will key the defense, senior forward Nayeli Jacobo returns as the leading scorer from last year. Jacobo will be joined up front by senior transfer Yasmin Flores. Senior Elizabeth Lara will be behind the front line at sweeper with Catherine Gonzales at midfielder.
In front of Pack, senior Jennifer Mora will key the defensive effort.
“The experience we have coming back should be a big boost for us,” Ledford said. “We have some good leadership and some good young players, too. We are all looking forward to the year.”
In Region 7-2A, the Lady Indians will play a full region schedule, with two games each against the other eight teams in the region, including Morris Innovative.
Murray County opens the season on Wednesday against Pepperell.
By the rule of progression, the Lady Mountaineers could be in for a breakout season. After going winless in 2011, North Murray was a .500 team last year, barely missing out on the playoffs.
But by contrast, the Lady Mountaineers will also have their third coach in three years and have just three seniors on the roster.
Justin Frazier, who has been an assistant to boys coach Matt Chambers, takes over a girls squad that has little experience and is in need of stability.
“The main thing is we will be implementing a system,” Frazier said. “Some normalcy is needed for the girls. They have been in transition from season to season, and we will be working on fundamentals. We will be running a little bit of a different system.”
So far, Frazier said the Lady Mountaineers have adapted well. If it is the same system used with the Mountaineers, it should mean an increase in wins. North Murray’s boys won the region title and advanced to the Class 2A state quarterfinals last season.
“The girls have been reacting very positively,” Frazier said. “They have been training in the offseason to get better. We are looking forward to a new season. There will be some bumps, with a few hiccups here and there, but so far it has been pretty smooth.”
Lydia Terrazes will be counted on for leadership as one of the few returning seniors with experience. She will anchor the defense, while Frazier said offensive production will likely be provided by a pair of sophomores.
Leigha Taylor will start at forward, while Victoria Jacobo will be in midfield, and how those two underclassmen handle the pressure of the season should be a good gauge of how the team will perform.
“When you are dealing with underclassmen, you want to keep the confidence level high and keep the aggression up there,” Frazier said. “It is easy to be intimidated. We want to build confidence.
“I like a challenge and being with a young team,” he said. “I like to come in and get things fixed and going in the right direction.”
The Lady Mountaineers will open the season at home on Feb. 26 against Ringgold.
The Lady Bruins return nine starters from a team that struggled last season in a higher classification.
Northwest will lean on midfielders Selena Gomez, Ashlee Huyhn and Courtney Pendergrass, defenders Vanessa Vega, Krissy Maciejewski and Paige Smyth, forwards Andrea Garcia and Juliana Gomez and goalkeeper Gracie Holmes.
“Almost all except for maybe two or three have played varsity together,” Northwest coach Anna Stutts said. “I think with some of the new girls coming in, I told them, ‘We played those harder Atlanta-area teams and our record was horrible but we competed.’ I said, ‘This is our year to make a run and try and make it to state.’”
Jessica Romero was the only player lost to graduation.
The Lady Bruins went 4-11-1 last season while playing in Class 4A as part of a region stocked with teams from the Atlanta area. This year the team is in Sub-region 7B-4A with local rivals Dalton, Southeast Whitfield and others.
“They’ll have to work for it,” Stutts said. “Dalton is always a great game, Heritage is always a powerhouse and Southeast is always a rivalry.”
The team will use a 4-3-3 formation, which Stutts said offers more scoring opportunities and takes advantage of each player’s natural position. With that, she believes the team’s all-around experience will help make a postseason run.
“Even the girls who we’re filling in on spots, there’s nobody who is on varsity and hasn’t had a taste of varsity at some point,” Stutts said. “They might not have started, but they saw time on the field.”
Northwest opens the season Friday at Coahulla Creek.
Lady Raiders coach Kevin Kettenring is hoping for more consistency and more chemistry.
In the end, he hopes that equals a spot in the state playoffs.
“Last year was rough,” said Kettenring, who will also coach the boys team this season. “It was up and down. We had some really good matches and fell flat in many. It’s a matter of chemistry and getting them to play better.”
After missing out on the Class 3A playoffs, with rival Dalton earning the region’s final spot, the Lady Raiders return six starters from last season. Five of them are seniors.
Kettenring said making the postseason is the only option to keep the program moving forward.
“We’ve got to,” he said. “We really need to keep building. ... It’s difficult now that we’re in a sub-region. We just have to take care of business. Heritage is quality, along with Dalton and Northwest.”
Forward Alejandra Lerma, midfielders Diana Paramo and Andrea Lopez, defenders Anahy Rangel and Karina Villa and goalkeeper Maria Canales will be important players. Lopez is a junior, while the others are seniors, meaning this year’s underclassmen will need to gain experience quickly to prepare for the future.
Even of the team’s ninth-graders are also expected to contribute.
“This freshman class, we’ve got three or four who will be called on early,” Kettenring said. “Just as a class, we’ve got some who will be contributing. You don’t lose five or six starters and just jump back into it. So we’ve got to be able to bring them along and let them see some experience so they aren’t deer in the headlights next year when we have these gaps.”
The Lady Raiders, who went 6-5-1 in 2012, open the season March 1 at home against Sub-region 7B-4A foe Ridgeland.
— Sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield compiled this report.