The Lady Hoyas have played for state championships in three of the past five seasons, winning it all in 2011. It’s difficult to be that consistent if too many balls go into the net behind the goalkeeper.
Last season was a solid example of just how well Harrison defended its goal. The Lady Hoyas won 19 games last season, with 15 coming on shutouts. At one point in the season, Harrison blanked six straight opponents.
In 21 games, the Lady Hoyas (19-2) gave up more than one goal just three times.
With the experience and talent they expect to have on the field in 2014, Harrison could be just as stubborn on the back end. Only this time, the Lady Hoyas want to improve their scoring total.
Harrison was capable of scoring five to 10 goals against weaker opponents, but when the Lady Hoyas went up against stronger goes, they found themselves in frequent overtime and penalty kick situations.
Their season ended with a heartbreaking loss in the Class AAAAAA state championship game, when the Lady Hoyas lost to Parkview 2-1 on penalty kicks. That came after Harrison needed to beat Brookwood on penalty kicks just to get to the final.
If Harrison can continue to play the stingy defense like it has in the past, and boost their scoring totals may limit — or even eliminate — games coming down to penalty kicks.
“We spend time on every aspect of the game, but I’m hoping and praying that the scoring part of our team can do a better job than last year, and not rely on goalkeepers and defenders to constantly be on cue and not make a mistake,” Harrison coach Steve Riccard said. “I’m hoping the attacking end has more success.”
There are plenty of players up front Riccard has confidence in.
Senior Carly Rich, a Young Harris signee, has had a strong preseason. So, too, has junior Audrey Tanner (North Alabama commitment), and Riccard will finally get to see what junior Kellyn Dorsey is capable of doing after she missed the previous two seasons with injuries. One freshman forward, Jillian Bresko, could be a starter right off the bat.
Harrison will also return its leading scorer, sophomore Treva Aycock, and fellow sophomore Austin Bonham could get playing time up front.
“Those six are probably the group I will have scoring goals,” Riccard said. “We’ve done the right things, we’ve been in the right positions (to finish), but things have gotten in the way and we had a lot of games go into overtime and penalty kicks for some reason.”
Defensively, Western Kentucky-bound goalkeeper Allison Leone is back for her senior year and may share time with junior Kelsey Daugherty, who has committed to play at UAB. The Lady Hoyas also return junior defender Paige Porter (North Alabama commitment), but in Riccard’s 4-3-3 system —four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards — all position players are required to defend when needed.
Senior midfielder Savannah Vanderbeck is a returning third-year varsity player. Sophomore Lizzy Sieracki is back in the middle following a strong freshman campaign and senior Lauren D’Ambra will give it one last shot after rehabbing from a pair of ACL injuries.
“This is the first time we started out the season with Lauren and Kellyn both healthy,” Riccard said. “We have an experienced group (in the midfield) and they all bring a different aspect to the game. That’s what you want in a midfield, and our midfield is ready to go.”
After seeing today’s season opener with Lassiter postponed due to the threat of winter weather, Harrison’s season will tentatively begin Friday at Class AAAAA power Starr’s Mill. From there, the Lady Hoyas will face Walton, Etowah and East Coweta before beginning the Region 4AAAAAA schedule March 7 at Campbell.
By then, Harrison should have a strong indication of where it is, both offensively and defensively.