Its region shortcomings in 2012 gave the returning Hoyas extra motivation for 2013 and their critical goal of reclaiming their region championship has already been checked off.
“These kids took (losing region) to heart and knew they were the group that was going to have to win region back.” Harrison coach Jonathan Gross said. “I think we have a few kids this year who have been on varsity since they were freshmen. That can give you a few growing pains, here and there, and now we see the benefits paying off.”
But obviously there’s a bigger prize out there than a region championship.
The Hoyas (12-3, 7-0 in Region 4AAAAAA) may be the region’s top seed going into the Class AAAAAA state tournament but they haven’t advanced past the second round of the state tournament since they won it in 2007. They want to put a stop to that immediately.
“In order to keep moving on, we have to keep improving in every game,” senior defender Ryne Sieracki said. “We also have to get a full effort from the entire team, even the players coming off the bench. We know that it will take some special to beat (playoff) teams and we have something special to win those games.”
One special trait Harrison has this season that it may not have had in recent years is having at least one extremely talented player at all three levels on the field.
Sieracki has been labeled by his coach as both the “coach on the field” and the “soccer genius” in the back. Andrew Deltac is only a sophomore and has been the most reliable midfielder, and his numbers are consistent with 11 goals and nine assists. Senior Cole Guertin, who is leading up top with 18 goals and has three assists.
“When you have a player you can count on at every one of those levels, and the game gets tough,” Gross said, “those players have stepped up and helped us get the ball back and do what we need to do.”
Harrison has plenty of supporting players backing them up.
Midfielder Keegan Sanders may have only one assist on the stat sheet, but his primary strength is winning balls in the air. Goalkeeper Kevin McKay has 31 saves in 646 minutes of action and has given up just six goals. Midfielder Nathan Vickroy has seven goals and six assists.
What’s also helping the Harrison boys this season as opposed to last season is their mental toughness.
“One thing we do off the field is team building stuff and teaching kids how to work together,” Gross said. “We do a lot of ridiculous activities and little games.”
Harrison had three losses by one goal last season with two coming against region opponents. This year’s Hoyas have five wins by one goal the same margin with three coming against region teams.
Ironically, Harrison lost a pair of 2-1 decisions to Lassiter and Walton at the beginning of the season and those two goals ended up fueling them for 4AAAAAA play.
And if there were losing experiences that rekindled Harrison’s focus this season, it would be the one-goal losses to both Lassiter and Walton.
Harrison would go on and win eight straight games with three of them being 2-1 decisions over region opponents Campbell, Pebblebrook and Marietta.
Guertin scored the game-winner in the second overtime to help Harrison beat Campbell on March 8 after the Hoyas trailed at half. The Hoyas outlasted Pebblebrook in penalty kicks with McKay making a critical save that set up Nathan Vickroy’s game-winner March 26. Harrison also needed penalty kicks to beat Marietta two days later.
Although the Hoyas did fall to last year’s state finalist Centennial 1-0 prior to spring break April 5, they did bounce back to beat reining semifinalist Parkview by the same score a week later.
One Harrison wraps up the regular season at home against South Cobb on Friday and North Paulding on April 23, the Hoyas will be challenged to win the close games when the season is on the line.