Harrison (19-1) has won its last 17 games, while Parkview (19-3) is on a seven-game winning streak. The Lady Hoyas are 13th in the nation according to the latest National Soccer Coaches Association rankings, and the Lady Panthers have a pedigree of six state championships since 1997 — including a penalty-kick victory over Harrison in 2009.
It’s the biggest stage of the season for both teams, but Harrison coach Steve Riccard doesn’t quite see it that way.
“We don’t think about (the) fear of losing, and we don’t really think about how many games we’ve won,” he said. “We take it one game at a time. The way I try to coach the kids is get the 1 seed, get in the playoffs and then we start all over because it’s the tournament. Then, we refocus. We throw all those other things out.
“At the tournament, everybody’s 0-0 and anything can happen. You only have to pull off a miracle for 80 minutes, and anybody can do it.”
It’s a mentality that’s helped Harrison become a perennial championship contender.
“We’re always, I think, very prepared to play,” Riccard added. “We’re as motivated as any team. We’re motivated to continue to achieve our success and think about the positive things. We don’t really dwell on any records or how many games we’ve won or anything like that. We’re just trying to win the game.”
Each of Harrison’s four playoff games have grown more challenging, beginning with a 10-0 rout of Valdosta in the first round, and culminating with a 1-0 penalty-kick triumph over Brookwood in the semifinals.
Today’s championship should prove to be the Lady Hoyas’ biggest test yet.
“We knew each round would be successively more difficult, and it’s proven to be just as we imagined,” Riccard said. “We imagine (today) will be another even more difficult matchup, and it’s going to take each kid to pull from deep within to do more, whether they’re starting or not.
“It’s about doing the dirty work and doing the little things and paying attention to detail, and then trying to find a way to win the game. It’s not always pretty, and sometimes you have to be resourceful and dig down deep, and that’s what those kids can do.”
Several players will be counted on to come through for Harrison. Senior captain and four-year starter Monica Herrera is always upbeat and always wants to compete, according to Riccard.
“The team drives off her enthusiasm and energy,” the coach said. “We can’t train hard enough ever for her. She’s really the instrumental cog of the team.”
Key contributions will also have to come from forward Treva Aycock, a freshman who leads the team in goals, defenders Paige Porter and Rachel Dymecki and the goalkeeping tandem of Allison Leone and Kelsey Daugherty.
“Any time you have good goalkeeper play and a kid who can score goals, you’re going to find yourself in a lot of games,” Riccard said.
Both teams are already familiar with one another, having faced off at Parkview on April 13 this. Harrison won 2-1 after taking the contest in penalty kicks.
“It was the Saturday after spring break and it was the first day that the kids had to play on a hot day and in the sunshine,” Riccard said. “It was a very competitive and entertaining game. Both teams played good soccer.
“(Parkview is) very big and they’re very athletic. We’re going to have to play the way we play if we’re going to have any success against them because they’re gigantic. I don’t have a very big team, but I have a very skillful and very fast team.”