The Lady Hoyas and Lady Raiders have shown an ability to win games without having to score much.
Harrison won a Class AAAAA state championship in 2011 by preventing other teams from scoring in the state tournament. And though Walton hasn’t tasted a state championship as of late, it made three straight trips to the semifinals from 2009-11 and has held teams to less than one goal per game in three of its past four seasons, including this one.
Now, the defensive-minded teams own the top two scoring threats in Cobb County.
Not only can Harrison sophomore Treva Aycock and Walton senior Leigh Purinton score goals regularly, they can score in bunches. Knowing that each team can easily fall on the wrong side of a 1-0 score in the playoffs — even with stout back lines — both players can ease the stress level of their respective teams.
“I sort of have to score because that’s what my job is, I guess,” Purinton said. “When I’m in front of the goal, its shoot, shoot, shoot, score.”
Aycock excelled as a freshman a year ago and was instrumental in helping Harrison reach to the Class AAAAAA state finals before it lost a heartbreaker to Parkview on penalty kicks.
As for 2014, Harrison (15-0) has a string of 10 consecutive shutouts going, with Aycock having scored 26 goals on the season. Her goal total could be in the thirties, had she not been taken out early during lopsided victories.
Aycock scored 14 goals in a five-game span in mid-March, with consecutive four-goal games against McEachern and North Cobb.
“She can pick up a loose ball, shoot it and score. You can’t coach that.” Harrison coach Steve Riccard said of Aycock. “Other teams are usually well-coached, and it takes someone of her caliber to break down a good group.”
Purinton has played varsity all four years for Walton, but she didn’t break out offensively until last season, when she scored close to 20 goals. In 2014, she’s helped the Lady Raiders to a 10-3-1 record with 28 goals, including five-goal tallies against Cherokee and Dunwoody.
Coincidentally, one of the few times Purinton has been kept out of the goals column this year was in a season-opening loss to Aycock’s Harrison team.
Scoring has become second nature for both players.
When asked how they can routinely find the net, even as opposing teams focus in on them, both agreed that taking shots with either their foot or their forehead have become “muscle memories.”
Both have done enough drills — 1-on-1, pass-and-shoot, attacking runs — growing up that they no longer have to rehearse scoring techniques when they have possession of the ball near the goal. If the net is somewhere in their line of vision when they have the ball, they can kick without thinking about it.
While their goal totals are similar, both players are having to play different positions at forward — Purinton at center and Aycock at wing.
Purinton’s job at center forward is being able to play in tight spaces inside the box, and it would be up to her to serve the ball to a wing moving toward the goal or keeping the ball and finishing a cross pass from outside the box.
Having to play in traffic much of the time, Purinton has developed both a power shot and finesse shot.
Aycock is having to adapt to playing outside this season after playing in the center last season. Having more space on the field to work with than a center forward, she’s required to be a good dribbler and shooter, and she has to use her speed to break away from defenders, with or without the ball.
If Aycock can break away, she’ll either take a pass from the box or the other side of the field. From there, she will attempt to score or send the ball off to an open teammate in the middle.
“In the beginning, it was kind of confusing,” Aycock said of the position change. “But once I got the hang of it, it became so much easier. It gives me more space to run into the side, make crosses and everything.”
Both say the downside of playing forward is constantly being marked by the team’s best defender.
When Harrison lost to Parkview in the state championship last season, Aycock said she had as many as four defenders on her. When she does get smothered, Riccard would sometimes switch her to the other side to shake defenders off.
Sometimes, Aycock is used as bait to allow other scorers like Melissa Cameron to pounce at the goal, hoping that would shake off the double-teams Aycock faces.
“When they mark her, it’s my responsibility to get her free,” Riccard said. “If a team decides to focus on her too much, do we leave her there as bait and go somewhere else with other kids, or do we free her up? Every game is like a chess match. You have to make a decision on what you want to do.”
Purinton admitted to being annoyed when she is sandwiched by defenders, but she can deal with it since it frees up teammates. When Purinton’s double- or tripled-teamed, Walton coach Sharon Loughran either moves her to another part of the field or moves another attacking midfielder forward to free her up.
“It’s one of the most annoying things in the world,” Purinton said. “It’s not soccer at this point. It’s like always having someone follow you around. If they can’t find me, great. If we go wide, great.”
Walton is benefitting from having more speed up front than a year ago. Playing on the outside, freshman Casey Wertz at outside can take some burden off Purinton, and the Lady Raiders have a healthier Kristen Loughran in the midfield after she missed much of last season with a knee injury.
Despite being covered or being free, both players have helped their respective teams offensively.
Harrison is averaging 4.5 goals per game. Last season, when Aycock was coming into her own, the Lady Hoyas averaged 3.8 goals, and the year before her arrival, they averaged 3.05.
Walton is now scoring 3.71 goals a game, after averaging 1.88 a year ago.