The Lady Hoyas amassed 18 shutouts in 22 games this season, with 16 coming consecutively. They gave up just four goals the entire season, and the one they yielded in the state championship against Grayson on May 17 was the first one they had surrendered since March 4 against East Coweta.
Harrison has always been known for shutting down the opposition, and coach Steve Riccard said at the end of the 2013 season that he requires all 11 players on the field — forwards included — to play a defensive role.
However, collecting shutouts wasn’t the primary objective for Riccard’s Lady Hoyas. They wanted a state championship this season, and nothing less.
Losing on penalty kicks to Parkview in last year’s Class AAAAAA state championship was devastating for Harrison, especially after it had lost to Northview in the semifinals the previous year, also on penalty kicks.
To avoid another similar ending, Harrison’s 2014 season began with practice the Monday after Thanksgiving. And nearly six months later, the Lady Hoyas won the Class AAAAAA state championship they had been yearning for, capping a 22-0 season with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Grayson.
Winning his second state championship in four tries, Riccard is the 2014 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.
“The highlight of the year, really, was that the senior class stepped up and led,” Riccard said. “They were enthusiastic, focused and motivated every day, in practice and in games. They coached the rest of the team up.
“They fell short their sophomore year, when we lost in PKs in the semifinals, and fell short last year in losing in penalty kicks in the finals, so they were hoping that the next time, this year, they would finally be successful.”
Riccard had Harrison playing its best soccer at the end of the season. Its last three wins came against Gwinnett County powers Brookwood, Parkview and Grayson, all of which were ranked in the top five all season.
The Lady Hoyas scored three goals in the first 16 minutes against Brookwood and held on to win 4-0. In their rematch with Parkview in the semifinals, they avenged the Lady Panthers with another 4-0 shutout.
Harrison’s lofty wins came down to preparation.
“We knew we could get to the finals,” said forward Treva Aycock, who led the Lady Hoyas with 38 goals. “It came down to how hard we had to play and how hard we had to prepare for each game. We prepared a lot for each game. Riccard helped us a lot by giving scouting reports.
Both of Harrison’s goals in the state final against Grayson came early in the second half, roughly 9 minutes apart, and both on crosses by Carly Rich. Audrey Tanner scored the equalizer, and Aycock tapped in the game-winner.
Grayson went on the attack during the latter minutes of the game, attempting to tie and send it into overtime, but Harrison’s stubborn defense denied the opportunity.
“We knew it was a matchup problem, with all the firepower (Grayson) had up top,” Riccard said. “We didn’t do anything special, I would say, as far as defending them. Our team defends well as a team, and we didn’t need to do any special wrinkles.”