While Cleveland will hoof it to Cookeville for some cross-regional competition, both county schools will play at home, with the Lady Mustangs hosting Boyd-Buchanan at 5:30 p.m. and the Bearettes taking on Chattanooga Central at 6 p.m.
For newly returned coach Chrissy McKinney, her team is an encouraging one.
“First and foremost, I think that our team is positive. They are all focused, every time that they come out everyone is ready to play,” McKinney said. “The girls that I have this year are really encouraging. They work very hard and they pay attention.”
Under coach Tiffany Walker, the Bearettes went 8-5-3 last season. Leadership will come from sophomore Haley Yarber and seniors Lydia Brown and Monse Rincon.
For the head coach, it is important for her team to have the best experience possible.
“My goal as a coach is to work hard for the team I have at Bradley Central,” McKinney explained. “These girls are at this school at this time for a reason, and I want to help them have the best experience through their involvement with Bradley soccer.”
With an always competitive district, McKinney knows the season will be a hard-fought one.
“We’re in a very strong district — our whole district is going to be game-for-game. I think that all three Cleveland schools are going to be close and we’ll all probably fight to the end,” McKinney said. “The thing that I try to make my players understand is that you work hard to earn what you get, and so do the other teams. On the day of the game you’re the same as they are, so you play with heart every time you go out there.”
The Bearettes have been busy working to improve their positions on the field, and McKinney hopes to have a fully functional team on the field at all times.
“One of our biggest things will be utilizing all 11 players on the field. If a team is going to try to shut down any one player we’ve got to have the strength in other positions to pick up the slack. We’ve been working on sharing the ball around and trusting other positions,” McKinney commented. “We lost two girls from last year’s team, so we’ve been trying to move people around and fill those spots. We gained back some players who were at our virtual school last year.”
McKinney expects big things out of Caley Jones and senior Megan Howell offensively. Goalkeeper will be the almost 6-foot-tall Brown, who is back at Bradley after a hiatus. Junior Tara Blackwell is the Bearettes’ backup keeper. Junior Ashley Shoemaker is expected to play a strong role on defense.
Cleveland head coach Andy Byrd was not exactly pleased with the way the Lady Raiders’ season ended last year, but hopes that the girls have grown from it.
“Overall last year we actually didn’t do very well at all. We were eliminated in the district play-in by Soddy-Daisy. That was the first time since 2005 that we haven’t been in the district championship. One thing I think the girls learned last year is to realize that on any given day, on any given moment you can get beat,” Byrd stated.
The Lady Raiders went 8-7-5 last season, and have 10 returning starters. Team captains are seniors Calli Baker, Lorne Conn and Kendall Hamilton.
Cleveland has seven returning seniors this year who are expected to lead the team.
“All of our seniors are quality girls who get playing time,” Byrd commented. “They’re leaders and it’s fun to have a solid group in leadership roles that are prepared to take us to the next level.”
Byrd feels the team isn’t quite where it needs to be yet, but knows things will come together after the first few games.
Junior Jenna Scoggins will hold things down in the net, with Baker and Sarah Crump playing strong defensive roles.
Junior Sohara Perez, Senior McKenzie Harris, Sophomore Sam DeBien, and Hamilton make up an offensive combination that Byrd describes as “devilish.” DeBien led the Lady Raiders in scoring last season.
Coach Byrd has three goals this season: win the district, win the region and go on to the state tournament.
“The key with this sport, in my opinion, is that you have to have the substate game at home, so you have to be the regional champion. Home field advantage in substate is paramount,” Byrd explained.
According to Walker Valley’s new coach Nathan Brown, a formerly struggling team is now in transition.
“I think this team has definitely evolved since last year. We’ve got a good team dynamic at the moment, and we have a good core of girls,” Brown commented.
The Lady Mustangs have a solid group of freshmen this year who came from an undefeated Ocoee Middle School team.
“They’re freshman girls, so it will take a while for them to adapt. Their sophomore and junior years, we’ll see their best from them. It’s always great having a good relationship with the middle school,” Brown explained.
Team captains this season are junior Allyson Flock and senior Cassie Craft.
Walker Valley has quite a competitive schedule this season, in both their conference and non-conference games.
“This year our schedule is stacked. Our first game is against Boyd-Buchanan and we play GPS. My thinking behind that is that if we can compete at a decent level outside of the conference that we’ll be better prepared and will do well in the conference,” Brown said.
As of now, juniors Abbey Sanders and Anna Summers, as well as freshman Morgan Watson, are all still pushing for the starting goalkeeper spot.
Senior Kenzie Morris and freshman Isabel Swafford will be pivotal for the Lady Mustangs’ defense.
According to coach Brown, Craft, who is currently dealing with an injury, will be the main target up front. Sophomore Jacey Edwards as well as a couple of freshmen are also working their way up offensively.
“We’re taking it step by step. As you can see in the record, they only won two games in the regular season last year, so we definitely want to get to .500-plus. I want to get to at least a 50/50 average,” Brown explained.