While football begins later in the week, the “real” fútbol teams will see opening action beginning tomorrow.
The action is expected to heat up in a District 5-AAA group that has seen all of its teams improve over the offseason, according to the local high school coaches.
Head Coach Chrissy McKinney lost a solid group of seniors, but is confident this year’s team will be able to pick up where the 2013 team left off.
“We’re going to accept every challenge and try to be as competitive as we can be. Winning does matter, but even more than that, I can see these girls finding individual wins with improvements and coming together as a team,” McKinney commented. “I love these kids as people, but we have a lot of work to do as players. I don’t have tons of experience on my team, but they learn something new every day. I see that growth and that’s what I really admire.”
Last season the Black-and-Gold group went 8-9 overall.
Bradley’s squad will be led by senior captains Caley Jones and Ashley Shoemaker, as well as junior captain Haley Yarber.
“Caley is definitely one that has a nose for the goal, and has been working really hard in the offseason to improve her speed. Ashley has been with the team for all four years also. We are using her in more utility positions because she knows the field and adapts well. We are looking to move her around quite a bit and use her energy and speed,” McKinney described. “Haley has always been strong and powerful on the ball, but I can see her really trying to get her head up in the game now, which was one of the challenges that I had issued to her.”
Taking over in goal is junior keeper Tara Blackwell.
The keeper’s twin, Sydney Blackwell, and other returning junior defender, Courtney Ford, will head up the team’s defense.
According to McKinney, freshman Hannah Dalton is another player they are expecting big things from once she recovers from an injury.
The duo of “Caley and Haley” is expected to once again lead the Bearettes on the pitch.
“Our biggest strengths are in the center forward and center mid, obviously with Haley and Caley. They connect very well and have been playing together for three years,” McKinney stated.
Junior Astrid Pineda will be working up front with Jones this season.
She worked on her touch over the offseason,” Coach McKinney commented. “She adores Lionel Messi and you would think he’s been giving her lessons with how she loves to work with that ball.”
The Bearettes were slated to begin their season this evening, but due to the heavy rains this morning making the field unplayable, the match against Hixson has been moved to Sept. 3.
Tuesday, Bradley Central heads to Warrent County for a 7 p.m. match.
Last year, Cleveland went 12-9-1 before its season was ended by Cookeville in the Region 3-AAA semifinals, by a score of 1-0.
While head coach Andy Byrd acknowledges that this year’s team will face a few more struggles than last year’s, he also expects to have a once-again solid soccer program.
“We’ve had a great preseason, which started July 9. We’re still going and having fun and have taken care of a lot of things,” Byrd commented. “It’s the fun part of the season now — games are fixing to start and it goes really fast from there. You put yourself on cruise control, sharpen the saw where you can and have fun with it. This season if you look at our games, our district is better. Our important games have always been the district ones, but usually they’ve been washes. The whole district has improved.”
Seniors Sarah Crump, Taylor Lopez, Sohara Perez and keeper Jenna Scoggins are expected to lead the Lady Raiders on and off the field.
In total, Cleveland has 11 seniors on its squad.
Coach Byrd is also excited about the group of freshman on the team this season.
“We’ve got a couple of good little freshmen who came up,” Coach Byrd declared. “It’s great to have a good group of freshmen in, and I’ve been surprised because I have two or three freshmen who will be starting, for now.”
The only area Coach Byrd expects to see some difficulties is in the team’s depth.
One match that the Cleveland coach is looking forward to is when the Lady Raiders take on McMinn County.
“I’m excited to see how good McMinn is,” Byrd proclaimed. “I want to see how good they are so that I can beat them the second time we play them.”
Before tackling the Tribe, Cleveland must first get its first opponent out of the way.
The Lady Raiders host East Ridge Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Greater Cleveland Soccer Complex.
If there is one team that should come out of the gates charging, it would be Walker Valley.
In his second year as head coach, Nate Brown has 16 players returning, seven of them seniors.
“Finishing with a .500 season last year was a great thing for us, but this year we want a winning season. Our goal is to finish high up in the district, hopefully in the top three,” Brown declared. “We’ve been working pretty hard over the offseason and we’ve been trying to identify and eliminate some weaknesses that we had. I think we will be pretty competitive this year.”
One such weakness came on the scoring front, which Coach Brown expects to see improvement in this season.
“This year we want to focus on scoring more goals and creating more opportunities. Last year I felt that our defense helped us out a lot and we needed a bit more of an attacking presence,” Brown explained. “I believe that we’ve got a little more offensive capabilities this year, attacking wise, and forward will be between Jade Mayo and Kayla Ellis.”
The coach expects senior Allyson Flock to once again be a leader.
“Allyson Flock has been a captain since her sophomore year. She’s been a consistent leader on and off the field.”
Currently there are two goalkeepers, Morgan Watson and Abbey Saunders, who are battling for the starting spot.
“Our starting keeper is up in the air at the moment. We’ve got two pretty good keepers, one is a senior and one is a sophomore. We’ve also got a freshman who should be doing good things in the coming years,” Brown stated.
Add in a solid group of underclassmen, and the Lady Mustangs are primed for even more success in the future.
“I’m looking for a couple of those players to really step up — I think that they can and will do that. I’ve got a good feeling about these sophomores,” Coach Brown explained. “I think we’ve also got a great group of girls who came up from middle school.”
The Lady Mustangs begin their season against Boyd-Buchanan, hosting the Lady Bucs at 5 p.m.
“We always like playing Boyd, it’s a good test of our team. If we can go out and get the win, it sets the tone for our season.”