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Ladies change things up in fourth year

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By Kristin Beck

The Lady Panthers soccer team will be changing up its style of play this season after three years of relying heavily on its defensive line.

Over the past three years, the team has depended on the defensive line to be the backbone and feed the ball forward, he said. This year, the team still has a great defensive line, but head coach Greg Damron said he wants to give the midfield more responsibility. The team also will switch to a stopper/sweeper formation. The goal is to control the ball more and translate that into wins.

It is a historic year for the girls soccer program, which will be graduating its first four-year class. Seven of the eight seniors have been with the team since its beginning – Carley Hunter, Angel Martinez, Sierra Martinez, Alex Skirvin, Nicki States, Kaylin Wallace and Alecia Winburn. Fellow senior Kayla Anderson is a two-year player.

“They’re the legacy, the first four-year players, some being four-year varsity players, Damron said. “It’s going to be a little bittersweet to let them go.”

Four-year starters Hunter, States and Wallace had to learn “in the midst of battle,” he said. They did not have the luxury of a JV team to gain experience. Damron said he will miss the seniors next year, but the girls coming up are learning skills at a high rate as the program continues to grow.

The team has just two middle school players this year – seventh-graders Taylor Lair and Amelia Service – but also has three who have never played soccer before – Kelly Reyes, Mary Rodriguez and Breanna Herndon. Damron said he has really been pleasantly surprised with them so far. “They’re focused, they’re coachable and as the season goes and they get more experience, they’ll be quite the soccer players.”

Challenger Soccer Camp, held July 29-Aug. 2, was mandatory this season for both the girls and boys team. Damron said that week alone helped the younger girls and he really got to see what the team could do. 

In the preseason, the Lady Panthers have been focusing more on passing and less on shots on goal, he said. They are working on spreading the field better and doing a lot of scrimmaging. Damron said he will be leaning heavily on States, senior Kaylin Wallace, junior Teresa Garrett, and sophomore Kelsey Wallace to control the field and distribute the ball. He wants to try putting Garrett in the goal on occasion so States can play the field, and he also needs to find a replacement for next year.

On offense, the Lady Panthers will be using shorter passes to move the ball, rather than the long ball. “It’s a whole change for everybody, even the experienced girls,” Damron said.

The team held its first ever alumni game Saturday, Aug. 3. Damron said he was pleased with the way the team passed and spread the field during the game. The girls competed against five college players on the alumni team, and everyone gave great effort and was focused.

On the schedule this season, Damron scheduled less big schools and more with a similar experience level. The Lady Panthers open the season at home Aug. 19, against Southern High School. The soccer program will host military appreciation night Sept. 14, with a doubleheader boys and girls game against Henry County. The annual cancer awareness night will be held later in the season.