Youth may be a challenge, but it won't be an excuse for Science Hill's soccer team.
“I fully expect us to make noise in the postseason,” said Lady Hilltoppers' head coach Megan Harmon. “It's Science Hill soccer, and that's what we do. That's what I expect. That's the standard, and we won't lower our standard for any group.”
Heavy graduation losses don't mean the Hilltoppers will be starting over.
“I don't think it will be a rebuilding year,” said Harmon. “We will just be a different team. In the past we've relied solely on senior leadership. This year we have a lot of underclassmen who will step up to leadership.”
And if the first game of the season was any indication, things are headed in the right direction. Science Hill ripped the nets early and often to “welcome” Volunteer to the high school soccer ranks with a 14-0 whipping.
“Everybody has to start somewhere, and this is Volunteer's first year,” said Harmon, whose team travels to play Sullivan Central tonight. “Hats off to them. They came out and played the best they could.
“From our side, the girls approached it very well. They were very focused. They scored in the first minute, second minute and third minute. A lot of times it's hard to get up for a game like that, but the girls definitely responded and took care of business early.”
The main part of experience comes from seniors Grace Browder and Shelley Seaton. Both are in their fourth season as varsity contributors.
“Grace is a forward who improved tremendously in the offseason, and has taken the senior leadership role seriously,” said Harmon. “Shelley was a backup goalie last season, and she will play some in the goal this year and also out on the field as a defender.”
Leading the way this year for the Hilltoppers is a strong midfield, led by sophomore Hannah Torbett.
“She is an awesome distributor and has very good ball skills,” said Harmon. “Every play goes through her feet. She demands the ball, and knows what to do when she gets it.”
Rounding out the midfield are juniors Megan Lich and Nichole Fry along with Fry's younger sister, freshman Devin Fry.
Rachel Jones, who led the Lady Hilltoppers in scoring each of the last two seasons, is trying to work her way back from an ACL injury. Harmon said the team is hopeful the junior midfielder could return in time for postseason play.
Charged with protecting the Hilltoppers' net will be sophomore Taylor Kelley along with Seaton. In front of Kelley will be defenders Ashley Arthur (Jr.), Haley Torbett (Jr.), Tori Regan (Jr.) and Meredith Caveney (So.).
Sophomore Lauren Trent joins Browder up top.
Harmon said she believes her team will score some goals this season.
“We've not had a problem with shooting,” said Harmon. “We're getting plenty of shots on goal. And we tell the girls the bottom line is getting shots, and eventually they will fall.”
Getting the ball in the net may be more important this year because the defense is new and untested.
“Our bread and butter has been defense,” said Harmon. “This year we've really had to practice on defense.”
Harmon said a difficult schedule, which includes some tough tournament competition, should help prepare the Lady Hilltoppers for the district and beyond.
“We may take some games on the chin, but it will make us better,” said Harmon, whose team is expected to battle Dobyns-Bennett for the Big Seven Conference title. “Going to Hendersonville and Knoxville will prepare us for the postseason.”
Overall, Harmon said she likes what she is seeing from her team.
“The chemistry is getting there, the trust is getting there, and they are starting to be familiar with each other,” said Harmon. “We're pretty talented, and the girls are definitely interested in learning and getting better and growing.”