published Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Lady Cherokees see state as realistic

Three Teams To Watch

1. GPS: Despite losing a large senior class, the return of junior forward/midfielders Keyle Snyder and Akia Harris and goalkeeper Savannah Williams give new coach Patrick Winecoff some talent to work with.

2. McMinn County: The Lady Cherokees will have as many as six college soccer signees and have the chance to compete for a spot in the Class AAA state tournament.

3. Notre Dame: The Lady Irish have strong senior and junior classes returning from a Class A/AA state semifinalist team.

Three Players To Watch

1. Samantha Green, Hixson: The reigning District 6-A/AA player of the year had 41 goals as a sophomore.

2. Hannah Henry, Chattanooga Christian: She had 16 goals and six assists in 2013, helping the Lady Chargers to the A/AA state quarterfinals.

3. Jessica Young, McMinn Central: She had 36 goals and 10 assists as a sophomore last year.

McMinn County girls' soccer coach Brittany Hart likes to set the bar high in expectations for her team. That hasn't changed from her first day on the job in 2012 to now.

Only this season, she has the talent to make the vision a reality.

The Lady Cherokees enter the 2014 season with five players who have committed to play college soccer, and with eight seniors they are the prohibitive favorites to claim the District 5-AAA championship.

"My expectations are very, very high," Hart said. "We won district last year, so we obviously want to do that again, but this year we'd love to win region and make it to state. I think that's a reasonable expectation.

"I'd never say we're going to win state, but I definitely want to get there."

Last season ended unexpectedly with a 1-0 loss to Warren County in the Region 3-AAA semifinals. It's a fact that Hart hasn't let her team forget, as a Warren County player scored on a corner kick in the 103rd minute.

"She brings it up a lot," senior midfielder Arielle Hansford said. "We've worked on corner kicks all summer long, and hopefully it won't happen to us this season."

Hansford and defender Callista Pascarella have committed to NCAA Division I Lipscomb. Midfielder Gabby Poston and defender Katelyn Hutchison committed to Division II Trevecca Nazarene, while defender Abby Younce will stay close to home and play for NAIA member Tennessee Wesleyan.

Senior goalkeeper Mayson Liner is still undecided on a college, but she will have options after recording 11 shutouts and allowing only 13 goals in 22 matches last year.

The defense was strong in 2013, but the team struggled to score at times, so most of preseason camp was devoted to offense.

"I think we focused on defense too much last year," Hart said. "This year, we've worked on offense a lot; we shoot every practice and we do a lot of shooting drills. We've been combining well together, and I feel we'll have the ability to score some more goals this season."

Hart also pinpointed freshman forward Abbie Vibbert as a potentially quick contributor in the Lady Cherokees' quest for their first state tournament in over a decade.

"We have a great amount of talent. We are skilled, athletic and have the ability to have a standout season if we play together," Liner said. "We are like a huge family, and the coaching staff is great, and for us to make a run toward state would mean everything. It would be awesome and we can do it, but it's going to take a team effort."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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