By Joel Clinger for The Robertson County Connection
After many months of meetings and announcements, girls soccer is kicking off for the five Robertson County-area teams.
The atmosphere may look different with the ongoing pandemic and the health protocols that will be put in place to guard against it, but for right now, there will be soccer on the pitch.
Greenbrier, White House and White House Heritage all start up this week. East Robertson and Springfield are scheduled to begin play next week.
Below are breakdowns from each team in The Connection coverage area (2019 record in parentheses):
East Robertson (12-7)
The Lady Indians finished last season as the District 8-A runners-up and fell in the region semi-finals to York Institute.
East Robertson graduated three senior starters, including forward Izzy Lanius. Lanius scored 24 goals and added seven assists.
Senior midfielder Anna Hornberger is the only returning captain. Juniors Peyton Lackey, Madison Tatum and Reese Swearingen had prominent roles last season and will look to continue to grow as players and leaders.
East Robertson head coach Todd Evilcizer is pleased to have those four return.
“It makes any coach’s life easier,” Evilcizer said. “The other girls on the team know what those four bring – their skill level and talent. They have to try to match that, if you will, gain their approval with their work ethic and how they play. I’m counting on those four and a couple others to pull us through this year.”
Hornberger tallied 14 goals and four assists. Lackey scored 18 goals and assisted on 15 last season from the midfield position. Tatum was named to the All-District 8-A team as a defender.
Swearingen made 82 saves and had nine clean sheets last year, being named goalkeeper of the year in District 8-A. Coach Evilcizer is thrilled to have a sense of security with her in net.
“Any position like that, it’s comforting to know that you don’t have to stress about that,” Evilcizer said. “Last line of defense, solid hands. Any position that you can give me a quality kid that knows her position and can play it very well, that’s a lot less stress (on) me, having to watch and worry.”
All the pieces are in place for another solid season for the Lady Indians, as long as the season comes off as planned. Coach Evilcizer is also the coach of the boys team and saw firsthand what a canceled season looks like.
“We’ve seen it all now,” Evilcizer said. “Nothing’s guaranteed. Every time you step on the field, just like the old saying, more so than ever, play it like it’s your last. Play in honor of those who couldn’t play it before you.”
That record above may not look too impressive to everyone, but for the Lady Bobcats, it’s progress. Their four-win season was the second-winningest of the last ten years.
Third-year head coach Jonathan Sutton is ready to continue that improvement this season. But after losing two senior defenders from last year, he will have to move some pieces around.
“I really lost my senior leadership in the back of the field, so that’s going to be difficult to replace,” Sutton said. “Right now, we’ve had to switch some girls around, so I’m looking at starting three new defenders.”
Senior Leah Madrigal and junior Kyra Eberle will have a large part in replacing Morgan Shelton and Olivia Burns on the back line.
Junior Ava Pierce is set for her third consecutive year in goal, and coach Sutton is looking for her to be an even more solid final line of defense.
“I’m hoping she takes that next step,” Sutton said. “She was on my district all-tournament team last year, just because of how well she played against White House. They beat us 8-0, but the amount of saves she had in that game was phenomenal.”
Freshman Blair Pierce and sophomore Lauren Graeme will anchor the midfield. Sophomores Mya Saunders and Rebecca Stafford will lead the offense up top.
For the Lady Bobcats, the goal is to improve and compete. Success may not come in August without scrimmages and game repetitions, but later in the season, this young team could become a tougher out.
“A lot of this is (meant) to learn and get better,” Sutton said. “Then hopefully by the middle to end of the year, (we’re) competing by the end of the year and hopefully pulling out wins at that point in time.”
“Rebuilding” is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit when recuperating from a couple of personnel losses. Sometimes it’s overused and can become cliché, but the Lady Yellow Jackets are the best example of “rebuilding.”
Ten seniors graduated from last season, but that may not even be the worst part.
Molly Smith, a dynamite scorer, has moved on from Springfield and opted to play for the Tennessee Soccer Club, which is a member of the Elite Clubs National League. Smith tallied a total of 87 goals in two seasons as a Yellow Jacket. Her leadership, grit and initiative will be missed, as well as her 87 goals.
All in all, eleven leaders that were on the roster last year are gone.
Springfield head coach AnnMarie Turpen expected to lose these players and warned her team of the effect their departure may have.
“They understand that they’re going to have to work harder now, which is something we tried to tell them last year and the year before,” Turpen said. “So now they’re really going to have to put it into practice.”
With so much out the door, Turpen wants to shift the team’s focus on team building.
“One of our main goals is to be more team-focused, (to support) each other because we have lost so much, to create a motivating and encouraging team environment.”
Despite the losses, Springfield does bring back some experience and talent.
Senior Leslie Lujan-Luis has spent her years at Springfield in goal, but she is moving into more of a utility role, playing in the field as a sweeper and center midfielder.
Junior Reyna Torres was named to the All-District 9-AA team last season as a midfielder. She may be moved into a defending role as the entire back line has graduated.
Micaiah Harrison will step in as the goalkeeper. Jhirley Martinez Chong, Olivia Merritt and Esbeidy Garcia will need to step up in the field.
White House (8-13-1)
For the second consecutive year, the Lady Blue Devils’ win total fell from the previous season, despite being runners-up in Region 5-AA. A young roster did not allow them to capture the district title, but it will allow them to have more experience heading into 2020.
Several freshmen started last season for head coach Mike Felzien, who has spent 23 years at White House. With valuable scrimmages canceled, he will be relying on his girls’ playing experience from last season, a luxury not every team has.
“I think it’s helpful for us to have a lot of those girls back,” Felzien said. “That will benefit us rather than losing a big senior class and not having many juniors. Some teams may be struggling with that.”
Three seniors return for White House. Both forward Kaitlyn Stanfield and midfielder Ashleigh Spurlock had prominent roles on the team last fall. Defender Alexis Bess is rejoining the team after a one-year hiatus last season.
Sophomores Morgan and McKenna Potts return after impressive freshman campaigns. Morgan scored 17 goals last season for the Lady Blue Devils. McKenna was named to the Region 5-AA team as a defender.
White House will look to get back to their winning ways against White House Heritage this season after losing to the Lady Patriots all three times last fall, by an aggregate score of 20-3.
Coach Felzien understands this all-White House rivalry may be here to stay. He just hopes his team can stay with the Lady Patriots this year.
“It will be a definite rivalry,” Felzien said. “Last year we were not in their class. There was a big difference in our two teams, even though we made it to where we did. We knew as a team that there (were) a lot of improvements to be made.
“We just need to be competitive with them. It wasn’t that way last year.”
White House Heritage (12-3-4)
The Lady Patriots will look to defend their Region 5-AA title this season after a banner year for Heritage girls soccer.
The Lady Patriots defeated White House for the first time and swept the season series. They dominated the district and region tournaments but fell a couple of penalty kicks short of reaching the state tournament for the first time in school history.
The team has lost a few stars as well as head coach Rett Roach. Roach opted to focus on finishing law school at Belmont University.
Mark Redferrin will take over for him. Redferrin spent last season on the Heritage sideline as an assistant, but he was brought in to be the boys soccer head coach. He coached one game, and the season was over due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been the most bizarre year of coaching, I think, for everybody,” Redferrin said. “I was looking forward to the boys’ season, and the boys were excited and really embraced me as a new coach and a new faculty member. We get one game into the season, and the season’s over. It’s gut-wrenching.”
Redferrin, a 1993 White House High School graduate, hopes his girls team will have better luck this time.
“It’s been nice to come back home and reunite with some old friends. We have a great school, great faculty, great kids, so I’m just hoping we get to play some ball this year.”
Five senior starters graduated from last year’s squad. Eimy Esparza, Alex Green, Abby Tolbert, Mally Horn and Sadie Short all started more than one season.
“All five of those players are dynamic athletes,” Redferrin said. “Any time you lose almost half of your starting crew, that’s definitely going to change the dynamic of your team.”
With the holes in the starting lineup, players can now contend for more playing time, and coach Redferrin loves to see the internal competition for those spots.
“Everybody’s got a role to fill,” Redferrin said. “Who is going to step into those roles is (based on) who wants it the most. The competition level for positions on our team is exceptionally high this year because girls know that they’ve got a real opportunity to step in and get a lot of playing time or become a starter this year. So they’re working really hard to be one of those 11.”
Senior forward Cassie Gardner will head up the offense. Gardner scored 13 goals and assisted on 10 more. Senior midfielder Bekah Lamberth added five goals and 11 assists of her own.
Redferrin knows last season was great, but this is a new year with a new team. They cannot rest on their laurels if they expect to have similar success this time around.
“Every year is different. That’s the message I’ve shared with my team. This is your team this year. It’s going to be what you make of it.”