Lady Tiger soccer to go offensive in defending title
Young team stacked with scoring talent
Kasey Counts took one final look at the Kirkland Activities Complex scoreboard following the Broken Arrow Lady Tigers, 2-0, season-opening win over Fayetteville Friday night. It was déjà vu all over again and again and again, etc.
Zero on the opponent’s side of the scoreboard was common place a year ago when the Lady Tigers recorded shutouts in all but two of their games en route to a 17-0 season and a Class 6A State Championship.
“It’s been exciting, but I have also noticed the girls are pretty nervous,” Counts said in reference to being the defending state champions. “We kind of have a target on our back. We know that we are held to a high expectation and we want to meet that. We don’t want to break from our winning streak.
“The girls feel a lot of pressure. We’ve just been focusing on them settling down and playing their game. You know, doing what they love instead of trying to meet everyone else’s expectations.”
The coach’s goal may not be a shutout every game or even another perfect season, but Count’s asking for improvement from each player each game and repeating as state championship.
While this year’s team is talented, it is markedly different from the 2018 state champion squad.
Last year’s full roster was laced with as many as 16 seniors. This year, the most noticeable numbers listed in the “Grade” column are “9” and “10.” There are just six seniors on the 2019 roster.
“We’re really young this year,” an understated Counts said. “Last year we had a lot of leadership coming from our seniors. We have quite a few freshman and sophomores that are going to be starting for us.”
To that point, of the 11 Lady Tiger starters, seven were ninth and 10th graders.
In this case, however, young is a synonym for skilled.
“We’re going to be good this year,” Counts said, showing confidence in her underclassmen. “We have a ton of sophomores who came in very strong for us last year (as freshmen) and will be even stronger for us as sophomores this year. As those girls get older they’ll continue to get better and better.”
Offensively, the youthful Lady Tigers performed as their coach envisioned against the visitors from Arkansas.
Sophomore Amorette Ramos struck first with a goal outside the 18-yard mark. Freshman Brianna Castleberry beat a defender and knocked a shot past the Fayetteville goalie from eight yards away.
Though she didn’t put a ball in the net, last year’s leading scorer Hanna Chance, now a sophomore, is fully recovered from a broken foot and ankle injury she suffered in last year’s semifinal win over Norman North.
“It’s going to be fun because we get to play with our formation a little bit whether we’re going to play with one or two up top,” Counts said of the possible ways she can use Castleberry and Chance. “We’re going to be a little bit stronger than we were even last year. Our offense has started to flow, which is usually the opposite. It’s usually the defense that starts out strong early in the season.”
Such was the case in the spring of 2018.
“We were led from our back,” Counts said. “We lost our entire backline except for Mollie Breiner. She has slid to center back for us. She is going to play a very important role moving over from outside back this year.
“We have a whole new backline besides her. We’ve made some adjustments to get some speed in the areas where we need it.”
Peyton Pearson, a junior like Breiner, will be in goal again for the Lady Tigers. So, along with Eden Coffman, at center-mid, and midfielder Rebeca Garcia, who scored the winning goal in last year’s title game, the Lady Tigers aren’t fully devoid of experience on the backend.
With players in different positions and inexperienced players in other key spots on the defensive side of midfield, Counts does expect growing pains.
The defense will be tested Friday night at 6 as BA hosts Bishop Kelley, who is 2-0 on the young season with wins over two Arkansas teams – Conway and Bentonville West.
“I think our defense is where we really have to work this season,” the coach said. “Are we good enough to do a bunch of shutouts? Absolutely. It’s going to come down to if the girls can grasp the concept.”
After game one; so far, so good. The zero on the visitor side of the scoreboard was proof.