Lady Cyclones aim to stay on upward path

By Allen LaMountain
ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
alamountain@starhq.com

   Under head coach Bill McClay, the Elizabethton Cyclones soccer program has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two seasons -- his 2001 squad winning 10 games and making the regional round of the Region 1-AA playoffs -- the 2002 Lady Cyclones have vowed to "go even further and be even better."
   That may be asking a lot from a group that fell 2-1 to Gatlinburg-Pittman in the regional last season, but this is a young, determined bunch that has talent and can score goals in bunches.
   "We have a team that is fairly similar to last year," commented coach McClay. "The biggest thing we have to do is replace Sarah Smith, who has decided not to play this season. She was our center-midfielder, and that's a tough spot to play. I expect for the first one-third of the season to experiment with the lineup and try to find the right chemistry on the field."
   Sophomore Samantha McClay will be the focus offensively as the tiny scoring machine netted 27 goals for 'Betsy last season, but she isn't the only scoring threat EHS has going for it this coming season.
   McClay may be moved to Smith's center-mid spot in order to create more room for her to operate.
   "It will be a different role for her," said coach McClay. "Since Sam is so little she gets pushed around some up front, so I think if we move her back she will have more open space to move in. She is so good with the ball on her foot that she can create (scoring chances) for other players."
   Tracey Smith, Katie Presnell and Ashley Green all have scoring potential, but McClay isn't sure yet where each will be used on the field as yet, saying: "During different parts of the game we may end up shifting some players around a bit. Last year at different times we moved Ashley Green to the defensive backfield to give us more speed in the back. Whatever works best against an opponent..."
   McClay acknowledges the versatility his team has, but also knows that speed upfront is what scores goals.
   "I think overall and especially in the attacking end, we are a very fast team," McClay said. "A lot faster than most teams, but maybe not quite as fast defensively, which is why we need Ashley back there. She is probably the fastest player on the team."
   One change will be sophomore Maria Francisco taking over the goalkeeping duties from graduated senior Mary Gleason. Francisco got playing time last season, so it won't be like learning a new position for her.
   From a leadership standpoint, McClay doesn't think his squad will lack in that department even though his team has just two seniors.
   "Each year is different in high school because players, whether they were leaders or not, may not be there the next year," he said, "and at any given time this season we will have only two seniors on the field. I don't think you have to be a senior to be a leader because we have a good group of sophomores and juniors that have played a lot."
   Having scored a whopping 53 goals in the 2001 season, McClay is hoping that his squad can continue to improve offensively in order to take some pressure off his team on the defensive end.
   "Hopefully we can continue to score like we did," McClay said. "We had 53 goals last year and took a lot of shots, but you never know from year-to-year, or even game-to-game. You can't try to hard to replicate what you did previously. You end up putting too much pressure on yourself."
   One obstacle the team needs to overcome is the Lady Buccaneers of University High, who tripped up the Cyclones three times last season -- including a 4-1 loss in the district contest.
   "This is a team that has had to work for everything they got," said McClay with obvious pride. "Nothing has been handed to them, and while a lot of this team is younger I don't have to drag effort out of them. Maybe this is our year to get over the hump with UH."