Glowing outlook for Lady Cyclones

  By Rebecca Pierson
  Asst. Sports Editor
  rpierson@starhq.com
  Carter County's boys are not the only ones ready to take it to the field in the coming weeks. The Elizabethton girls' soccer team is looking to be the top contender in District A/AA.
  Fifteen of the girls were recently in camp at UT-Chattanooga, and have used that experience to gel together as a team.
  With eight seniors on the roster, the Lady Cyclones are coming back this season with plenty of experience and leadership. Finishing 8-7 last year, the team is looking to keep its outstanding defense, but is also looking to increase its offensive capabilities.
  The first few years of the program, the team was allowing 60 goals a season. Last year, that number was cut in half, allowing fewer than 30.
  Senior Samantha McClay led Northeast Tennessee's A-AA and AAA players in scoring with 26 regular-season goals, six assists and 58 points. This year, the Lady Cyclones know that she will likely be heavily guarded and are looking to use that as an opportunity rather than a disadvantage.
  "This will be a challenge for the team because teams who have played her will draw a mark on her," head coach Bill McClay said. "There will be somebody that follows her around no matter where she is on the field and will try and deny her the ball. That will happen. That we will have to use to our advantage because that means that somebody is not paying attention to the rest of the game."
  "I hope that I do as well this year," Samantha said. "I will try to do my best and work hard on the field no matter what the score is."
  Leslie Bowers, Sarah Burgoyne, Savannah Cairnes, Maria Francisco, Dixie Hamilton, Abbie Jenkins, Karin Kitchens and Samantha round out the seniors on the roster.
  Junior Moti Agunbiade is a transfer from Indiana who Coach McClay is looking at to be a strong defensive edge. Jenkins aims to provide some ball-handling speed.
  "Last year I thought we went 12 to 13 deep but this year I have 15 that I can interchange, as of right now," Coach McClay said. "Hopefully that will get longer as the season goes on and they improve. Right now, because I have such a large group of seniors that have played four years, I think that things communication wise, the field is better than in the past.
  "We are doing defense better but we still have some technical things that we still have to do better. We have some girls who have never played, but they are athletic and have played other sports. We have talent all across the board."
  For the past few years, University High has been the team that has knocked the Lady Cyclones out of the district and regional championship. This year, the girls seem very motivated to not let that happen this season.
  "We are going to play hard against them," Samantha said. "We are just going to play aggressive and play to win. I know we can do it this year. We are ready. I think we are doing well. We did better at camp this year than last year. It was a good sign even though we didn't have everybody there."
  "We are more of a team this year than last year," said sophomore goalkeeper Sophia Murillo, who allowed only 1.3 goals per game last season. "We need to focus more on our offense than we did last year. We have a strong defense and a strong offense. Those were tough matches physically. We are just going to be the bigger team."
  "I think we should be competitive out in district," Coach McClay said. "I would hope that we will get back to regional play like we did last year. I would like for us to win the district. We have come in second for the past three years.
  "A couple of years ago we played [UH] twice, once in the district final and once in the regional final, both went into overtime and both games were lost by a goal. I would like to be on the other end of those games."
  "We are going to try some new things formation wise," he said. "I think it will work with the players we have. We need to maintain pressure on their goal. We have some tough matches. We open with Dobyns-Bennett. Tennessee High will be tough. South, Boone and Crockett are AAA schools, too."
  The four freshmen on the team are also very excited about what this season could mean for them.
  "I am extremely excited. I have played on other teams where everybody has their clicks, but here everybody has just seemed to come together," said freshman Mara LaPorte. "We have a lot of really good seniors. I think we are going to have a really good year."