Elizabethton soccer program hitting stride

It was rough going when head soccer coach Bill McClay began coaching the Elizabethton Cyclone soccer program five years ago, but with an influx of youngsters and a lot of improvement by some veterans the Lady Cyclone program now appears on solid ground.
   With a 10-4 record heading into tonight's conference finale with University High, the Cyclones, who broke the season scoring record in last week's win over Daniel Boone, can go into the Region 1-AA playoffs with confidence and a chance to advance.
   "We have learned how to communicate better on the field," said senior fullback Jessica Childers. "We know where everybody is going to be when then make their runs. We have a lot of young talent here now also."
   Sarah Smith - a junior mid-fielder who has tallied nine goals this season - acknowledged that a big part of the maturation of this squad has to do with improved scoring ability.
   "Since my freshman year we've improved a lot," said Smith. "We've improved on our goal scoring from year to year, we've won more games each year, and have come together as a team. We have some young talent here like Sam (McClay) that have helped a lot. Our communication on the field is better than any time in the past."
   The 'Sam' that Smith referred to is freshman sensation Samantha McClay who has tallied 27 goals on the season, and her scoring success has filtered down to some of the other players.
   Sophomores Ashley Green, and Katie Presnell have - along with Smith - each improved tremendously scoring-wise.
   "A couple of seasons ago when we had an opportunity on offense we just couldn't get the ball on goal, much less put it in," said McClay. "Last year we started getting a lot better, but this year were finishing. Were not only getting shots on goal, but they're going in."
   Coach McClay has seen a vast growth curve in his players scoring ability since the inglorious early days when the Lady Cyclones were consistently on the end of some lopsided scores, but patience and sticking to a course of action has proven fruitful.
   "The girls are growing into the program," said McClay. "Attitude wise, we're a lot more even, there isn't as much of the ups and downs. And we have been able to get better technically, where like last night (Tuesday), we didn't have our best game yet we were still able to win. That's something we couldn't do in the past."
   Starting a program at the 3-A level is especially daunting when you have to consistently play the likes of Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett and Tennessee High.
   As a coach starting a program at that level you know there will be some long nights and lots of frustration as the girls are basically learning as they go. And teams like Science Hill and D-B take no prisoners as the Lady Cyclones found out night after night.
   "I think once you start winning and scoring goals everybody wants to get involved," said McClay. "They pick their game up and like I tell the kids 'If everybody picks their game up a little, the team improves a lot' and I think were seeing some of that with this group of kids. It's a simple thing, but it really does seem to work."
   With winning comes a new attitude, and that rubs off on the younger players, who come in more eager and ready to learn. That and the team becomes more of a cohesive unit than a group of kids who happen to be on the same field together.
   "They have a much better sense of where they should be on the field, with or especially without the ball," McClay said. "It becomes a feel for where you should be, and you don't have to actually see a player, you know if there's an area that somebody should be in."
   For the Lady Cyclones tonight, the focus is on the Junior Lady Buccaneers -- a team that beat the Cyclones in the opener 8-3, but McClay thinks his squad is ready saying, "It's tough to get a feel for that game. It was so early in the season, and we really hadn't been together for that long. We scrimmaged them and lost just 1-0, so I have to feel that we can play with them."
   At stake is a higher seed in the playoffs which start next week. Game time is set for 5:30 p.m. at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City.