By JD McCarthy for the Opelika Observer

The Lee-Scott Warriors came into the season thinking they may be entering a rebuilding year but are now looking to make it to the state championship.

“Going into the season it was finish in the top two (of the area) and make the Final Four and now it’s legitimately make the state championship game,” Head Coach Missy Martin said.

Coming into the year Martin knew she would have “a new roster” coming off of a long break but new leaders have emerged, and the expectations have raised.

“They have turned it on, they are playing as a team, the team chemistry is fantastic, they are a good group of kids and I am excited,” she said.

The new roster has just two seniors after the Warriors graduated 11 players last season but has quickly come together under the leadership of Seth Roarke, Jackson Curry and Brandon “Oak” Wiersma.

Along with the leadership, the strong play of Roarks, Wiersma and Austin Duff in the midfield has propelled the Warriors to a 6-2 record.  

The offensive attack for the Warriors has been shouldered by Duff and Austin Marlin who have combined for 15 of the team’s 30 goals.

Duff, who plays the striker for the team, is a transfer from Auburn who joined the team in December and has wasted no time showing any Martin and her staff were excited to have him join the team. Leading the team with eight goals and has scored in five of their games including a four-goal performance against Fort Dale.

“We were super excited to have him. He has brought speed up to the top and he is fantastic,” Martin said. “He’s just a good finisher, he puts pressure on the back line.”

He has so much speed the coach of Heritage told Martin he changed his defense because he did not think he had anyone who could keep up with him, even though Duff did not score.

Marlin, who is just a sophomore, has matched him nearly goal for goal, scoring seven of his own from his midfield position. “His technical skills and speed are very, very good,” Martin said. “He can pull the trigger pretty quickly and yeah, he’s scored a lot of goals.”

One of the keys of the team’s success has been their commitment to retaining possession. Martin and her staff have prioritized quick, shorter passes over longer, flashier passes.

“It’s really tempting to send long balls, it looks easy,” Martin said. The problem? They only retain possession on them 10% of the time, which is why they are instead emphasizing

Quick, 15-to-20-yard passes with “limited touches.”

“We’ve really looked and focused on retaining possession through the midfield,” she explained. “We’re asking the boys to keep their touch limit to two to three touches then find a 15 to 20-yard pass, regardless of direction.” How often do they retain possession on these? About 85% of the time.  

Of the 11 players they lost one was the goalkeeper and Martin was left with two sophomores who each had only played one and a half games worth of game experience. However, Jacob Baker and Brendan Moore have both put in the work and have allowed just 12 goals in the eight games.

“They put in the extra time, Martin said. “They are both doing a fantastic job. Finding a new goalkeeper was a big get.”

It hasn’t just been sophomores and juniors stepping up either, as a trio of freshmen have emerged as contributors.

“Matthew Rolader had a hat trick against Autauga,” Martin said. “Ethan Kim, Landon DeGraffenried and Johnathan Meyers have stepped in as freshman and have really had to contribute at any position I’ve asked them to play.”

While the Warriors may be relying on some young players, they are playing beyond their years and are hoping to win the last two AISA stats champions after winning in 2019.