By Wil Crews
The Opelika High School Girls soccer team is full of youth. This year’s Lady Bulldog team consists of three seniors, two juniors and the rest underclassmen. But that doesn’t mean the Lady Bulldogs – winners of five straight area championships – are going to chalk this year up to growing pains or label it a developmental year.
“A big driving force on my varsity team is a lot of our ninth and tenth graders,” said OHS Girls Soccer coach Jaclyn Button. “It’s really exciting. But with that comes some inexperience. . . You know, good looking for the future of the program but definitely having to do some learning and just kind of learning how to play with each other.”
The girls already began their season last week. Their youth showed in a what was a disappointing loss against a well-drilled Trinity Presbyterian team from Montgomery.
“We’re still just trying to get our feet under us, get ourselves figured out,” Button said.
The very nature of playing sports in a pandemic only makes that process more difficult.
“We’ve had to make people flexible and make them learn every positon,” Button added.
Combine extra responsibility with the lack of proper fall workouts and an already inexperienced team and what do you get? A challenge. However, Button has already identified what the team needs to work on in order to meet their obstacles head on.
“We can always work on defense,” Button said. Defense in soccer – or in most sports really – is harder than offense. Attacking is straightforward. Put the ball in the back of the net. One stray pass in the opposition’s half of the field in unlikely to have any disastrous consequences. Conversely, the intricacies and timing of defense make it to where one mistake can cost you the game. Defenders have to be cohesive as a unit and understand how to read the entirety of the pitch.
“There’s always more stuff you can work on,” Button added. “First touch and everything. With a lot of the younger ones we are trying to work on reading the field, reading the game and knowing where to play.”
As far as the Lady Bulldog’s strengths go, “communicating on the field,” is their number one according to Button. Strong and concise communication allows the girls to play possession ball with teams and output a high passing accuracy, which will in turn lead to more chances near the opposition goal.
Button will be looking to her more experienced players to turn those chances into goals.
In the midfield, four-year starter and senior Eleanor Wilson will be given the reigns to direct play in the heart the pitch. “She’s one of my leaders,” Button said. “She’s one of our driving forces through the midfield. She’s had a lot of experience on varsity and she’s a good leader through the middle.”
Eleventh grader Phoebe Darcey is the anchor in goal. Darcey has been the starting goalkeeper since 7th grade, providing poise and leadership as a shot-stopping stalwart between the sticks for years now.
Amaya Brown returns for her sophomore season as the team’s leading goal scorer. And Button said she expects senior center back Abby Noon – who is coming off of an ACL injury last season – to be back soon. “She should be healthy by the beginning of March,” she added. “So we are excited about getting her back.”
When last season was canceled, the Lady Bulldogs were off to a hot 5-0 start. Just two years ago they went the furthest they’ve ever gone in program history, making it to the third round of the state tournament only to lose to the eventual champions. The perfect record has already been corner-kicked out the window for this season. However, Button and her team are remaining focused on one big-picture goal.
“Win the area and get back to the playoffs,” she said.