By Jeff Keeling
The Science Hill girls’ soccer team’s first major test of the season didn’t look great on the scoreboard, but it left first-year coach David Strickland highly pleased with the team’s progress – and certain which phase of the game needs the most attention.
“Where we have to get better is in the attacking third of creating explosive goal opportunities,” Strickland said after a 3-1 home loss Thursday to defending state runner-up Hardin Valley. “That’s where we’re not quality yet, and I believe it falls back on me to correct that and make us better there.”
The game, which was tied 1-1 until fairly late in the second half, yielded a number of bright spots, Strickland said. The Lady Toppers controlled possession nearly two-thirds of the game, and goalkeeper Taylor Kelly had five saves. The defense played well overall, with a couple of late mistakes leading to Hardin Valley’s breaking the tie with less than 20 minutes to play and getting an insurance goal with fewer than 10 minutes on the clock.
“TK (Kelly) had some great saves, and Brook Vogel, one of our center backs, stood out tremendously last night,” Strickland said.
What Science Hill lacked were solid chances in the scoring area. Despite the possession advantage, the team managed six shots on goal to Hardin Valley’s eight. More easy opportunities will come against quality opponents, Strickland said, when the girls become more proficient at using passing to move the opposition’s defense into vulnerable positions.
Some hopeful glimpses of that kind of production in the opponent’s end came when freshman Riley Cox entered the game as a substitute in the first half.
“Hannah Torbett had a great goal, and Riley did a lot of the creation for that goal,” Strickland said. “She pulled herself away from their center backs to be able to combine with Hannah in a couple of one-two passes. Her movement and searching for the ball and finding the right angles created opportunities to find chances in the final third.”
The Toppers created two or three such opportunities Thursday, Strickland said. “We need to be creating eight or 10 or 12 a game, but I’m pleased with our progress toward that. The nice thing is it’s fixable, and I think we have the tools to work with to get better in that area.”
With a deep team, Strickland said he may do some additional lineup tinkering to work toward increasing the number of good shot opportunities Science Hill can generate against quality opposition. “Sometimes a player’s producing and sometimes not, and I may need to switch and find a player that can produce some goals,” he said. “We’ve got to get some production in that third.”
As he did several weeks ago, Strickland still expects Dobyns-Bennett to be the most intriguing conference matchup, though he called Kevin Mooney’s Tennessee High team a sleeper. The Toppers visit Tennessee High Sept. 29, but before that they’ll face Blake Rutherford’s Lady Indians at home Sept. 15.
“That’s going to be a big match, and we’re hoping we can draw a good supportive crowd on that one.”
Thursday’s loss put Science Hill 3-1-1 in the regular season prior to a matchup with Daniel Boone Tuesday after News and Neighbor went to press. They’ve coasted to wins over Sullivan South, Sullivan Central and Volunteer by a combined score of 21-1, while the offensive struggles surfaced in a 0-0 draw with Morristown West.
Strickland hopes and expects the offense to have jelled further by the D-B game, and certainly by the Tennessee High matchup. He said Hardin Valley’s coach told him after the game the Lady Toppers were the best team the Hawks had played – and they had lost to another top team, Farragut, the night before.
“I think we found out against Hardin Valley we’re a pretty good team ourselves. We fix that one part of our game, we will be spoken of as one of the top teams in the state.”
Photos by Bart Nave Photography. See photo galleries at: www.bart.ifp3.com