By Jeff Keeling
Science Hill girls’ soccer team’s main challenge won’t be putting the ball in the net this fall, first-year head coach David Strickland said.
“We’re going to be a goal-scoring team, I know that,” Strickland said after the Lady Hilltoppers dismantled Elizabethton 6-0 in a pre-season scrimmage at Science Hill’s Kermit Tipton stadium Thursday. “We have five, six, seven players that can score multiple goals. Defending as a group of 11 is my biggest concern, and our focus of getting that to where we’re much more sharp than we are now.”
Strickland, who led Science Hill’s boys to the state championship game in his first campaign leading that team last spring, said he has a deep team and hopes to cap its 12 seniors’ careers with a deep postseason run. The Lady Hilltoppers were eliminated in the regional tournament last year.
“We have great potential to advance,” Strickland said. “It’s just getting the chemistry down to be able to dominate play and score goals and defend real well.”
He is implementing a similar ball possession philosophy to the one that carried the boys team so far last year. It’s a different approach, but he said the girls are picking it up well.
“The set up is a little different as far as the system goes (from the boys team), but the philosophy of the possession style is similar,” Strickland said. “We move the ball to make other teams move. We’re moving them so we can expose space.”
The style incorporates a lot of running, relying on not just passing precision but fitness – both endurance and strength. “We incorporate a lot of cross fit sessions. There’s a lot of running and things they’ve just never experienced. That and understanding the system of play and learning about it. It’s been pretty heavy for them, but they’ve responded very well.”
Strickland mentioned seniors Hannah Torbett and Lauren Trent as two of the offensive stalwarts. Behind them, senior Brook Vogel will help anchor the defense, along with senior goalkeeper Taylor Kelly. “She has a lot of competition but seems to be coming out half a step ahead a lot of the time,” he said of Kelly.
When the 50-50 balls start flying around the midfield area or possession is lost, senior Meredith Caveney will be another key, Strickland said.
“Meredith Caveney is going to be a player that a lot of people won’t notice because of her role, but she will be a strong player for us. She’ll do a lot of the dirty work, which is winning a lot of balls and getting it back in possession for us.”
The Lady Hilltoppers don’t have a tradition of state tournament appearances, but Strickland said the pieces are there for that to change.
“That’s where I feel we can be, and the goal is to be in that final eight, trying to establish something new where when they start talking about quality programs in the state, this program is spoken of.”
With the city’s feeder programs and Science Hill’s enrollment, Strickland said, “we should be able to get there. We have the quality to do it this year.”
Should that tradition start to be established as soon as he thinks it can, Strickland said, the Toppers also have a strong core of underclassmen.
“We have some very, very good young players that are sophomores and juniors,” he said. “Looking down the bench, I’m 16, 17 players deep right now.”
While Dobyns-Bennett is always a difficult conference foe and Strickland also expects Tennessee High to be tough this year, the measuring stick will be games against Knoxville-area schools Farragut, Hardin Valley and Bearden.
“Those are the teams that regularly qualify for state, and we play each of them in the regular season, which I like,” Strickland said. “Coach Harmon (previous coach Megan) did a good job putting the schedule together.”
Science Hill plays Hardin Valley at home Aug. 27 in its third regular-season match. Strickland will know a lot more about his team’s prospects after that contest.
“We’ll get better at what they’re incorporating as time goes, so I do think we’re going to be a difficult team to play against.”