The South Forsyth girls’ soccer team stood in a circle around head coach Tom Braun before a recent practice. It was Braun’s time to give a message after the Lady War Eagles’ loss to Johns Creek this past Friday. Players were quiet, eyes cast down as Braun spoke.
Braun finished and walked over to oversee the boys’ team practice, so assistant coach Chere’ Thomas waved the girls in. The circle got tighter, and the players started talking about what went wrong in just their second loss this season.
“Honestly, our legs were just slow,” senior Rachel Shah said. “There’s no excuse.”
“We didn’t click as one unit,” senior Elena Zang said.
That has been the challenge for South as it tries to recapture the spark from the Lady War Eagles’ dramatic Final Four run last season.
Yes, they are ranked – No. 7 by EurosportScoreboard.com in Class AAAAAA.
Sure, they are winning – South is 6-2-0 overall and 1-1-0 in Region 6-AAAAAA entering tonight’s game against Chattahoochee.
But what the Lady War Eagles feel they don’t have yet is the remarkable chemistry and confidence they displayed over the course of four compelling state tournament games last season.
Much of that can be attributed to the attrition South endured this offseason. The Lady War Eagles lost three starters, two to graduation, and welcomed five freshmen.
Braun said he kept a smaller-sized team this season, which means that the freshmen group of Jenny Lins, Alex Melnyk, Allison Norton, Allyson Peppenhorst and Meagan Postell has been counted on heavily to contribute.
“We’re trying to get them as much experience as possible mixing in with the older girls,” Braun said. “It’s a whole new level playing 14-year-old with your club coming from middle school then playing with seniors who are 18 years old. … Chemistry is so important.”
So South is on a season-long search for that chemistry that can produce results like last season. The Lady War Eagles finished second in the region and won the county championship, but South embraced the role of underdog in the state tournament.
It was the come-from-behind overtime 2-1 win over Duluth in the first round where Shah and Zang said everything came together for the Lady War Eagles.
“That’s when the passion set in where we knew that we all wanted the same goal,” Zang said. “I think that’s what was important.”
“It just took heart,” Shah said. “We wanted it really badly.”
And so the run continued – another comeback 2-1 win against perennial powerhouse Walton, a dominant 6-3 win over Hillgrove before it all came to an end in a heart-breaking 2-1 loss to eventual state champion Parkview.
“It just kept building and building,” Shah said.
South is hoping it can rebuild that passion and heart should it make the state tournament again. They feel they have the skill in Shah, the two-time county player of the year, Zang, junior goalkeeper Hannah Goudy and other returning starters in Blakely McDonald, Ashley Postell, Mackenzie Norton and Abby Nearing.
“We’re capable of doing it, yes,” Braun said of making another deep state tournament run. “A lot of it is luck, staying injury-free. It’s a long season. We’re in a very competitive region. So you do need some breaks to go your way. We have the ability to do well.”