Lady Cyclones looking to build on play from 2020
BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
When it comes to girls’ soccer in Class AA, the road to a conference championship for the last several years have run through Greeneville and most teams are counting on the same challenge this season as the Lady Greene Devils have been able to add a couple of state titles to their trophy case over the years in girls’ soccer.
However, as has been the case in those years, Coach Bill McClay’s Elizabethton Lady Cyclones have been nipping on the heels of the Lady Devils and hope to ramp the chase up even more this season.
“I think that we will play as well as we did last year or a little better,” said McClay during a recent media day. “Last year was difficult and I am still waiting for this team to fully come together. We have had four scrimmages and improved in camp when we were there.
“We are still up and down in intensity. Getting back into school will really help with their focus.”
For the Lady Cyclones to find themselves in the mix in 2021, McClay will have to develop confidence in several young players while depending on only a handful of upperclassmen to provide the leadership.
“We have 15 girls that are freshmen and sophomores so we are really, really young. I only have seven older players. Working as a unit is just not there yet,” McClay shared.
“Last year due to COVID we had so many people coming in and out. We lost two or three in our final playoff game and we were right in it anyway and would have had a chance to win that and had a chance to make it to the district final which would have put us in regional play.
“To not have the opportunity to have a full squad, hopefully, nothing like that is going to happen this year.”
The long-time Lady Cyclone coach was asked how he would compare the 2021 team to the 2020 group.
“We are very similar,” McClay added. “Probably defending is – we lost a central defender. We have somebody playing central defender now who is usually an auxiliary player that was playing and didn’t have to have the leadership part so there is some growing that has to be done there.
“The practices have been good on just hammering home seven or eight different things. Once the whistle blows, sometimes, especially with younger girls they just go off on individual play and we can’t have that. We have a good goalkeeper, Morgan Heaton, coming back and we also have two other keepers.
“Hopefully, nothing happens to anybody but if she gets injured it’s nice that we have someone that we can stick right in on the field,” McClay continued.
“We have some speed up top with Maddie O’Quinn, in the middle of the field who is a senior. She is really good on the corner kick and can put the ball where we need it and she is dangerous on free kicks. We will be working on set plays where we can make sure to make the most of those situations when they occur.
“We will have a couple of freshmen that will probably step in and get significant playing time. That’s just the nature of the game.”
McClay knows that for a team to be playing at a high level that one cannot shy away from good competition. When looking at the Lady Cyclone schedule that is an evident philosophy for the head coach as he has scheduled games against Jeff County, Dobyns-Bennett, and has Tennessee High and Greeneville in the conference mix.
“We have two games before we have the first conference game. We come right out of the box with Jeff County – a big school about the size of Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill,” said McClay.
“The last time we played them, we played well for 60 minutes and it was the other portions where if you make a mistake they make you pay. Against big schools, we have to make sure that we can defend. Communicate and work with each other and then have the bravery to keep the ball. Sometimes they get so panicked all they want to do is just clear it.
“There are times when you can win the ball if you just worked hard and didn’t have the ball for the last three minutes. Just calm down and keep the ball and they have to have the courage to do that.
“If they show that ability, it’s easier to play defense when you have the ball. That’s what we are trying to get across to them.”
The Lady Cyclones are enthusiastic about the season according to their head coach. But McClay is also quick to point out that he is not just looking at the overall wins and losses but also measuring if the team is improving each and every game so when the time comes for that district, regional, and potential sectional and state games the team will be playing at the highest level.
“It’s going to be about performance goals rather than outcome goals. If we are playing better at the end of a game at the end of the week, we might not have won but if we are playing better, we are setting ourselves up to be better when it’s going to count,” shared McClay.
“There are games that we are going to dominate a game and I am not going to feel that we played well. I rather have us play very, very well and lose to a better team – we will gain more out of that rather than not playing very well against a team that we should be able to dominate.
“We want to win the conference games but you have to be realistic also.
“You can never tell until you play 80 minutes of a game.”