Carlee Zettergren (16) and Hailey Burroughs (11) battle for possession.

Carlee Zettergren (16) and Hailey Burroughs (11) battle for possession. 

HENDERSONVILLE - Merrol Hyde continues to make strides in their soccer program. 

Two years ago, the Lady Hawks made school history advancing to their first ever state tournament. Last year they were one goal away from winning their school’s first ever state championship. 

So 2019 is all about unfinished business for Jason Bentley’s team. 

Their redemption tour is off to a hot start following a 2-0 victory over the defending AA state champions, Beech Lady Buccaneers. 

Now the game was just a preseason scrimmage and Beech head coach John Ferguson is right in saying that champions are not crowned during the month of August. However, simply shrugging off the win for Merrol Hyde would be an injustice to the program coach Bentley has built. 

“I think this game gives us a good idea of where we are and where we can go,” Bentley said. “It’s a good game for us to play, a physical one against a well-coached team. For us to hang in there and show our mental toughness and find a way to pull it out I think showed a lot about this team.”

The Hawks were consistently put under pressure by the Beech attack, who dominated possession, but the Lady Bucs never could find that extra pass in order to put one in the back of the net.

Despite being under constant stress from the Beech attack, the Lady Hawks defense always seemed to make the right play at the right time to stop whatever momentum the Lady Bucs had built. 

“I’d be remised if I didn’t mention our center back play,” Bentley said of his defense. “Having four year starters [Tessa Bentley and Abigail Oaks] that are still juniors creates consistency for our younger players to learn from is very beneficial. Also, I think we were fortunate last year to get some of our younger girls quality playing time and that has translated into more solid minutes for us and an understanding of how to stay organized defensively.”

Defensively the Lady Hawks garnered great praise from head coach John Ferguson. 

“I thought last year this team could have made a deep run in Class AA and what I saw today I think they could probably make another deep run in AA,” he said. 

“The thing about them is they don’t sit back they just play good, organized defense,” Ferguson continued. “To break them down you have to have three or four players on the same page and that is where we are trying to get.”

Merrol Hyde claimed a 1-0 lead 11 minutes into the contest when Oaks nailed a set piece from kick following a called foul on the Lady Bucs. 

“The free kick she took was fantastic,” Ferguson said. “We didn’t set a wall because we hadn’t worked on that in practice but that said, even if we set a wall I still don’t think we make the save. It was just a great shot by her.”

The Lady Hawks drove the nail in the coffin with four minutes left in the match when Mary McElwain found herself on the right side of the back line following a pass from Gabby Wakefield. 

“The second goal from them was a simple break down defensively for us. That is an easy goal for them to finish,” Ferguson added.

Despite the loss for Beech, spirits remained high for the coaches and players simply because they know where they can get to and they know they have some time to get there. 

“We are at the same place we were last,” he said. “Preseason is the laboratory for us as we are still trying to figure some things out. This is not about wins or losses. We are still trying to figure out what we want to do, how we want to play, and the system we want to run. The preseason for us really runs through the Smokey Mountain Cup."

The Lady Bucs will scrimmage against MLK on August 15 before heading to Gatlinburg for three games.

Merrol Hyde will be back in action at home against Macon County August 19 at 7:00 p.m. 

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