Blount Press Row

A Perfect 10

Foley highlights Alcoa defense yet to yield postseason goal

Alcoa junior Halle Foley battles for possession with a Polk County midfielder during Saturday’s sectional championship match. The Lady Tornadoes make their state tournament debut this afternoon in Murfreesboro. Photos by Jolanda Jansma.

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

The No. 10 shirt in soccer is one of the most revered jersey assignments in all sport.

Pele, Maradona, Messi, Wayne Rooney, it’s no accident the best players in the sport’s history all wore the number.

The Argentine Maradona so popularized No. 10 he was called “a savior to his country.”

No. 10 is almost always assigned to a team’s top scorer or playmaker. Defenders never get the number. Ever. Attend 100 matches, you may see it once.

That’s the first thing that drew us to Alcoa’s Halle Foley during Saturday’s 5-0, history-making sectional win over Polk County. Then we settled in to watch the Lady Tornado junior play.

Foley, left, gets in position for a rebound.

“She’s incredible,” Alcoa coach Shane Corley said. “She is a shut-down defender. She really cleans up the back line.”

The win sent Alcoa (16-3-2) through to its first state tournament appearance in program history. Claiming its first district and region championships en route, the Lady Tornadoes open against Madison Magnet (13-5) at the Richard Siegel Complex in Murfreesboro this afternoon.

Kickoff is 1:30 CST.

The Lady Tornadoes have buried their opponents this postseason beneath an avalanche of goals. Mya McKinney, Lexi Bearden (twice), Sydney O’Hara and Alyssa Saine each tallied in the sectional triumph over Polk County, O’Hara collecting a pair of assists.

The flip side of that coin was the Lady Wildcats’ inability to dent a Lady Tornado defense that’s playing lights out this postseason. They’re not alone.

Alcoa closed the regular season with a 1-1 draw with private-school power Webb. Since opening district tournament play, the Lady Tornadoes have outscored their opponents by a 32-0 margin. A season of superb defending includes 14 shutouts for goalkeepers Riley McDonald and SieAnna Cameron and defenders Meghan Cowden, Madison McClurg, Haley Atchley, Taylor Moore and Foley.

“She (Foley) is probably the toughest defender in the group, tough as can be and will shut down anybody on the attack,” Corley said. “She’s comfortable with either foot. That’s something we stress all the time, learning to play with both feet.”

Sydney O’Hara, Mya McKinney, Madison McClurg and McKinna Murr rise in the wall to guard goalkeeper Riley McDonald’s net.

Foley grabbed our attention with a memorable piece of skill during the shutout of the Lady Wildcats.

Finding the Alcoa midfield tough to navigate along the ground, Polk County dutifully tried the long, looping service over the top. On one such attempt, Foley first collected the interception with her right foot, bringing the ball to a dead stop at her feet.

You’d need a catcher’s mitt on your shoe tops to do it any better.

The ambidextrous defender then angled a nifty stab to the right touchline with her left foot, picking up an Alcoa midfielder at full sprint.

The defense takes great pride in the postseason shutout streak, Foley said.

“When we’re up, we try to bring high pressure so (opponents) can’t get to our goal,” she said. “We try to stay in the game.”

McDonald collected the shutout at the sectional. The sophomore keeper stopped six Polk County shots to send Alcoa on to its first state tournament with a clean sheet in postseason. More noticeable was McDonald’s ability to direct the defense in front of her.

“When we come up with the ball and there’s a man on, she calls it out,” Foley said.

McDonald punts the ball clear after a save.

It’s an aspect of her goalkeeping she’s worked hard on to improve this season, McDonald said.

“As a freshman, I wasn’t very vocal at all,” she said. “I can tell the players the best place to go because I can see the field better.”

It’s all about making the best pass, not simply clearing the ball, Corley said.

“We want to possess it,” he said. “We don’t want to rush.

“Riley brings experience and that ability to communicate and direct traffic. She’s in a position to see the field better than anybody. She’s come to that point where they know she’s giving them good information.”

2017 Alcoa Lady Tornadoes

Riley McDonald, Jada Johnson, Rebecca Carolan, Haley Atchley, Mattie Erwin, Mya McKinney, McKinna Murr, Madison McClurg, Alyssa Saine, Halle Foley, Lexi Bearden, Sydney O’Hara, Taylor Moore, Shelby Armintrout, Peiton Bledsoe, SieAnna Cameron, Shelby Knight, Grace Moore, Meghan Cowden, Brianna Kuchinic, Alexis Marshall, Izabella Beets.

Head coach: Shane Corley
Assistant coaches: Roberto Castro, Terry Reed

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