Blount Press Row

Dynasty Begun

Lady Tornado championship could prove first of many

The Alcoa Lady Tornadoes returned home Saturday evening as Blount County’s first ever soccer state champions.

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

Murfreesboro —The Alcoa High School girls soccer team has now not allowed a goal since the Johnson administration.

Junior winger Mya McKinney chipped the keeper on a beautiful near-post lob for an opening goal, with fellow junior Peiton Bledsoe finding the netting on a wicked, left-foot bender in half two, and the Lady Tornadoes became the first Blount County soccer team to bring home the gold with a 2-0 blanking of Signal Mountain in the Class A state championship game at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex on Saturday.

The history-making championship capped a remarkable postseason run where Alcoa (19-3-2) went the distance without yielding a goal, the Lady Tornadoes outscoring their opponents at a 40–0 clip.

It’s only the beginning.

Sydney O’Hara finished the 2017 state tournament’s top goal scorer, regardless of classification, finding the netting for Alcoa five times in three matches.

“We had to fight off some close calls,” Alcoa coach Shane Corley said. “We had eight shutouts in postseason. You have to be a pretty good team to pull that off.”

A deep one, too.

The Lady Tornadoes lose five seniors from this year’s historic team, and they’re significant losses.

Senior striker Sydney O’Hara knocked home five goals in three matches at the state tournament, finishing the top scorer among all classifications. Madison Davis (White House), Megan Henry (Page) and Elissa Macintosh (Greeneville) were next best with three each.

Fellow Lady Tornado senior Madison McClurg, along with taking most of the throw-ins, corners and free kicks, was the enforcer on a defense that didn’t yield a goal in eight postseason matches. Fellow defender Meghan Cowden was never far from the fray. Grace Moore and Alyssa Sane were big-time playmakers in midfield.

Junior midfielder Mya McKinney got the Lady Tornadoes the only goal they would need in the championship match, beating a charging keeper with a delightful chip from the top of the 18 midway through the opening half.

That said, the thing that separated these Lady Tornadoes from the rest of the field was their ability to adapt and play as a team, the championship match with Signal Mountain a perfect illustration.

The Lady Eagles were well aware of O’Hara’s ability to light up the scoreboard. To negate any such eruptions Saturday, Signal Mountain dropped three defenders deep, often a full 20 yards behind the Alcoa midfield, with one of those defenders assigned to follow O’Hara wherever she went.

When the Lady Tornadoes gained possession, a fourth defender dropped quickly into the backline.

“I knew she’d have a tough game because of what we were seeing,” Corley said. “They (the Lady Eagles) dropped and defended well.”

O’Hara adapted, working her way back into midfield to disrupt and win balls when the Lady Eagles tried to go the other way.

“I learned early on I needed to drop and help my teammates,” O’Hara said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to play my hardest for them. I’ve got to go out with a state championship trophy.’”

Corley made a pair of moves early to turn the tide, shifting O’Hara farther right and subbing in sophomore flyer Jada Johnson on that side to pull the Lady Eagles farther in that direction. In the 23rd minute of the opening half, it produced a goal.

Junior midfielder Peiton Bledsoe had the assist on the championship-winning goal, later adding a goal for insurance with a terrific bending shot in the second half.

Collecting at the center circle, Bledsoe led out McKinney with a perfectly angled ball down the left side. Cutting back once to shake a defender, McKinney chipped a charging Signal Mountain goalkeeper with a beautifully taken lob to the near post for a 1-0 lead.

“I was sure Peiton was going to cross it over,” McKinney said. “I saw the keeper coming out, and I said, ‘Yes!’

“I knew what I had to do.”

Alcoa really needed that goal. For much of the first 40 minutes, the Lady Eagles looked a sure bet to strike first. Sophomore goalkeeper Riley McDonald and the Lady Tornadoes’ No. 10 shirt, junior defender Halle Foley, helped get Alcoa to the half with the lead.

McDonald finished the match with four saves, none bigger than the one on a well-taken Signal Mountain blast that seemed a sure thing to squeeze beneath her crossbar. At full extension, McDonald got just enough of the ball to tip the shot up onto to the crossbar and out.

The Lady Eagles ramped the pressure from there, twice swarming to a rebound at the Alcoa goal line. On both occasions, Foley got there first to clear the ball and extinguish the threat.

Few players impressed us as much this season as junior defender Halle Foley. Twice in the opening half of the state championship match, Foley cleared a loose ball off the line to deny a sure Signal Mountain goal.

“They had numbers in the box,” Foley said, “so I was just trying my best to knock it out.”

Whew!

Alcoa is surely going to miss O’Hara’s goal scoring and playmaking up front, but junior Alexi Bearden looks more than ready to slip on the mantle.

Signal Mountain wasn’t going to go away when play resumed after the half. Alcoa was going to need another goal. To help generate one, someone (Bearden) was going to have to hold possession longer to push the Lady Eagle midfield back against its defense.

Bearden bobbed and weaved through midfield with the ball to do just that. In the 45th minute, it freed Bledsoe for a go from 20 yards near the right touchline

Wheeling to her left foot, the junior midfielder bent one home like Beckham for a 2-0 lead.

“I was looking to play it in,” she said, “but I saw an opportunity so I tried it and it worked.”

Bledsoe’s goal lessened the pressure, but there was still a lot of soccer to play. Signal Mountain didn’t quit.

A two-goal lead in soccer is referred to by many coaches as the most dangerous of advantages. Signal Mountain was inches from showing why late in half two before senior Alyssa Sane rescued her team with arguably the biggest clearance of the match.

Enter Sane, who produced, arguably, the play of the match.

The Lady Eagles mounted one last push with time waning. It bore fruit when a rebound lay exposed and unattended inches from McDonald’s goal line. Speeding to the ball with due alarm, Sane knocked it clear.

“I just knew we couldn’t let them score,” Sane said, “and I had to do what I could to get it out.”

Could Alcoa’s title prove the first of many for the program?

You could make a case.

Replacing the seniors isn’t going to be easy. They took a team that won four matches their freshman year and built a state champion.

They leave behind a team of freshmen, sophomores and juniors with the talent to do it again, and, most importantly, they’ve seen the mountain top. They know what it feels like.

Alcoa went the distance this postseason without allowing a single goal. The Class A state champion Lady Tornadoes include: Riley McDonald (GK), Jada Johnson (2), Rebecca Carolan (3), Atchley Haley (4), Mattie Erwin (5), Mya McKinney (6), McKinna Murr (7), Madison McClurg (8), Alyssa Sane (9), Halle Foley (10), Alexi Bearden (11), Sydney O’Hara (12), Taylor Moore (13), Shelby Armintrout (14), Peiton Bledsoe (16), SieAnna Cameron (GK), Shelby Knight (18), Grace Moore (19), Meghan Cowden (21), Brianna Kuchinic (22), Alexis Marshall (23), Izabella Beets (24). Head coach: Shane Corley. Assistant coaches: Roberto Castro, Ken Brown. Trainer: Peggy Bratt.

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