Blount Press Row

The Italians

With MHS senior Oliver, BPR bridges a generation

Maryville senior Grace Oliver gets loose before a recent match at the Kerr Family Soccer Complex. Photos by Wallace Bowden

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

In the mid 1990s, just as a young sportswriter was taking his first baby steps in the profession, Maryville High School put its first girls soccer team on the field.

They were pretty good that first year. In juniors Mandy Franklin and Meagan Harris, they had raw, brutal speed at two of the forwards. Something was missing, though: “The Italians.”

A year later, a slick-passing midfielder and her kid sister moved to Maryville. Sara and Kate Harris had grown up in Connecticut. They’d been on soccer teams since they were babies.

Look out, Bearden. Look out, Farragut. We’ve got our Italians.

Now, Kate and Sara aren’t Italian, at least as far as we know. Chance Oliver, the man Sara married, doesn’t sound very Italian, either.

Use of the phrase here stems from a hilarious film from the early 2000s titled “Kicking & Screaming,” starring Will Ferrell, Robert Duvall and NFL great Mike Ditka. In the film, Ferrell is coach of his son’s youth soccer team. Duvall, who plays Ferrell’s father, is coach of the best team in the league, a team for whom Ferrell’s son once played, until his grandpa cut him.

Ferrell’s solution to his father’s team?

The Italians.

A local butcher has a couple of nephews, who, much like Sara and Kate, had begun playing the game almost as soon as they could walk.

“Get the ball to the Italians” becomes the team’s rallying cry.

Overnight, they became world beaters.

Oliver and her Maryville teammates huddle before a match.

We won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s much in keeping with Kate and Sara’s arrival at Maryville.

The Lady Rebels were instantly a different team. Franklin and Meagan Harris ran wild that season with Sara’s passing. Franklin would finish the year with a then-record 25 goals, which is where Sara’s daughter, Grace, the latest of “the Italians,” enters the picture.

Grace has blown by Franklin’s mark and is within striking distance of the school’s all-time record as Maryville readies to meet defending champion Houston in a Class AAA state tournament opener on Wednesday in Murfreesboro.

Blount Press Row has searched exhaustively for the number of goals former Lady Rebel Nikki Porter scored during her 1999 junior season. We’ve contacted Porter. We’ve queried her coach, her father. No one, unfortunately, is quite sure.

Best sourcing has Porter’s mark at 33 that season. Grace enters state tournament play at 29.

Like the Italians of Hollywood fame, though, it’s what Sara and Kate started — not that one season — that has Grace at the threshold.

Kate and Sara raised the bar. Soon, the program saw the arrival of the Chesney girls, the Clark sisters, Marquita Porter, Nikki’s goalkeeping older sister, Susan Lunde … Maryville built steadily through the years, culminating in a talented, balanced and deep roster that won’t be intimated by Houston.

We’ll just have to see.

So how’d things work out for the Italians?

It’s worth renting the movie to find out.

Go Lady Rebels!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *