Blount Press Row

The J.B.’s

2017 rhythm section paces Alcoa title defense

Lexi Bearden sets up a move during Alcoa’s run to the Class A state championship last season . Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Signing star striker Sydney O’Hara to a long-term contract worth millions of dollars would have prevented this, but she chose to graduate.

The rest of Alcoa’s history-making senior class left right along with her following last season’s breakthrough Class A state championship, the first of its kind for a Blount County high school soccer team.

Halle Foley?

That’s where the story changes.

The Lady Tornadoes (9-3-1) continue defense of their 2017 title when University High (5-7-1) comes calling for a Region 1-A semifinal tonight at Alcoa.

Kickoff is 6:30.

There’s a pressure all its own with defending a championship. With graduation, it’s never the same team.

“Last year, it was unknown territory for us,” Alcoa coach Shane Corley said, “We’d never advanced out of the district before.”

The Lady Tornadoes, championed this season by bullet-quick goal-scorer Lexi Bearden, crafty winger Mya McKinney and goalkeeping maestro Riley McDonald, left the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex last November with plenty returning in 2018 for a defense.

In April, Alcoa learned it would have to do it without Foley, who would miss her senior high school season with a torn ACL suffered with her club team. The 2017 All-Blount County selection finished last season as one of the state’s top defenders.

The loss of senior defender Halle Foley, left, to a torn ACL in club soccer this spring dealt Alcoa’s hopes of a title defense a tough blow.

Coupled with losses to graduation, “Our whole back line is gone,” Bearden said.

McDonald shut out Alcoa opponents 40 goals to none during last year’s title run. Retooling that defense and adding some scoring punch to Bearden at the other end has been no easy task.

“Sometimes it takes finding someone you didn’t expect, which is where Abby (Sullivan) comes in,” Corley said.

Sullivan began the rebuilding around McDonald’s goal.

“(Defender) Shelby Knight is back, and that’s helped us,” Corley said.

Bearden, slipping more of a leadership mantle over her shoulders this season, has helped a great deal.

Possessing fearsome power from the 18-plus, Bearden buried 28 goals on Alcoa’s title march last fall, five back of O’Hara’s team-leading 33. The goals haven’t arrived in bunches this fall, but, as stated, this is a different Alcoa team.

All-county goalkeeper Riley McDonald is key in the Lady Tornado quest for a repeat championship.

“I think (goal scorer) Mckinna (Murr) has stepped up and made big difference in the game,” Bearden said. “I don’t think it’s all on me. I feel kind of the same as last year, even though we scored more goals.”

Within striking distance of last year’s totals, Bearden’s 18 goals sets the pace for Alcoa. As she mentioned, Murr isn’t far back with 11 goals and a team-best seven assists. McKinney is close at her heels with 10 and four. Alexis Marshall has proven a welcome surprise with six goals.

“We haven’t had as many goals, but we’ve got more people involved,” Corley said.

Music legend James Brown delivered countless screams and exclaims during an incomparable career, but ever take a good listen to his band, The J.B.s?

Those guys could rip.

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