If there is one word to describe Oneida’s 2017 girls’ soccer team, it might be this one: Experienced.
The Lady Indians return experienced players at virtually every position, with all but two players from last season still on the roster.
Nine of Oneida’s 22 players are seniors. All of them can start. And Grant Swain knows that will pay huge dividends on the field, as the Lady Indians look to advance out of the district this postseason for the first time in more than a decade.
“We lost Millie Newport and Raven Wright, but we have pretty much everybody else back from last year,” Swain said.
Swain knows the time for the Lady Indians to take advantage of numbers is now. With only three juniors on the roster, the loss of nine seniors to graduation next spring will be magnified even more.
“This will be a big year for us, but then there’ll be a good chunk missing next year,” he said.
Swain said he will rely on his seniors for leadership, in addition to their experience on the field.
“All of these seniors, I’ve coached before,” he said. “In fact, there’s only one girl on the roster I haven’t coached before. I have a luxury there.”
Those seniors consist of Macey Griffith, Gracie Barnes, Megan Heath, Kaitlyn Stringer, Grace Wright, Ali Jones, Ruthie Burress, Madison Dunlap and Bayleigh Smith. All are expected to contribute significant minutes in 2017.
As for younger players who will contribute this season, it begins with sophomore Alea Jones, who proved herself a standout goalkeeper as a freshman.
“She will definitely be key,” Swain said. “Not just that, but she’s good enough to play at this level and if she wants to, she could play longer. She started for me as a sixth grader, and it was an easy decision. She’s been a factor for as long as I’ve been around.”
Another sophomore who is expected to contribute this season is Macy Dunlap. She missed part of last season with an ACL injury but Swain expects her to be a factor this season.
The Lady Indians’ junior class, meanwhile, consists of Sarah Morrow, Madi Keeton and Cydney White — three more players who should factor into the mix this season.
With a brand-new district alignment for the 2017 season, Oneida expects to compete for a conference championship immediately. The Lady Indians will compete against Harriman, Oliver Springs, Rockwood and Cumberland Gap.
Swain said Rockwood has to be considered the district frontrunner. The Tigers are coming off a strong season in 2016. But, he added, “having seen all of those teams play before, we should be one or two in that district.”
That would be an exciting accomplishment for Oneida. Only the top two teams in each district advance to the regionals once the postseason arrives. For years, it has been impossible for the public schools in the district to steal one of those top two spots from private school powerhouses Catholic and CAK. But both of those teams are gone with the new alignment.
Oneida won about 60 percent of its games last season, and with almost everyone returning from that team, Swain does not see any reason why the Lady Indians cannot advance to the regionals for the first time since the early 2000s.
“It’s a great shot to advance,” he said. “That’s exciting.”
Swain said he is excited about the start of his second season as the high school coach.
“We’re making some changes to our facilities, to our locker room, and hopefully that will help improve our play in a positive way.”
Swain said he hopes the community will get behind his team’s effort.
“It helps to feel supported, especially in a small town,” he said. “Not just from parents, but community awareness of what we’re trying to do. It isn’t just how far we can advance; it’s about making a successful program here.”