HUNTSVILLE — Something has been gnawing at Eric Henry for the past 10 months.
For the first time in Henry’s tenure as Scott High School’s girls’ soccer coach, the Lady Highlanders finished below .500 in 2016.
“That hasn’t set well with me since October of last year,” Henry said Thursday, as his team made final preparations for the start of the 2017 season.
There was a bright spot to last year’s growing pains, however. Every time Scott High took the field, a group of mostly underclass players gained valuable experience. That could play dividends in 2017, as the Lady Highlanders return starters all over the field.
Of 24 players on Scott High’s roster, six are seniors — and all are four-year players. Five of the six started last season, and the sixth is Journey Babb, who started as a freshman and a sophomore before missing most of last season with an injury.
“This is a good bunch, a skilled bunch,” Henry said of his seniors. “Two of them play summer ball and winter ball, indoor soccer and that stuff. You can tell a huge difference in their skill level. They’re dedicated to being better and they make the trips to get better.”
The Lady Highlanders will be anchored by Emily Mays in the back. The defender is a four-year starter. Haleigh Phillips is expected to play a big role in the midfield, running the offense.
Lexi Storey, a junior, is “very aggressive upfront,” Henry said, and can be relied on for goals, with Kyra Stanley, another junior, holding down the wing.
“Kyra is one of those players who plays AYSO year-round,” Henry said. “She’s very dedicated and she knows the game well.”
Despite the experience of the senior class, the Lady Highlanders remain a very young team. Of the 24 players on the roster, more than half are freshmen or sophomores, and a third are freshmen.
“I made a point to my seniors that most of our players are freshmen or sophomores,” Henry said, adding that he’ll rely on his senior class for leadership.
“We return a lot of minutes, but we’re still young,” Henry said. But, he added, “There are no excuses. We expect to win a district championship in the new district this year.”
Aiding that effort will be a pair of talented sophomores who earned their place on the field as freshmen a year ago. Macy Brown and Ashur Ellis contributed significant minutes last year, and are expected to move into starting roles as sophomores.
As for that big freshman class, Henry is excited about what they could mean for the future of his program — and that future could begin this season.
“I have eight freshmen and all of them have been here most of the summer, working and getting better,” he said. “All eight of them are sound, several will play a lot of minutes and I would be surprised if a couple of them don’t wind up starting.”
The Lady Highlanders’ new district includes Anderson County, Clinton, Loudon and Kingston. Gone is traditional intra-county rival Oneida, along with powerful Catholic and CAK, the private-school bullies that controlled the district for years.
The new district won’t be without its challenges; Loudon is particularly tough. But Henry said his team expects to compete for a district title immediately.
“We don’t get to use our youth as an excuse again this year,” he said. “We expect to do much better this year than last year.”