Tom Bolitho, special correspondent
The Ada News
Last season, the Ada High girls’ soccer team missed the playoffs by one goal.
This year, head coach Tom Morrison is looking to his tough midfield to get the team over the top.
“It was so close last year, and it came down to just a one-goal difference,” Morrison said. “We had some great seniors last year who played exceptional soccer but didn’t make the playoffs. We’re looking to change that this year.”
Gone are midfielders Blakeley Franz and Bailey Blankenship, as well as All-State goalkeeper Taryn Jack. In their place are mostly experienced players who look to drive Ada back into the playoff picture.
Morrison plays a 4-4-2 formation (four fullbacks, four midfielders, two strikers) he believes takes best advantage of his 2013 team’s talents.
“We are starting girls who have excellent field vision and will take it to the opponent,” Morrison said. “Our seniors this year are an outstanding group of leaders.”
Ada’s defensive back four includes juniors Taylor Mitchell and Roudee Humphers. Joining the juniors are sophomores Taylor Hodges and Kyler Gilliam. The fullbacks, Morrison said, are gaining experience and challenging well.
Morrison plays a “flat 4” on defense in which fullbacks play straight across the field and use their speed to defeat opposing strikers.
The core of the team is the senior-laden midfield. Bre Foster, Jordan Spivey, Leah Huling and McKenzi Lillard are all seniors with excellent skills and experience. Morrison will count on his midfield to control matches and lead the team.
“Our midfielders have tremendous ball control abilities, and each of them sees the field well,” Morrison said. “These girls have all been with our program for four years, and they are up to the challenge. We are counting on our midfield to control our opponents and set up our strikers.”
Up front for Ada are strikers Megan Saint and Amaris Smitherman. The two players offer contrasting styles that should work well against tough district opponents.
Saint, a senior, is a high-energy player who is relatively new to the position. Morrison describes her as “a workhorse” who will not give up on opportunities and offers both scoring and assist elements.
“Megan is still working to find the net regularly, but she offers lots of intangibles that will help us against quality opponents,” Morrison said.
Smitherman, a junior, is a power player. She is a big finisher and often collects goals on breakaways. Like most experienced strikers, she exhibits mental toughness and wants the ball at her feet all the time. Smitherman looks to be Ada’s number one offensive threat this season.
Losing an All-State goalkeeper is always a challenge. Taryn Jack was an exceptional keeper who is now helping the Lady Cougars as a graduate assistant.
Filling Jack’s shoes will be junior Ashley Thomas and freshman Fisher Fulton. Both girls are expected to see extensive time in the box.
“Ashley has some good experience, but she didn’t play last year,” Morrison said. “Fisher is just a freshman but is coming on. She is showing courage against strikers and is courageous and coachable.”
Morrison said the keeper spot was “up in the air” and that competition between Thomas and Fulton would make both better keepers.
Key reserve players are juniors Isabel Guitierrez and Alethia Martin and freshmen Kate Pottebaum and Kaylie Guerin. All are listed as midfielders and should see good playing time.
“These girls are showing great work ethic and are getting better every day,” Morrison said. “They should play key roles in our success.”
The girls’ roster currently includes 20 players, and Morrison expects a final count of 22.
Ada will play in the tough 4A-4 District that includes Newcastle, Cache, Madill and Elgin. All those teams will present challenges.
“Our goal, as always, is to make the playoffs,” Morrison said. “I think this group really has what it takes to get there. We have very good chemistry, and the girls love the sport. We’ve got a tough district ,but we’ve got a real chance to do some special things.”
The girls open the season March 1 at Noble. The first home match will be March 5 versus Durant.