Over the past few seasons, Heathwood Hall has been a good team, but not quite one that operated at the elite level of SCISA girls soccer.
The Highlanders are changing perceptions in 2013. Heathwood Hall served notice with a decisive 3-0 win over two-time defending SCISA champion and long-time Midlands tormentor Cardinal Newman on March 19.
That win was good enough for the Highlanders to reach the No. 1 spot in the SCISA Class 3A rankings for what is believed to be the first time. Curtis Player’s on-the-rise team ran its record to 9-2 with a 3-1 win on Wednesday against scrappy Palmetto Athletic Club. Heathwood is unbeaten against SCISA/independent school competition to date.
“The biggest difference for us is for the first time since I’ve been here that we have more seniors and juniors on the team than sophomores and freshmen,” said Player, who is in his 13th season at the helm.
“We have experience, a lot of players with soccer knowledge and we work very well together on the field,” said Player. “So far, things have fallen into place, and hopefully we can keep it going and stay healthy.”
The Highlanders had a fight on their hands against PAC. Heathwood got on the board in the first half on a goal by scoring machine Erin Ress off an assist from Larissa Heslop. PAC got the equalizer 10 minutes into the second half and things remained even until Elise McKelvey redirected a free kick by Ress into the net with about nine minutes left in regulation.
But the Highlanders needed late heroics by star senior keeper Grace Smith to finally put the verdict on ice. PAC pressed the issue with time waning and was rewarded with a penalty kick when Heathwood was whistled for a foul in the box. Smith made a diving save on the PK attempt, but could not control the ball. She did, however, quickly get back on her feet to make another huge save on a rebound shot.
Thus inspired, the rest of the Highlanders streak up the field and closed it out with a goal by Heslop off passes by Ress and Katie Bell.
“It all starts in the back with Grace,” said Player of his star who has signed to play at William & Mary. “She’s obviously a talented keeper, but she’s finally healthy after starting the previous three seasons with injuries.”
Kelsey Jones and Paige Bryant are the defensive stalwarts in front of Smith.
Offensively, Players wants his team to do what it does best - attack teams with movement and crisp, short passes.
“We’re OK in the air, but we’re at our best when we keep the ball on the ground and move,” said the Highlanders coach. “When we do that, we can be a potent offensive team.”
The Highlanders will tune up for the stretch run with a three-day trip to Charlotte next week and matches against Charlotte Latin and Cannon School.