By Mallory Carra
In August, Grace Academy girls' soccer coach Sean MacPherson didn't know if he'd be able to field a varsity squad this season.
Now the Lady Golden Eagles are the top-seeded hosts of the District 5-A/AA tournament. Winning the regular season at 6-1 in 5-A/AA, Grace's success this season has surprised even the team.
Grace (11-3) defeated eighth-seeded Tellico Plains in the quarterfinals Saturday at home, advancing to the semifinals Tuesday.
The Lady Golden Eagles graduated 10 seniors last year and midfielder Carissa Sanchez transferred to Baylor School for her sophomore year. Paired with those losses, MacPherson had to convince a few players to stay on the roster of 16.
"As a coach, I didn't expect this kind of success," said MacPherson, who is in his first year as head coach after three years as an assistant. "It wasn't until we started practicing in August that I knew who we were going to have. We questioned our ability to field a team because we didn't have any commitments. Nobody expected us to do this well."
Seniors Hillary Tedrick, the goalkeeper, and Diana Patrick, the center midfielder, lead the young squad that posted close wins over McMinn Central and Boyd-Buchanan. Going into Saturday's game, Nicole McKinney had scored 10 goals and Noel Bartley had nine. Sweeper Lacye Walker has solidifed the back unit.
The Lady Golden Eagles' sole loss came against Arts & Sciences -- a team Grace hopes to play again in the tournament.
"Even I was surprised that we came together," Patrick said. "We started winning and realized, 'Hey, we can do this.' We started making goals for ourselves and won district. Who'd have thunk it?"
A big key to Grace's success this year is overall chemistry. Though the squad is missing some of the talent of last year's squad, MacPherson said this year's team dynamic is the best he has seen in the four years he's been with the Lady Golden Eagles.
"We're a lot closer as a team and we support each other," Patrick said. "We attack together and we all play together as a team. It's our goal to win the district, and as long as we put our minds to it, we can get it."
E-mail Mallory Carra at firstname.lastname@example.org