DISTRICT TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Sweetwater at Boyd-Buchanan, 4
Howard vs. East Ridge at Camp Jordan, 11 a.m.
Central at Red Bank, 3
Bradley Central vs. Cleveland at Cleveland Soccer Complex, 10 a.m.
Walker Valley at Soddy-Daisy, noon
Ooltewah at East Hamilton, 5
Polk County at Grace Academy, 4:30
Loudon at McMinn Central, 5
Arts & Sciences at Silverdale Baptist Academy, 6
First-year Walker Valley High School girls' soccer coach Nathan Brown knew he'd have to help the team develop a winning mindset. He did so by basically stripping down what confidence his players had, only to build it back.
"You don't want to be a team that hopes for the best," he said Thursday during practice. As the session ended, his words to the Lady Mustangs were, "I can't just believe we can win. You've got to believe it as well."
Walker Valley visits fourth-seeded Soddy-Daisy today at noon in the District 5-AAA tournament. The Lady Mustangs are 6-6-2 with a 2-4 record in district play after going 2-12 in 2012. Their improvement has been based on Brown's encouragements as well as an eight-player freshman class that has accounted for half of the team's goals (16) and 20 of the 30 assists.
There also are three sophomores, eight juniors and two seniors: Cassie Kraft and Kenzie Morris.
Sophomore Jacey Edwards leads the team with nine goals, while freshman Mya Patel has eight plus a team-high 11 assists.
The Lady Mustangs have taken their share of lumps in losses to teams such as GPS, Silverdale Baptist Academy and Powell, but they broke through with their first-ever win over county rival Bradley Central as well as their first win over Ooltewah since 2006. Some knowledgeable area observers feel the best is yet to come for the Lady Mustangs, but the team's focus has been on today's game against the Lady Trojans, who have won the previous four 5-AAA championships.
"We're going to continue to build on this year when we get into next season," junior captain Allyson Flock said. "Coach Brown has taught us to be more offensive and has brought a lot of new ideas and plenty of encouragement. It's just been a completely new perspective on the season."
Brown said that in a 4-1 loss to Soddy-Daisy last week, he saw signs of the Lady Mustangs slinking back into a defensive mentality. But the former Lee University player and three-year assistant coach for the Flames quickly has tried to prevent that from happening again.
"I try to be as uplifting as possible," he said. "There have been some things technically that we've had to work on, but the reason we've won matches this year is because the girls have believed in themselves."
He asked the team about goals before the season. Some girls said they wanted to win more matches than last season. Others wanted to defeat rivals Bradley and Cleveland -- with whom they split -- while another group wanted a .500 record.
"I asked them if a .500 record was too much to ask because of the schedule we had, but I give credit to the girls because they got that," Brown said. "They believed they could be a .500 team , but at this moment, if we were honest with ourselves, we'd say that we've surpassed our expectations."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.