A year ago, Lauren Pruitt was confined to the bench, helplessly watching her Chattanooga Christian teammates perform on the soccer pitch. Having transferred from Silverdale Baptist Academy, the goalkeeeper was ineligible to play for the Lady Chargers unless they advanced to the Class A/AA state sectionals; plus, one of her fingers was in a splint.
So although the entire team appreciates reaching the 2011 state tournament after not making it last year, Pruitt's first appearance -- as a senior -- feels extra special.
The second-ranked Lady Chargers' Class A/AA postseason run will resume tonight, when they face first-time state participant Chester County at 7 in the state quarterfinals. The match will be played on the Lady Chargers' home field, the site of the first two rounds of the A/AA tourney.
Third-ranked Notre Dame (7-11-3) gets the A/AA event started at 11:30 a.m. against Madison (17-3). In Class AAA, Soddy-Daisy (19-2-2) will face Collierville (11-8-1) at Baylor at 7.
Baylor (17-1) doesn't start its state tournament until Friday, when the top-ranked Lady Red Raiders face No. 3 Father Ryan at 7 in the Division II-AA state semifinals at GPS. All championship matches will be played Saturday.
Pruitt has had 15 shutouts for the 18-3-2 Lady Chargers, and she credits her defensive teammates for immense contributions.
"We wouldn't be here without them," Pruitt said. "They've saved me so many times that it's ridiculous."
Said CCS coach Cal Sneller: "Lauren's got great size and is just phenomenal. Not many can get a shot past her. She's also helpful because our defense can just play the ball back to her, and with her leg she can hit a ball 50 yards in the air.
"It's nice to be able to lose a senior keeper last year, with her in the background. She's been ready to play for quite some time."
CCS fell 1-0 to Livingston Academy in the Region 4-A/AA semifinals last year.
"I guess we sort of took [appearing in the state tournament] for granted the first year because I didn't know what else to expect," CCS senior Natalie Thedford said. "Then we were so disappointed last year. It's more sweet this year because we knew there was a chance we wouldn't make it."
Added Pruitt: "It's a totally different game now. We just have to focus harder at practice, play as a team and see how it goes."
Lady Trojans clicking
Soddy-Daisy seems to be clicking at the right time. Senior Hannah Wyatt, who has committed to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has seven goals and five assists in five games, with the goal total equaling her season before that. She has 23 assists in all. Junior Summer Lanter has 30 goals, with three consecutive hat-trick matches in the postseason, and Natalie Smith has 10 goals and 14 assists.
Keeper Haley Myers has allowed only 11 goals in 21 matches this season, and the defense led by senior sweeper Ally Fien has given up multiple goals only twice -- a 2-0 defeat to GPS in the season opener and a 2-2 tie with Hendersonville in the Cleveland tournament.
With Kathryn Healy gone from last season's A/AA title team, Notre Dame lost its primary offensive piece. That and coach Jim Schermerhorn's tendency to experiment with his lineup put a lot of pressure on the defense.
Moreover, the schedule wasn't going to give the Lady Irish time to jell, which in turn put even more on senior defenders Ashley Henry and Liz Kidwell, as well as keeper Grace Courter. Eight of Notre Dame's 21 matches were against teams now in the state tournament. Four other foes finished one match away from playing this week.
"It put more pressure on us to do our job," Henry said. "Now it seems that we're clicking together and doing a better job as a team."
Kidwell said the District 7-A/AA semifinal against Signal Mountain seemed to be the point where the switch was turned.
"It's awesome that we've worked hard and been able to come together these past few games," she said. "The fact that this is our team this year and we're back in the state tournament is the best feeling in the world."
Notre Dame wasn't the only local team with a tough path to the state. All three of CCS's losses (Soddy-Daisy, Siegel and Baylor) were to teams in the 24-team field. The Lady Chargers also have three wins over the Lady Irish this season.
Baylor has played six matches against teams in the field, winning by a combined score of 24-2. Its opponent Friday, Father Ryan, played the Lady Red Raiders their toughest match, falling 2-0 to Baylor on Oct. 15.
Soddy-Daisy went 2-1-1 in four matches against state-tournament teams, including a 1-0 loss to Farragut in the Cleveland tournament.