The Howard girls' soccer team has not scored this season. Only on Saturdays do the Lady Hustlin' Tigers even get to practice with goals, as they don't have any on campus. But their season won't be defined by wins or losses -- rather, by progress.
With a trio of coaches who share responsibilities, Howard has a program now. The process started in the spring with the efforts of coaches Claire Hirty and Stephanie Dallery, with Erica Vaughn joining them in the summer. There was a stall in the process during the summer as Howard was making a transition in the administration, but the coaches made an impromptu trip to the campus the week before school started and unexpectedly ran into new athletic director Matthew Taylor, who immediately gave them the OK to move forward.
Krue Brock, co-founder and president of the Chattanooga Futbol Club, also was credited for helping get the program off the ground.
There are 18 players on the roster, some coming from other activities such as cross country or cheerleading. Only a few had played soccer previously. The coaches didn't have time to plan any fundraisers but were able to secure uniforms and equipment donated from Chattanooga Sports Ministries.
The only issues remaining are soccer goals and transportation to away matches, as the school had no money budgeted for the program.
"We really wanted to do this," said Hirty, who played softball at Covenant College. "We had built relationships with some of the girls during Young Life, and they wanted to continue playing soccer."
Shaylah Billingsley was named captain of the team before the season by the coaches, and Aishae Goodlow is another captain, chosen by the players. Goodlow had helped coach a team with CSM and was all too happy to join the newly formed team.
"We don't slack off. We practice hard every day because how you practice is how you play. We have fun after practice," Goodlow said. "Every day, we just try to stay focused and never quit.
"I never thought I'd see soccer come to Howard, but I'm glad it did."
As far as goals for the team, the coaches set three before each game. Usually "having fun" is on the list, but the staff has been pleased with the on-field progress made so far this season, as the Lady Tigers were able to fire six shots on goal in their last match against Tyner -- their first shots on goal this season. Games are usually judged by how close they come to accomplishing those three goals.
A positive is that the team has solid leadership in the form of Billingsley and Goodlow, who were able to run parts of Monday's practice. Teammates pick each other up during laps, even doubling back to run more with others who are behind.
"It's going to take a bit of time. Soccer isn't extremely popular among the urban communities, so it will take time to establish," Vaughn said. "Most of these girls have never played soccer before; some have some raw athletic ability, but soccer is different from anything they've ever played."
In the meanwhile, though, everybody's having fun. During a match, coaches and players alike get excited for when something good happens. The coaches raved about the way the players' skill has improved, and in the event someone does score, the Lady Hustlin' Tigers already have practiced their celebration.
"We might walk away with $100 each from coaching this season, but it's not about that," Vaughn said. "We're not just trying to build a soccer program; we want to build a family atmosphere where they feel safe. Since day one, we've wanted these girls to act like sisters. If we don't win a single game, I'm OK with that as long as they have fun and get something out of it."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.