Jeff Hurndon Photography
Union Grove goalie Michaela Gardner is part of the ninth-ranked Lady Wolverines squad that has given up only two goals this season as they have compiled a 4-0-1 record.
Now, in it’s third year of existence, Locust Grove High School finally has a senior class.
Don’t tell that to girls soccer coach Kelly Barrow.
The Lady Wildcats are comprised of mostly freshmen and sophomores, with some juniors sprinkled in.
But don’t tell that to Locust Grove’s opponents.
As of Wednesday, the Lady Wildcats were 5-1-0 overall and 1-1-0 in Region 4-AAA. Their game against Stockbridge on Thursday ended too late for this edition.
Regardless of the outcome, Locust Grove is showing signs of growing up as a program. It’s only one win shy of the school record set last year when the Lady Wildcats when 6-9-2. They didn’t get their fifth win last season until March 25.
Last season, Locust Grove had just two shutouts. The Lady Wildcats already have four entering Thursday’s game against Stockbridge.
But beyond the numbers, Barrow notices a better all-around product on the field. Communication has improved, team chemistry is solid and they have ambition.
“When I picked the team, we sat down and talked about goals. We said that we wanted to go to the playoffs,” Barrow said. “I believe we’re going to do it.”
If the Lady Wildcats do make it to the state tournament for the first time in school history, it will be because they’ve developed into a balanced team proficient in all phases of the game.
Barrow praised the ability of sophomore goalkeeper Alex Travis, the command freshman sweeper Haley Hall has of the defense and the chemistry between Jamie Smith, Michaela Osborne and Jenel Taggert on offense.
“All the girls are just phenomenal,” Barrow said. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and this is the best group of girls as far as chemistry I’ve ever been around.”
They’ve had some ups and downs. Against winless Rockdale County on Tuesday, the Lady Wildcats came out sluggish in the first half. Barrow exhorted them at halftime, and they responded, erupting for five second-half goals to take control of the game.
That may be the one danger for Locust Grove. Barrow said he fears complacency may set in with his young team. The Lady Wildcats still have tough non-games ahead against Luella, Strong Rock Christian, Ola and Union Grove, and a critical region game against Eagle’s Landing on Tuesday.
Time for tests
They’ve haven’t lost to a team with a .500 record or better, have four shutouts and have been scored on just three times.
But the real test for the Lady Wolverines of Union Grove began Thursday night. A late game against Auburn High School of Alabama started a string of four straight games against three ranked teams with a combined record of 35-5-2.
Auburn (11-1-1) is ranked No. 5 in Class 6A, Alabama’s highest classification. Union Grove follows up with Dunwoody (7-0-0) today at 3:30 p.m., Spain Park (9-3-1) of Alabama on Friday and Heritage (8-1-1) on Monday.
Spain Park, another team from Alabama, is ranked No. 6, right behind Auburn. Heritage is ranked No. 7 in Class AAAA in Georgia.
Over the years, Union Grove (4-0-1) has made a habit of filling its non-region schedule with games against the state’s top competition to get prepared for the state tournament. The Lady Wolverines, ranked No. 9 in Class AAAA, have reached the quarterfinals four of the past five seasons.
By the number
9 Southern Crescent teams that entered Thursday night with winning records — Eagle’s Landing, Forest Park, Locust Grove, Lovejoy, Mt. Zion, Strong Rock Christian, Woodland and Union Grove.