The spring sports season is shifting into high gear, but the Harlem High School girls soccer team already is hitting on all cylinders.
The Lady Bulldogs have been the surprise prep squad in Columbia County so far this season, running their record to 8-0 with a pair of shutout victories last week over Morgan County (4-0) and A.R. Johnson (12-0).
The Harlem girls fielded a solid team in 2002, but failed to earn a berth in the Class AAA state playoffs.
With wins over Region 3-AAA opponents Westside and the Academy of Richmond County already this season, the Lady Dogs are practically a lock for the state playoffs, and are positioned to challenge for their first region title.
The soccer surge has not gone unnoticed - Harlem was ranked No. 7 in the Class AAA coaches' poll last week.
Region crowns and state rankings are new topics of conversation for the Lady Dogs, but the success is no surprise.
"I knew that we would be good this year," Harlem forward Jamie Nevin said. "I think we'll win region."
Through eight games, Harlem has outscored its foes 49-9, and that level of dominance has caught Nevin off guard.
Freshman Jamie Nevin has scored 16 goals for Harlem so far this
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"We've scored more goals than I expected," she admitted.
Nevin has led the offensive barrage by tallying goals in every match and finding the net 16 times in all. Forward Elissa Botts has added 15 goals, and midfielder Mallory Morgan has chipped in five. Nine other Lady Dogs also have scored this season.
Nevin and Botts are freshmen, but with years of experience playing club soccer, they have had no trouble adapting to the high-school level.
"We have some young people, but they're really good," Harlem senior Laura Wilkerson said. "They are helping out our team a lot."
George Berry has been the beneficiary of the influx of talent. He has coached the Harlem boys soccer team since 1996, and took over the Lady Dogs this season because former coach Jennifer Perez had family obligations this spring.
"Jennifer Perez did an outstanding job," Berry said. "It hasn't been difficult coaching the girls. All I've done is stepped in and continued the program."
Harlem's defense is led by seniors Clare Hatcher (goalkeeper), Rebekkah Rosenbauer (stopper) and Wilkerson (sweeper). Midfielders Brandy Braswell, Ashton Leogrande, Brittany Matthews, Jhackie Deaton, Shannon Smith, Beyra Ortega and Mandy Moats have contributed aggressive play.
Along with Nevin and Botts, Ortega, Deaton and Leogrande also are freshman.
The combination of skilled, young players, plus a serious tactical approach by Coach Berry, is paying off on the pitch.
"Our new players have taught us some things, and Coach Berry has the experience. He works with us a lot," Wilkerson said. "It's hard with him coaching the boys and girls together, but we learn just as much from the boys as we do from him."
The torrid start has lifted the Lady Dogs to the top of the Region 3-AAAA standings, but the true test arrives during the second go round of region play. Harlem faces a key road match Thursday against Westside, and takes on Richmond Academy on April 2 at ARC Stadium.
Should Harlem sweep those matches, the Lady Dogs will get to play at home next month in the Region 3-AAA tournament.
"We're in the driver's seat right now," Berry said. "If we stay healthy and focused, we've got a good chance to be the No. 1 seed in the region."
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