On top of that, there were as many as 11 players who were shaken up with injuries and had to miss playing time.
That contributed to Harrison starting the season with three losses and a draw.
Despite all the adversity, coach Jonathan Gross didn’t give up on his team, and the Hoyas never gave up on themselves. They found a way to go 14-6-2, defend their Region 4AAAAAA title and return to the Class AAAAAA state semifinals for a second straight year.
And though they lost to Mill Creek once they got to the semis, the Hoyas found they had something to build on.
“With this team, the biggest thing was the intangibles and mental toughness,” Gross said. “The team never seemed to be shaken by anything, whether it was injuries or being down in games. We also missed a couple of players because of red cards later on, but this team always had the attitude of finding a way to get it done.”
Gross said mental mistakes played a role early in the season, and the Hoyas gave up goals as a result of bad positioning or slight mental breakdowns. Team meetings during that stretch were concentrated on keeping it simple — possessing the ball and moving it around.
Gross also realized the Hoyas’ sluggish start had to do with the competition they were facing. Two of their three losses to start the year came against east Cobb powers Walton and Lassiter.
But once Harrison settled down, its first win of the year came against Etowah, it eventually found its identity by finding ways to win the close games. And when the Hoyas defeated eventual Region 4AAAAAA runner-up Campbell 1-0 to start region play, they had the confidence they could win their ninth region title in 10 years.
“That was a game that, if we had lost, we knew we had little chance of winning the region,” Gross said. “We knew Campbell had one of the best offenses we’ve seen all year. We put in a fantastic defensive effort, we created a couple of chances and ended up winning 1-0. That was one of the first moments when the team really came together.”
From there, Harrison became known for winning the close ones, or coming from behind to win.
The Hoyas rallied to beat Hillgrove 4-2 in their next region game, needed a goal in the final minute to beat North Cobb 2-1 and rallied to beat Walton 2-1 on penalty kicks in the state quarterfinals. They were also down a goal in their 2-1 win over East Coweta in the second round.
“It’s one of those things, as we started winning tight games, from a preparation and emotional standpoints, we knew exactly what it was going to be like,” Gross said. “We’d been in the situation before and knew what to expect. For our team, we expect to always compete.”
Harrison’s postseason came to an end when it fell 4-0 to Mill Creek in the semifinals. The Hawks jumped ahead early, and the Hoyas had too steep of a hill to climb in the end.