Though coach Steve Riccard preferred not to go into the specific details, he did reveal that it’s a system where all 11 players — including the forwards — are required to defend at one point or another.
“We defend as a team. If they’re not going to defend, there not going to play much,” Riccard said. “Everybody has to defend. We increase the odds when we defend as a team based on the rotation that we have. If (opposing defenders) have the ball, we pressure the ball and try to win it right back.”
Harrison runs a different system than most teams with four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards. And Riccard has proven his method of defense does work with the 4-3-3.
The Lady Hoyas allowed just seven regulation goals all season, en route to a 19-2 record, their only losses coming against Etowah and in a stinging defeat on penalty kicks against Parkview in the Class AAAAAA state championship game. Harrison also held the state’s No. 1 ranking from early April until its final loss and clinched the Region 4AAAAAA title.
For his efforts, Riccard is the 2013 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.
“They were really focused on the goal of playing in the championship game from the get-go,” Riccard said of his team. “A lot of times, you get a group and you try to find an identity and playing style. All this team wanted was to get to the final, and they worked toward that goal.”
Of Harrison’s 19 wins this season, 15 were shutouts. After beating Hillgrove 2-1 on penalty kicks in a Region 4AAAAAA game March 12, the Lady Hoyas tightened up defensively and recorded six straight shutouts, capped by a 1-0 win over Centennial in a non-region game.
After beating Parkview 2-1 in a regular-season meeting, Harrison recorded three more consecutive shutouts, capped by a 10-0 drubbing of Valdosta in the first round of the playoffs.
“We feel that, if you can shut out teams, you’re going to score a goal,” Riccard said. “We take a lot of pride in keeping a clean sheet at the end of the game.”
Not only was Harrison shutting teams out during the regular season, it managed to stay healthy and out of penalty trouble for the most part.
Then, adversity came once the postseason started.
Melissa Cameron was red-carded on a controversial call in Harrison’s 2-0 win over Lassiter in the state quarterfinals and missed her the final two games. Madison Good played with an injured ankle during the playoffs, and Lizzy Sieracki suffered a concussion minutes into the state final game against Parkview.
Despite the setbacks, Harrison was still a goal away from winning it all. In the championship, Monica Herrera tied the score at 1-all midway through the second half and nearly scored again on a header with 10 minutes left.
“They wanted to be a group that’s successful,” Riccard said. “Practices were competitive, and we joked that we were the toughest team at the school. It’s not like it’s a magic potion. We put in the time.”