Having to coach both boys and girls soccer teams this season didn’t turn out to be so bad for Harrison coach Jonathan Gross.
When former coach Steve Riccard stepped down after winning state titles in 2011, 2014 and 2017, Gross inherited a perennial powerhouse in the girls team and it was up to him to maintain that success.
It turned out to be a smooth transition for the 2019 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.
“The thing that I enjoyed most was that they loved being part of the team,” Gross said. “They always wanted to be at practice and at games.”
The girls squad already had the experience and tools to win a state championship this season. He just had to get his team metally prepared.
Having coached the Harrison boys since 2007, Gross said soccer can be a frustrating game when things aren’t working in their favor.
So, he taught the girls early on that it would be OK should things go wrong, and a good chunk of practice time was spent on performance when leading or trailing by a goal.
“Once you are in the second half, there’s only so much a coach can do,” Gross said. “On the sidelines, we have to focus on staying calm.”
Harrison started the season with one-goal victories over some of Class AAAAAAA’s finest — Lassiter, Kennesaw Mountain and Hillgrove. The Lady Hoyas finished the year with 17-4-1 overall record that included a Region 6AAAAAA championship and a trip to the state championship game before falling to Dacula.
The early non-region win that set the tone came against Harrison’s Due West Road rival Kennesaw Mountain. The Hoyas were trailing by a goal before winning 2-1 in overtime.
Harrison would sweep its region games, but a couple could have gone either way. The Lady Hoyas survived a 1-0 win over Sprayberry and sealed a 2-1 win over River Ridge on a game-winning goal by Megan McCarrey with 10 minutes left to play.
In the state quarterfinals against Houston County, they faced adversity again.
After building a two-goal lead, Houston County tied the game in a 10-minute time frame. The Lady Hoyas answered with two unanswered goals to win 4-2.
In the semifinal against Johns Creek, Harrison scored an early goal before the Lady Gladiators tied it on a penalty kick. The Lady Hoyas remained composed and won in penalty kicks.
“When you are playing for Harrison, there is always a target on your back,” Gross said. “You know you have to deal with these moments.”
In facing Dacula for the championship, it wasn’t Harrison’s day. When the Lady Hoyas couldn’t capitalize on early scoring opportunities, they stayed poised, and when they finally did convert, it was called back for being off side.
Dacula managed a pair of second half goals and Harrison couldn’t answer.