CONYERS - The Salem girls soccer team is chasing a three-peat this year in Region 8-AAAA.
The Lady Seminoles are seeking their third straight region title, and they figure to be the favorites since coach Heather Richardson returns almost all of her cast off last year's championship squad.
Last year, Salem captured its second straight 8-AAAA title with a young squad, posting a 13-4-2 overall record, including a 4-1 mark in 8-AAAA South. The Lady Seminoles lost a heartbreaker to St. Pius in the second round of the state playoffs, falling 3-0 in penalty kicks after battling to a 3-all tie in regulation.
"I think our outlook this year is very promising. As a team, we have very high goals, the first of which would be to win the region," Richardson said. "I think the girls work hard year round and they are very excited and focused about the upcoming season.
"Because we lost only two players off last year's team and we have no newcomers, I think we are bringing a lot of experience to the field this season. I also think this team is very hard-working. They understand what it takes to have a successful season, and they are willing to put in the work to make it happen."
The Lady Seminoles' only losses off last year's team were Cricket King and Mary Hughes.
Salem will depend on leadership from its five seniors this year - Brittany Miller, Kellianne Collins, Meredith Dennis, Caitlyn Cofer and Leighanne Renz. Senior Kayla Hosack, a first-team selection as a defender on the Citizen's All-Area Girls Soccer Team in 2007, will miss the season with an injury.
"We have five seniors that are going to bring a great deal of leadership to the team," Richardson said. "All of the seniors bring something different, and I really think that their experience and leadership are going to help us a great deal."
Richardson feels Collins, at goalkeeper, will be one of the key players this year for Salem, along with sophomore defender Brittany Whitson, junior midfielder Taylor Gates, junior midfielder/forward Brittany Beaumont and junior Jordan Young.
Last season, Young and Beaumont were Co-Offensive Players of the Year on the Citizen's All-Area Team. Young tallied a team-high 26 goals, while Beaumont had 10 goals and five assists from the midfield. Gates, also an All-Area performer in 2007, added 16 goals and seven assists.
This year, Richardson plans to utilize Beaumont's versatility and play her up front and in the midfield.
Salem opens its season against Central Gwinnett at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in Lawrenceville. The Lady Seminoles are ranked No. 7 in the preseason poll.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Salem girls soccer
Coach: Heather Richardson (fifth season)
Last year: 13-4-2 overall 4-1 in 8-AAAA South, won region championship, lost to St. Pius 3-0 in PKs in second round of state playoffs
First game: Tuesday at Central Gwinnett, 5:30 p.m.