CONYERS - In his first season as coach, Chad Suddeth has a pretty interesting goal for the Heritage girls soccer team.
Simply, Suddeth wants to the Lady Patriots to be one thing - the Heritage of old.
Last year, the Lady Patriots slipped to a 5-10 overall record, including a 2-3 mark in Region 8-AAAA South. It was a season filled with turmoil as then coach Marty Wood resigned with four weeks left in the season, which forced Heritage boys coach Mike Beshiri to do double duty.
Even with all the adversity, the Heritage girls nearly pulled off a stunning upset in the first round of the Region 8-AAAA playoffs, falling to Dacula 4-2 on penalty kicks after battling to a 1-1 tie in regulation.
"For Heritage standards, last year's five wins were very disappointing and unacceptable," Suddeth said. "We are definitely looking to build on that. We're looking to get back to the Heritage of old, being one of the top teams in our region and being a state tournament qualifier.
"We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do in order to achieve that goal, but it's a long season and we hope to develop throughout the year. We should be a much improved team by the time our region tournament rolls around."
So far, the Lady Patriots might be ahead of Suddeth's schedule. The Heritage girls have opened the season with three straight impressive victories, beating Flowery Branch, Athens Academy and Habersham Central by a combined score of 14-2.
The Lady Patriots will feature an experienced lineup this spring, including seniors Megan Drish, Whitney Adkins, Meredith Wilson and Brittany Stickney. Drish was a first-team selection on the Citizen's 2007 All-Area Girls Soccer Team, leading Heritage in scoring with nine goals and 13 assists.
Suddeth also can count on the experience of junior Constance Bates and sophomores Melissa Drish, Janet VanHeest and Brittany Gray.
Heritage lost only two starters off last year's squads - midfielders Lauren Cook and Brittany Harrison.
"We have a senior class that has demonstrated strong leadership so far," Suddeth said. "We will need this leadership to help guide our younger players and show them the right way to do things. We also have the luxury of some experience, returning eight players that saw plenty of action last season. That experience should pay dividends this season.
"I think we also have some speed up top with our forwards. If we can get behind our opponents consistently, we should be able to create some scoring opportunities.
Suddeth also is looking for sophomore Nadia Bryan to be a key contributor in the Lady Patriots' attack. Five freshmen - Sydney Smith, Michelle Turner, Shealy Kulp, Michelle Borg and Shea Smith - also will see significant playing time this year.
"Early in the season, my main concerns are establishing some team chemistry, being able to play and gel together quickly, and youth, five freshmen and seven sophomores," Suddeth said. "I'm also curious to see how we handle adversity and our ability to maintain a positive attitude. Our success will depend on that inner strength and mental toughness to work the struggles that will be presented during a match."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Heritage girls soccer
Coach: Chad Suddeth, first season
Last year: 5-10 overall, 2-3 in Region 8-AAAA South
Next match: 5:30 p.m. Friday at Shiloh