CONYERS - In his first year at the helm of the Heritage girls soccer team, Chad Suddeth was able to guide the Lady Patriots back to a place they were accustomed to being - the state playoffs.
"I was real proud of the girls. We made tremendous progress," Suddeth said. "I don't know what had gone on the year before I took over, but the bottom line was that they only won five games and didn't go the state playoffs.
"When I met with the girls back in August, I guaranteed them three things. I told them they would have more fun, they would have more structure and they would win more games, and I think we did all three of those things."
The Lady Patriots finished the season at 13-5 and lost in the first round of the state playoffs 4-1 to eventual state champion Marist. At the time of the loss, the Lady Patriots were only the third team to score on Marist all season.
"I had a good group of girls and they just came together," Suddeth said. "I tried to implement more structure, because it didn't seem like there was a lot in place when I took over. We just tried to get everyone on the same page and work toward the same goals. I know some of the girls were frustrated from last season and they didn't have a lot of fun, so this year, we wanted to make sure we were having fun while we were working."
Suddeth said two games stuck out in his mind this season. The first was a 2-1 win over Oconee County, while the second was a loss to Loganville.
"The Oconee County win was a big measuring stick for us, and for us to win late off a set play, that was a big win for us. The Loganville game that went into double overtime and then nine rounds of penalty kicks was also big, even though we were on the losing end of it," he said. "If we win that game, who knows what happens? That was a critical game and I think it was a character builder for them, especially for the younger girls. They learned that this is a game of inches, and we were inches away from winning it. Those two games were really big games for us."
Despite an early exit in the state playoffs, Suddeth was not disappointed in the overall outcome.
"We had five losses this year, two came from the state runner-up (Salem) and one was from the state champion (Marist)," he said.
Suddeth, who coached boys soccer at Rockdale prior to Heritage, said his first stab at coaching girl soccer was a success.
"This was my first experience coaching girls in soccer and it took some adjusting from my coaching style. I had to approach things a little differently than I would with the boys," he said. "The boys side is faster and involves a lot more power, while the girls side is very technical and very finesse. I enjoyed it."
Suddeth also said the future is bright at Heritage.
"We have eight starters coming back. We lose four seniors, only three of which were starters," he said. "We also played a lot of girls last season. We should be set for a pretty good while."
Brandon Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org