Lady Gryphons aim for more

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 07:22 AM

Often times when a coach speaks of a fresh start or hitting the reset button, the casual observer might assume that the team is trying to rebound from a lackluster season. Not so for Brian Espinoza and the Thomas Jefferson Lady Gryphons soccer team.

The Lady Griffs are coming off their most successful season in team history, posting an 18-4 record before bowing out to Southwest Onslow in the state title match.

Espinoza knows, however, that 2013 is a new season with its own set of challenges and goals.

“We are starting from ground zero,” he said. “What we did last year doesn’t count for this year. It’s our goal to get back to the state championship game this year, but we won’t get there based on last year. We have to get everybody grounded and convince them that it is going to take a lot of hard work to reach our goals. Everybody in the state has a fresh start and that includes Thomas Jefferson.”

Even though 2013 is a new year, the Lady Gryphons do return several key players that made the 2012 squad such a success. Speedy forward Anna Dedmon is back for her senior season and will once again be the focal point of the TJCA offense. Through her first three seasons in Avondale, Dedmon has amassed 118 goals and 30 assists and Espinoza expects another big year from the left-footed striker.

“Anna is excited about this season and I’m excited for her,” he said. “This is her fourth year on the team. She knows what she can and can’t do. She also realizes that teams are going to come after her hard. She is good enough to feel that pressure and get the ball to an open teammate. As long as Anna stays healthy and we use her wisely, I think she can reach her full potential.”

TJCA has plenty of other weapons to help share the scoring load in 2013. Junior Rachel Tevis has shown a knack for finding the back of the net, collecting 41 total points in two seasons.

“We are going to really rely on Rachel to take the pressure off of Anna,” said Espinoza. “Victoria Bennett and Eleora Albala also have the ability to score as defenders, so I think we will be strong offensively this year.”

While the offense looks to be potent, defense is an area of concern for TJCA after losing Eliza Floyd and Dominique Capaldo to graduation.

“I’m really worried about the defense, especially on the wings,” said Espinoza. “We have a very solid central defense with Victoria and Eleora back there, but outside we are weak and a step slow. You might see Anna slide back and play defense to help out, especially when we play faster teams.”

The last line of defense on a soccer pitch is the goalie and the Lady Gryphons have a trio of players who could see action between the pipes. Caroline Longerbeam is expected to start the season in goal, but Autumn Ruppe and Lilly Nelson will also push for playing time.

Espinoza knows that all three facets, offense, defense and goal keeping, will have to come together for his team to duplicate or even surpass last season’s success.

“We are going to have to work hard to reach our goals,” said Espinoza. “With the success of our program the last few years, everyone is going to be gunning for us. They are going to circle Thomas Jefferson on their calendars and give us their best game. It’s going to be harder to win this year.”

TJCA’s goals extend far beyond just wining matches. They are much loftier.

“We have several goals this season,” said Espinoza. “To begin with, we want to win our conference and earn the number one seed and the home field advantage that comes with it. Last year we had to travel for all our playoff games because we were the wild card and the girls saw how tough it was to go on the road and win those games. This year, they are highly motivated to play at home and the only way to do that is to win the conference.”

In order to win the Western Highlands Conference is to dethrone reigning champion Hendersonville, who enters 2013 seeking their sixth straight conference title.

“Hendersonville is going to be tough as always,” said Espinoza. “But this team knows they can beat them because they did in last season’s playoffs. I also expect Owen and Polk to have really strong sides. Those are schools who will really challenge us and get us ready for the playoffs.”

The Gryphons goals don’t stop with a conference championship or a playoff appearance, however. They want a state title.

“Our number one goal is to repeat as regional champions and then win the state championship,” said Espinoza. “That’s a long way from now and we have a lot of work to do, but I’m positive that this is the team who can do it.”

The Lady Gryphons begin their quest for a championship when they travel to face the Community School of Davidson today for a 4 p.m. start time.