Something rare happened for Warren County High School girls soccer coach Todd Willmore last fall. His schedule was empty past the district tournament.
For the first time in five years, the Lady Pioneers were eliminated in their first postseason game, sending the squad to an extended offseason. A longer break gave Willmore plenty of time to think about where his team could improve and he’s hopeful a young – and now experienced – nucleus will keep him busy until late November.
“I believe we have a number of young women who can develop and mature into the type of leaders we need. That will be a priority for me this summer,” said Willmore. “We are fortunate to have a core group of returning players, many of which have quality playing experience.”
The Lady Pioneers finished a respectable 11-6 last season and earned the No. 2 seed in the District 6AAA tournament. All signs pointed to Warren County earning a fifth-straight trip to the regional tournament, but Stone Memorial ended the streak with a 3-2 victory on the Lady Pioneers’ home turf.
Coach Willmore believed his team last year, led offensively by freshmen Abby Roller and Sally Willmore, grew as the season progressed. Now a year older, Willmore sees plenty of potential for big improvements.
“Last year’s team exceeded expectations, especially since we lost a number of key starters from the previous season,” said Willmore. “Unfortunately, we lost our focus during the district tournament and our season ended prematurely. One of our biggest hurdles this year will be to develop quality leaders in each class.”
Roller, co-rookie of the year last season, and reigning District 6AAA Midfield MVP Sally Willmore lead a 10-player sophomore class hoping to make its presence felt on the varsity level. Joining the two standouts in the sophomore class are Becca Bottoms, Allison Cripps, Lakelyn Cowans, Kyra Garrison, Shelby Love, Haven McBride, Ivy Vinson and Megan Winkler.
Willmore is hopeful his star youngsters and their classmates continue to improve.
“Our sophomore class returns two key starters. Both will need to continue their maturation process because they will be pivotal to our scheme,” said Willmore. “In addition, the sophomore class has several other players who improved drastically last year and will have the opportunity to make a significant impact on our season.”
Roller and Willmore aren’t only decorated Lady Pioneers returning though. Seniors Lindsey Cox, Bailey Walker and Saydee Winfree were all honored as all-district a season ago for their outstanding work. Cox and Winfree split their time patrolling the middle of the field, equally responsible for helping on offensive attacks and aiding the defense. Walker spends her time between the posts, where she’s developed into one of the top keepers in the district.
Fellow seniors Larissa Lopez, Haley McColloch, Olivia Ming, Candace Moore and Alana Ortiz return with a wealth of playing experience.
Cox, Winfree and Lopez have been named captains for this year’s team. Willmore praised their commitment to the program for the last three years as a reason for their selection.
Madison Mason, also a former rookie of the year in District 6AAA, is coming off an all-district sophomore season and is primed for a breakout year as Willmore and Roller’s running mate atop the Lady Pioneer offense. Juniors Bethany Porter, Neva Tackett and Natalie Reed all saw action last year on the varsity squad, while classmates Sarah Lockhart, Emma Mullican and Chelsea Stewart will be pushing for playing time this season.
Coach Willmore rounded out his roster with freshmen Briley Austin, Lauren Boles, Shelby Clark, Brianna Garcia and Rachel Stewart.
Willmore has packed next year’s schedule with a number of quality opponents and two prestigious tournaments – the Ladies Championship in Nashville and the Chattanooga Christian School tournament. It will be the first time the Lady Pioneers have participated in both tournaments in the same season.
Willmore’s confidence in the group is a big reason why he decided to test his team with a tough schedule.
“This team has the potential to be very successful this year and I’m excited about the possibilities,” said Willmore.
The Lady Pioneers are scheduled to participate in several camps throughout the summer, including the Middle Tennessee camp July 20-23. The start of fall practice is set for Monday, July 27.
The season will begin Aug. 20 with a home game against Ooltewah.