MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

May 1, 2014

Postseason greets Hilldale girls tonight

By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer

— You have to crawl before you can walk and the Hilldale Lady Hornets soccer team is ready to run.

In just their third year of existence, Hilldale finished the regular season with a 10-3 record and 5-1 in District 4A-6. The Lady Hornets, No. 8 in 4A, host Claremore Sequoyah at 6 p.m. today in a play-in game, the first postseason match to be held at Hilldale.

“With a young program, there’s always going to be firsts,” said Hilldale coach Brent Breckon. “But we’re excited that three years in we are able to host at least a play-in round.”

The only loss in district play was a 3-1 setback against Fort Gibson, last year’s 4A runner-up and this year’s district champion. Breckon feels that match showed his team just how good they are.

“I knew that we were going to be pretty good this year and we would continue to get better and better,” Breckon said. “I thought we played fairly well against Fort Gibson but made a couple of mistakes. We eliminate two throw-in mistakes where they scored and we have a chance to tie them or win.

“Our third year in, we’ve already eclipsed 10 wins and that’s a big deal. Last year we finished at .500 so this year has been a big change.”

Hilldale is led by Leah Gragg — one of six seniors that have been there from the onset — who is responsible for 16 of the Lady Hornets’ 54 goals. Gragg is proud of where the program has come since its inaugural 2012 campaign.

“I’m really happy with how far our team has come over the last three years and how much everyone has grown,” Gragg said. “This means a lot to me because we’ve worked really hard this season. Hosting a postseason game is kind of like a reward.”

Gragg impresses on the younger members of the squad that there’s still unfinished business is they want to achieve their goals.

“Communication is a key and just playing good soccer,” she said. “We know we have a good goalie and we can’t just depend on her. We have to play solid defense in front of her.”

The person Gragg refers to is senior Nicole Wright. Breckon knows that Wright has taken a lot of the worries off his defense.

“Nicole has been my keeper from the start,” he said. “The first year, with an inexperienced defense, we gave up a lot of goals and people would look at her as the reason, but I wouldn’t. This year, she’s saved our butts several times. When someone would get a breakaway, Nicole would come out and make a great save and really energize our defense.”

Wright is excited about how far the team has progressed from last season to this one.

“It’s exciting to get to be with them all the way through,” Wright said. “I know everyone says they have a close team, but really are close – everyone gets along. And they’re really fun to play with.”

Sporting a 1.00 goals-against average heading into tonight’s match, Wright has recorded five shutouts during her final season in a Lady Hornets uniform. She is quick to point out that it’s not all her doing.

“My defense has played very well,” she said. “They work hard and we have more than just our starters that really help us out.”

While tonight could be her final match for Hilldale, Wright hopes the players coming in behind her understand what it means to be a Lady Hornet.

“I hope I’m passing along good work ethic,” she said. “You don’t always have to win, but you should always give your best. And I know the girls that are coming up who are going to be seniors next year always give their best.”