2024 season preview: LaGrange girls look to build on Elite Eight run
Published 8:00 am Friday, January 26, 2024
The LaGrange girls soccer program is coming off one of the best seasons in program history and looking to make even more progress under third-year head coach Jon Callahan. Last season, LaGrange made a run to the state quarterfinals before falling to North
Oconee 5-0. It was the second straight season that the Grangers fell to North Oconee and saw their season come to an end.
“We are set up for a really, really nice run,” LaGrange head coach Jon Callahan said. “We have some really good teams in our region and don’t have the depth of some of those teams, but we have 1-2 really good players at most positions.”
LaGrange has a strong returning roster with only three graduates from last year’s Elite Eight team. Maddi Gay, Gabi Martinez and Tatum Fritchley were big parts of the success in 2023, but losing just three payers from that strong unit leaves the Grangers in a position of real opportunity.
“With those girls gone we have a bit of a different leadership group this year, but it is a really strong,” Callahan said. “Our schedule is tough, but I’m excited to see what we can do this year.”
In Callahan’s first season, the team missed out on a region championship by falling to Columbia 2-1 and made a trip to the sweet 16. The Grangers finished third in a tougher region last season before making a trip to the Elite Eight. The standards at LaGrange High girls soccer are high now and Callahan has made no indication the team expects anything less.
“We set the standard and now we have to go out there and try to uphold it this year,” he said. “We have to be committed and I think the girls are.”
LaGrange will have the same starting goalkeeper for the third straight season. Junior Emma Maradik has been an all-region player in her first two seasons starting in goal and she looks to have taken a step forward heading into this season.
“She walked in as a starter and has held on to her position and gotten better,” Callahan said. “I know that she is going to have another great year for us.”
While LaGrange’s starter is entrenched, the backup situation is much less settled. LaGrange relied on Hazel Chavez last season to backup Maradik, but will not have that option this year.
“Hazel is an awesome kid and a great goalkeeper, but she transferred to Troup,” Callahan said. “She is going to be hard for us to replace.”
The fullback situation is pretty settled for LaGrange as junior Ava Arrington and senior Carlee Roland will bomb up and down the flanks in attack and defense. These two players are extremely versatile and can offer cover at other positions.
Roland is a team captain this season and one of the real leaders for the Grangers. Despite playing a defensive position, Roland scored four goals and contributed three assists last season and regularly takes corner kicks for the team.
“Carlee is stepping into a captain’s role this year and she is going to be influential as always,” Callahan said.
Between Arrington and Roland is a little bit less settled. Maddi Gay was the heart of the defense last season and her presence at center back will be hard to replace.
Callahan used Kelsey Burks in a number of positions last season but believes the talented sophomore will find a permanent home in defense.
“She played all over for us a freshman and even played some at striker, but she will will be one of the top picks at center back,” Callahan said.”Kelsey is going to be exceptional in that role. She has such great size and quickness, and we could throw her in at striker if we are in a pinch.”
Senior Morgan Faucett could be in line to start at the other center back position but faces stiff competition for the spot.
“I’m still undecided on the centerbacks a touch because we have to make sure we have the right pairing there,” Callahan said.
Two of the three spots in midfield are settled with sophomore Reese Humphries getting the start at attacking midfield and junior Demi Russell at defensive midfield. The question mark is who is going to replace Tatum Fritchley, who kept the midfield ticking last season.
“I know Anna Poe can do it and I know Sam Cottle can do it, but I’m unsure if I want to take her so far from goal,” Callahan said.
Sophomore Anna Poe is a versatile player that saw action in 20 of 21 games last season. She should be poised for an even bigger role this season whether she starts in the midfield or not.
“Anna Poe can do a lot of different jobs for us,” Callahan said. “She has played at center midfielder, outside back and she has played at centerback.”
Humphries was a revelation last season for the Grangers. She had an instant impact as a freshman, scoring 10 goals and contributing 10 assists. After a bit of a slow start to life at the high school level, she tore teams up down the stretch and will have a major impact on whether or not the Grangers make another deep playoff run in 2024.
“Reese really is an exceptional player,” Callahan said. “She has this focus and intensity and drive that not all young ladies have. She was huge for us last season and I expect her to be even bigger for us this season.”
Russell rarely gets forward and does not get the offensive stats like Humphries and others, but her role is just as essential to the team. She breaks up the opponent’s play and provides cover for the back line.
“Demi has looked so sharp in the build up to this year,” Callahan said. “She is so disciplined in sitting in front of the back four and making sure we have good coverage there. She is so good at destroying the other team’s build up.”
Senior Sam Cottle and Karley Perry have been superstars for the Grangers the last several seasons. The two are absolutely impossible to contain in the attacking third.
“Part of the beauty of those two is that they are constantly playing with each other,” Callahan said. “When they aren’t playing together for us, they are playing on the same AFC Lightning team together at a very high level. They are so good at combining together.”
Cottle is a natural leader for the entire team. The University of North Georgia-bound senior is looking to make her final year in blue and white memorable. She was second on the team with 24 goals last year while also chipping in six assists.
“She is going to be a very effective Divsion II player and she is really leading the way for us this year,” Callahan said.
Perry continues to deliver in the biggest moments for the team and is putting together one of the best careers in LaGrange High history. Her sophomore season was her best year as she led the team in goals and assists with 26 and 12, respectively.
LaGrange rotated the third attacker last season with class of ‘23 member Gabi Martinez getting the bulk of the time at wing. She contributed three goals and three assists last season.
Amelia Rockwell played sporadically as a freshman last season and looks to have an even bigger role this season.
“She is going to be fantastic in that role,” Callahan said. “She can create and she has grit. She can score and she can serve the ball to others, but winger is a demanding position and she will be playing a ton more minutes.