One year after going 12-3-1 and finishing second in Area 5AAAAA to qualify for the state playoffs for the first time since 2002, the Lady Eagles have taken a step forward in 2010.
With an 11-2 overall record, and a perfect 7-0 mark in area play, Etowah is on the verge of clinching the area championship, its first since 2001. The Lady Eagles can accomplish that today with a win at Kennesaw Mountain.
Winning the area title would be another milestone for a program that has re-emerged as a playoff-caliber team in three years under coach John Murnan.
"I asked the girls before the season what they would like to accomplish, and they said win (area)," Murnan said. "I said that's great, but that's climbing a pretty big mountain. But the girls are about to achieve the goal, and I am proud of that."
Etowah, which has outscored its opponents 33-7 this season, has built on last year's breakthrough success despite the loss of five of its top six scorers, including midfielders Danni Fey and Bridget Gilmore.
The Lady Eagles have been boosted by a strong group of freshmen who have picked up the scoring slack this season.
"We lost a lot of our scoring from last year, but the freshmen have really stepped up and filled that gap for us," Murnan said.
Etowah certainly got off to a good start with three wins in its first four games.
But it was a 2-0 win over Harrison in the fifth game of the season - its first win ever over the perennial state powerhouse and last year's Class AAAAA runner-up - that convinced Murnan this would be a special season for the Lady Eagles.
"It was one of those things - we stepped up and played really well that day," Murnan said. "That win gave the girls a confidence-boost that has carried them through the rest of the season."
Freshmen have carried much of the scoring load for Etowah this season, with forwards Kelly Anthony (seven goals, five assists) and Caroline Waters (six goals) and midfielder Jaclyn Miller (five goals, three assists) leading the way.
Etowah has been especially successful on defense and is on the verge of setting a new team record for fewest goals allowed in a season. The Lady Eagles have also recorded eight shutouts in their 13 games.
Etowah is more experienced in the backfield than it is up front, with senior Ashley Yarger and goalkeeper Kaleigh Clarke (0.50 goals-against average, 47 saves) leading a defensive unit dominated by juniors and seniors.
Etowah has also gotten strong contributions from junior defender Megan Meyers, who moved from the forward position to play a key role in the backfield, and midfielder Carleen Striss (three goals, three assists).
After its road game today at Kennesaw Mountain and its season-ending home game against South Cobb on Tuesday, Etowah will look ahead to the state playoffs, which the Lady Eagles are hoping to enter as the top seed from Area 5AAAAA.
They are also aiming for a deeper run that last year, a first-round loss against Lassiter, but Murnan acknowledged that it won't be easy.
"Obviously, winning the (area) gives us a better first-round draw, but there are always difficult matches after that," Murnan said. "We've beaten good teams like Harrison and Creekview, so we can draw on that experience. But we have a lot of girls who weren't here last year and are playing in the state playoffs for the first time, so that creates a little uncertainty. We are certainly looking to do better that we did (in the state playoffs) last year, so we'll see what happens."