HARDIN VALLEY --- When Jessie Stephens took the reins for the Hardin Valley Academy girls soccer program last season, she knew she had plenty of work to do.
Things were tough early, as the Lady Hawks took a few lumps out of the gate. But they would rebound and make it to the state sectionals (12-7-2 overall record) where they were eliminated by Bearden.
The Lady Hawks are looking for more in 2019, as the hard work began in the offseason and things got really intense this summer.
“All through June it was hard core conditioning,” senior midfielder and defender Karly Livingston said. “Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we ran and we went through ‘(heck) week’ for seven weeks.
“Now, honestly, we’re just looking forward to playing.”
And Livingston is looking forward to spending the fall of her senior year with Stephens (who opens her second year as head coach) and assistant Maddie Warren.
“Jess has come in here and she’s pushed us and she’s really pushed us, and so has Maddie,” Livingston said. “We’ve come together as a unit and overall, there’s just a respect there.”
Expectations are high at HVA but that’s really nothing new — and that’s certainly not new for Stephens, a former star forward and longtime assistant coach under Dennis Lindsay at Farragut.
“I’ve always had high expectations no matter what program I’ve been in,” Stephens said. “I have high expectations for myself and my team. I’m hard on myself and I’m hard on the girls.
“The girls have high expectations and we all have expectations of getting this program to where it’s successful at a consistent level. We want to be mentioned with the Beardens, Maryvilles and the Farraguts of the world. The girls really hold each other accountable.
“I think we’ve really come together and we really want to go to state this year,” senior defender Lauryn Smith said. “We’re ready to play.”
Opening its 2019 campaign at home against defending District 3-AAA champion Powell Tuesday, Aug. 20 (after deadline) before hosting the Lady Bulldogs starting at 7 p.m., tonight (Thursday, Aug. 22), the Lady Hawks have a veteran group of seniors.
The work ethic and leadership hasn’t been questioned since Stephens arrived at the school.
“Last year, our girls worked extremely hard,” Stephens said. “But this year I think we’ve really come together as a team, as a unit. These girls have really bought in.”
Other top returners for Hardin Valley include Emily Whitley (senior, midfielder/forward); Kiana Lane (senior, defender/midfielder); Caroline Fults (senior, midfielder/forward); Claire Palya (sophomore, midfielder/defender); Kaiya Cruze (senior, defender); and Kyra Ranvek (senior, forward/midfielder).
Key newcomers are freshmen Norah Jacomen (forward/midfielder) and Abigail Davis (defender).