The 38th Alabama State Games were pushed back due to the coronavirus but they are still on schedule to happen in Dothan at the end of the month. Local soccer coach Ken Sanders is getting a group of girls ready to compete for the second straight year. With several new faces on the team this year, Sanders said he is excited to see how far this group can go.
“There have been times going into state games with a really good team and we get put in the bracket of death with two medal teams,” Sanders said. “It can be tough to tell but I think we can compete for the gold medal this year. We shored up our defense and we have a lot more creativity.”
The U19 team is made up of an 18-girl roster, four more than last season, which will help Sanders work with more depth to keep players fresh. Almost all the players are from local high schools with Wetumpka, Holtville and Elmore County represented.
Sanders said this year’s team not only has more depth but has seen a big jump in skill and athleticism.
The group includes former Elmore County Girls Soccer Player of the Year Raney Jones along with her ECHS teammate and reigning county Golden Boot winner Olivia Mitchell. Wetumpka captain Hailey Holbert and Marlie Fuller have joined the group this year along with four players from Benjamin Russell.
“This group is really good,” Sanders said. “You see them sitting with their own schoolmates at the beginning but I want them to be one unit. It’s been good. It’s neat because a lot of the girls are excited to see everyone just as good as they are.”
After seeing their school season get cut short in March, the girls are excited for an opportunity to get back to some competition.
“The girls lost their soccer season this year,” Sanders said. “They were eager to get back to it. They’re excited and practice has gone really, really good. They couldn’t wait. We just want to focus on soccer.”
While the personnel may be a little different this year, Sanders said he is likely going to stick with the same tactics that led to some success at the last state games. The team will use a unique version of a 4-3-3 with a diamond defense and three overlapping forwards.
“I have to go play with what I have,” Sanders said. “I play with three defensive backs and another girl about eight to 10 yards in front of them. That formation held three teams to one goal last year.”
The state games will hold its opening ceremony July 31 with the two-day soccer competition starting Aug. 1.