CANTON -- It took more than a decade, but Cherokee’s girls soccer team made its return to the state playoffs this season.
It had been 11 years since the Lady Warriors last reached the playoffs, and while this year’s group finally got over the hump, it came as a surprise to some close to the program.
“Coming into the season, we didn’t really have high expectations,” Cherokee coach Chrissy Syrios said. “We graduated eight starters from last year. We were just looking to see what we had and what we could put together. We just had a great group of young girls who came out, played really well together and were coachable.”
Though Cherokee was young, there were a few returning starters to anchor the team on the field.
Returning players in the midfield allowed Syrios to focus on other areas and help her new players jell more quickly.
“Luckily, we had a few important players back,” said Syrios, the 2019 Cherokee Tribune Girls Soccer Coach of the Year. “It was really more about the back line. Trying to find a way to get them organized and working together was our biggest concern.”
What the young team lacked in experience, it made up for in other ways.
Syrios knew she had one of her more talented teams, but the attitude the players brought to games and practices made the biggest difference.
“Their work ethic was a strength,” Syrios said. “They worked harder than any other team I ever had. They listened and were able to jell really quickly. We had some speed up top we hadn’t had in a while, and our defense was faster than it had been in a long time, too.”
As the team got more time together, Syrios began to realize this could be the season that would break the drought. The Lady Warriors racked up wins against county rivals Sequoyah, River Ridge and Woodstock, but she said she knew for sure when Cherokee beat Etowah 2-1 on March 15.
“Leading into the Etowah game, we were jelling and playing really well together,” Syrios said. “I thought this could be the year we finally beat Etowah. They were just able to put together an 80-minute total game to win that. That showed me a lot about the team.”
That was the point in the season, according to Syrios, cohesion stopped being a concern and became a strength. From then on, she knew she could count on the Lady Warriors to play together, and it allowed more options for in-game adjustments.
“It makes practices a lot easier,” Syrios said. “You see the improvements every day. We were able to change our formations easily, even during games, because you knew they could figure it out whenever.”
Cherokee made its return to the playoffs, but it was short-lived as the Lady Warriors lost 3-1 to Region 1AAAAAAA champion Camden County.
While it was not the playoff impression Cherokee was looking for, Syrios hopes it provides a foundation for a deeper playoff run sooner than 11 years from now.
“It wasn’t ideal driving down six hours to play in a soccer game, but it left us hungry,” she said. “We know what it feels like to make the playoffs and not be successful, so I think they’re looking to have a great season next year. We won’t put too many expectations on it, but we want to build on this year.”