By Jonathan Deal
If experience is the key to winning high-pressure games, Miranda Huddleston and Riley Ridgeway have a good shot at another state title.
The Athens seniors are among the most experienced players in school history and lead Athens girls soccer team into another state tournament appearance today at John Hunt Park.
It will be the eighth-straight final four for Athens and the fourth straight for Huddleston and Ridgeway. The pair have started for the Golden Eagles since they were freshman.
“They’ve been playing soccer their whole life.” said Tedford. “They are good players, good leaders and both are really highly competitive. They’ve done a great job of keeping us in games and encouraging the younger players.”
Along with providing leadership as two of the team’s three seniors, Huddleston and Ridgeway produce on the field.
Ridgeway leads the team with 14 goals and a remarkable 18 assists this season. That should come as no surprise for a player that broke the school’s assist record last season as a junior.
A right-midfielder, Ridgeway has been able to draw opposing defenses out to set up her teammates.
Huddleston has been equally important, as a holding midfielder. The versatile senior has 11 goals and six assists entering today’s semifinal against St. Paul’s.
The senior duo’s influence goes well beyond numbers, however. They each carry more experience into today’s semifinal than any other player in school history.
When they line up today at John Hunt, it will be their sixth state tournament game.
Team experience is deep as well. Almost all the starters have played in at least one final four contest.
“They’ve been in this situation. We’ve been down their over the last eight years and nobody should be nervous,” said Tedford. “We just have to relax and play our game. We have this saying, ‘Do you what you do and do it the best you can.’ If we do that tomorrow, we’re going to have a great chance.”
Today’s game against St. Paul’s will be a repeat of last year’s state championship game in which Athens won 1-0. Should Athens advance, they could face another rematch in No. 1 ranked John Carroll, who beat them 2-0 two months ago.
“They’ve had this game circled since we beat them,” Tedford said about St. Paul’s. “We’ve had a target on our back for 365 days. With that and the weather, we’ve got a lot going against us.”
Athens and St. Paul’s kick off at 1:30 p.m in the 5A girls semifinal at John Hunt Park in Huntsville.