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Liberty girls soccer preview: New coach inherits nine returning starters

Tuesday, Apr. 8 | By Jeff Malmgren
Amy Hayes is one of only two new starters for Liberty. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
**Originally appeared April 2**

First-year Liberty girls soccer coach Miranda Clayson did some research on her new team before taking over this spring.

She found a lot of lopsided losses on the Eagles’ 2013 schedule, a season they finished with a 3-12 record.

One of the worst examples was a 9-0 season-ending loss to Kettle Run in the semifinals of the Evergreen District tournament.

“That left a really bad taste in our girls' mouths and it stayed there all winter long,” Clayson said. “So that was the first thing we wanted to work on – focusing on how we can improve so we’re not getting blown away, especially by our intra-county schools.”

The Eagles have made progress. They lost to Kettle Run again Friday in Bealeton, but only 2-0.

“They got a lot better,” Kettle Run forward Emily Brummett said.

The Eagles have nine returning starters this season, including a trio of all-district players in sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Dodson, junior midfielder Savannah Chaffin and senior midfielder Zoe Peele. The Eagles hope that talent can help them improve in 2014.

“We can definitely win some more matches – more than normal – and surprise everybody,” Dodson said. “We have a great team.”

The Eagles won only five matches over the past two seasons under two-year coach Cathy Chaney. They went 2-9-3 in 2012.

“There’s been several coaching changes,” Clayson said. “We really want to get it set and …establish a positive program here at Liberty.”

Clayson took over after coaching one season for the Cedar Lee girls soccer team and one season for the Cedar Lee boys team. This past winter she also served as a Liberty junior varsity basketball coach, and she teaches agriculture.

“I was ecstatic about the opportunity” to coach Liberty soccer, Clayson said. “These girls are fabulous.”

Clayson played a few years of youth soccer and has followed the sport since then.

“I love the pace of it and the aggression,” she said. “And have worked hard to make up for the fact that I didn’t play much.”

Thus far, Liberty has a 1-2 record after beginning the season with a 2-0 win over King George and then losing to Courtland, 7-0.

“I can’t wait to see how we progress,” Clayson said. “We just have to fine-tune some things. … We’ll get there. We’re very excited.”

Against Kettle Run, the Eagles weathered 21 shots (nine on goal) and limited the Cougars to one goal in the first half and one in the second. Dodson had eight saves, diving to stop most shots on goal near the posts.

She anchors the Liberty defense along with a trio of backs. Mackenzie Parker and Bretton Butler are returning starters, while Amy Hayes completes the unit.

“They’re solid,” Clayson said, “I’m very, very happy with our defense.”

Dodson also started at goalkeeper last season as a freshman.

“She’s excellent, and I get her for two more years,” Clayson said. “I am ecstatic about that.”

In the midfield, Clayson has four returning starters in Chaffin, Lizzy Berger, Hailey Rogers and Sofia Rosales, while Anna Stribling rounds out the lineup.

Regardless, on Friday, Kettle Run often controlled the midfield with Erika Blevins, who is committed to play Division I soccer next season at the U.S. Military Academy.

“They have an excellent midfield and that’s what we need to work on,” Clayson said.

“We have excellent strikers,” she said. “We’re just not getting them enough touches.”

Chaffin fueled a late push by Liberty with a few aggressive attacks during the final five minutes, but Kettle Run’s defense made some timely stops to maintain the shutout.

“She’s constantly making her runs,” Dodson said. “She’s always looking for the open pass.”

Peele and Brittanie King are Liberty’s forwards, and both are returning starters.

Liberty took only seven shots (four on goal) against Kettle Run, but Dodson feels encouraged by the Eagles’ offense thus far this season.

“Definitely attacking more up front,” she said. “We connect more passes.”

The Eagles were scheduled to next play Tuesday against Fauquier (after Times deadlines), and they’ll have a rematch with Kettle Run on May 14.

“I’m very happy we held them to two [goals Friday], but I can’t wait for next game,” Clayson said.

Neither can the Cougars.

“We’re still working out kinks and stuff,” Blevins said. “So round two should be fun.”

- - - - -

Starting lineup

Brittanie King*
Zoe Peele*

Lizzy Berger*
Savannah Chaffin*
Hailey Rogers*
Sofia Rosales*
Anna Stribling

Bretton Butler*
Amy Hayes
Mackenzie Parker*

Taylor Dodson*

*returning starter

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