When it comes to practicing his goalkeepers, Hickory Ridge girls’ soccer coach Scott Wolfe says he’s “spoiled.”
Wolfe can point sophomore Annie Miller and freshman Ashlee Owens to a goal, instruct them to go through drills, and know they are going to do them without the need to be watched over.
Having known the two most of their lives, Wolfe has a great appreciation for their character and abilities on a soccer field.
Hickory Ridge’s boys’ coach for six seasons, Wolfe is serving his first year as the varsity girls’ coach. The Ragin’ Bulls should easily be one of the top teams in the South Piedmont 3A Conference, and extraordinary depth at the goalkeeper position could make the season even more special.
Miller and Owens are both members of the prestigious N.C. Olympic Development Program, though they are on different teams based on age groups. At least for the time being, Wolfe plans on giving them equal time in goal.
“Those two are probably our most intriguing part (of our team),” said Wolfe. “I think if you put them anywhere they would be in consideration to be the starting goalkeeper. … I think we have a pretty powerful attack, and we have trouble getting it past them in practice.”
Like most of Cabarrus County’s soccer teams – and spring sports teams in general – Hickory Ridge’s number of games and outdoor practices has been reduced by recent inclement weather. Wolfe has worked to better understand the rest of his lineup, but he has not had to do so with his goalkeepers.
“I told them from Day 1,” said Wolfe. “‘We have two very strong goalkeepers. I love both of you, but understand I’m not going to pay you much attention because we have to sort out other things right now.’ They’ve almost been on their own entirely.”
Miller and Owens both attended Harrisburg Elementary, where Wolfe was a physical education teacher.
Both remember participating in Wolfe’s Jumpin’ Jackets jump rope program. Miller was a member of the program’s show team, which performs at halftime of various sporting events.
Miller and Owens both started playing recreational soccer with the Harrisburg Youth Association and eventually developed into club players with FC Carolina Alliance, whose home field is Frank Liske Park.
Owens has played with FCCA since she was 10 years old. When she played for FCCA’s under-11 and under-12 teams, Wolfe was her head coach.
Owens also played on a team comprised of Hickory Ridge Middle School students in FCCA’s middle school league. She led the team to undefeated seasons in seventh grade and eighth grade.
When Miller was an FCCA member, she and Owens attended the club’s goalkeeping training sessions together. Miller left FCCA after her eighth grade year and played a year with the Carolina Rapids before landing with Charlotte United this year.
As a Hickory Ridge freshman last year, Miller helped the Bulls to a 14-6-1 overall record and third place finish in the SPC. She was named team MVP.
Wolfe knew the team he inherited had an established goalkeeper. Miller, whose brother James played for Wolfe on the Hickory Ridge boys’ team, is a vocal leader who likes to direct the defense in front of her.
Miller doesn’t mind getting physical, and she feels her quick reaction time is an asset. Owens is smaller in size than Miller and not as vocal. But she is quick to the ball and has good hands.
“I think it’s good that there are two of us,” said Owens, “because we can practice together. There’s more competition. We have to work for it.”
Both players say they feel good about sharing time in goal. Miller says she welcomes the prospect of getting a rest, a luxury she wasn’t afforded last season.
“I feel like our styles are the same,” said Miller. “Both of us like having the ball at our feet. We use the same terminology. I think our teammates trust both of us. Our coach trusts both of us. It’s really positive.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.