Madison County’s state playoff trip ended in the second round April 28 with a 3-0 loss to Heritage-Catoosa in Ringgold.

But Red Raider head coach Lee Reno said his players accomplished a lot this year.

“This year’s team being able to get to the playoffs but also getting that first playoff win for our program I think is huge,” he said. “The girls are definitely excited about what’s to come in the future.”

Madison County loses three seniors from this year’s team: Ashley Martin, Alaina Elrod and Victoria Waters, but the team has six rising seniors.

Reno said he hopes this year’s success will inspire some of his players to join off-season club teams to help sharpen their skills year-round. He noted that the toughest competitors the Red Raiders faced this year, such as Heritage, Jefferson, North Oconee and Flowery Branch all have club players, but Madison County doesn’t have any right now.

“I think we did a good job with the skill sets we have to push them where we got to,” said Reno.”

“I think if we can get players from our middle school program playing club and high school girls playing club that will help get us more prepared for the season,” he said.

Reno said getting the program’s first playoff win, a 4-2 victory over Luella on April 22, was certainly a thrill, but he said the team’s character this year is what he’ll remember most from 2021.

“This year’s group was definitely the most unified group that I have ever had the pleasure of coaching,” he said. “Every one of the teammates were bonded together.”

Reno said he observed that his players were able to help each other improve by pointing out issues in a way that didn’t create friction.

“I think what honestly led to a lot of our success was just the fact that we had girls who weren’t afraid to mention things that were going wrong when they were and to help people work through those problems,” he said. “I think that’s great and I’m hoping that will carry over into next year.”

Reno also praised his assistant coaches this year: Travis Moak, Randall Ballenger and Parker Minish.

“I can’t tell you how much I respect and love the coaching staff I have and the fact that I have Coach Moak in his tenth year with the girls’ soccer program and Coach (Randall) Ballenger — having a dedicated goalkeeper coach was great,” he said, adding that Minish, a former Red Raider soccer standout and now a college student, volunteered with the program this year and contributed to a “great dynamic.”

Reno said his team was a little nervous during the Sweet-16 showdown with Heritage-Catoosa and didn’t attack like he wanted. But he said his goalkeeper, Josie Johnson, was outstanding.

“She really kept it from getting more out of hand than 3-0,” he said. “Josie was calm throughout the whole thing and held herself really well and came up with some humongous saves that were impressive to watch. We’re going to be trying our best to get her scouted by somebody.”

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