WOODSTOCK - While it's often the students who are learning, Etowah girls soccer coach John Murnan can testify that, sometimes, the coaches - even veteran ones - have things to learn, too.
During the course of the 2013 season, Murnan said his lesson was learning to trust his players.
Led by a group of 10 seniors, six of whom started and five of whom will be playing in college, Etowah battled through a competitive Region 5AAAAAA and reached the state playoffs. While it lost to eventual state champion Parkview in the opening round, it was a banner year for the Lady Eagles as several players emerged.
"They have always been an accomplished group, and one of the concerns was if they would just be ready to graduate and not focused on soccer," Murnan said. "They weren't the easiest group to work with, but they always said they would get it done, and they did. Whether it was fundraising or turning in paperwork or winning a game, they found a way to get it done."
For rallying his team to success, despite injuries that sidelined two of his players a little less than halfway into the season, Murnan is the 2013 Cherokee Tribune Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.
Jaclyn Miller, a senior midfielder and two-year captain, served as the coach on the field. But she suffered a season-ending injury in the same game that another midfielder, Erin Rodman, injured her ankle.
"I was pretty concerned," Murnan said of losing two of his three midfielders. "Erin ended up only being out a couple of weeks, but Jaclyn was lost for the season. It would have been a much different game if we had lost both of them all season"
Murnan said adjustments were made, included moving Caroline Waters into more of a defensive role. Kellie Haggerty, Amanda Yarger, Kelsey Meyers, Yanci Akelsen and Hannah Moore were relied upon to shut down the opposing teams' offenses.
"We shifted to a more defensive approach," Murnan said. "We didn't score as many goals, but we were better able to withstand pressure. We adjusted. It didn't make a big difference in our achievement."
Murnan said he has never coached a team like this in the past, and with five of his players college-bound, he may not in the future. Waters led the group of signees and is bound for Georgia next fall. Others going on to play in college include: Anthony (Francis Marion), Miller (Massachusetts), Akelsen (Reinhardt), Haggerty (Maryland-Baltimore?County) and Erin Moore (Pfeiffer).
Murnan said at least one other player, Haggerty, had the talent to play in college, but she opted not to.
"It was an amazing group," he said. "I'm going to miss them, but I think the talent level we will have next year will be good as well."