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Heugh knows key to Athens success is finding consistency

May 22, 2013

» click to enlarge «
Athens goalie Amanda Harris, center, deflects a shot during a 2-0 loss to Troy High last week. The Red Hawks feel they can beat any team when they are playing at their full potential.

TROY — Crunch time has officially arrived on the soccer calendar.

Now’s the time of year when even the smallest of factors can bring about the largest of outcomes.

Troy Athens coach Todd Heugh knows this, and he’s hoping the girls on his squad do, as well.

If they do, Heugh explained last week, “we can play with just about any team out there.”

If they don’t, he added, “we are a very average team.”

Ups and downs come with any team in any season, and Heugh is experienced enough to recognize that.

When his girls have been at their best, they’ve beaten some of the state’s best teams, like Rochester Adams and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek.

The Red Hawks also worked in a tie with defending Division 2 state champ Bloomfield Hills Marian.

“But there’s been other times when I think they lose that focus. The idea that we don’t have to work hard gets in the way,” Heugh added. The Red Hawks were 7-5-3 overall at press time. “We haven’t been entirely healthy, and I’m sure that has something to do with it. But there’s that lack of focus that seems to creep up and prevent us from playing the way we can.”

His girls have noticed it, too.

“I think during warm-ups, you can already tell what kind of game we’re going to have,” four-year varsity vet Liz Abro admitted  during a May 15 practice. “I mean, there was a game, and during the national anthem, you could just tell we weren’t focused like we needed to be. And we played like it.”

Abro spoke with a certain honesty, brought about with so many years on the varsity club.

She’s hardly alone in either regard.

“When you’ve played in as many big games as a lot of us have, I think it can get tough to bring the same focus every time out,” four-year veteran Gabby Mancini said.

Athens has consistently been a team to reckon with, at least on paper, come playoff time.

Two years ago, the girls went on a nice run until falling in a shootout in the regional.

A year ago, the Red Hawks were ousted in the playoff opener.

“So we have a team that has seen a little bit of everything,” Heugh said. “You hope that experience and that leadership is something they fall back on now.”

With Stoney Creek already claiming the Oakland Activities Association Red Division title — the Cougars’ lone loss in division play came to Athens — all attention for the rest of 2013 is reserved for the tournament.

“Right now, we’re in the playoff frame of mind,” Heugh said. “It’s going to be tough, and we know that. We’re in a district with seven teams, and I think any of them could win it all.”

Athens is at the Sterling Heights Stevenson district and opens May 28 against Sterling Heights High. The winner faces the Fraser High-Utica Ford winner, while the other half of the brackets features Troy High, Stevenson and Utica High.

“It’s the last chance for a lot of us,” senior Morgan Behn said.

“We want to redeem ourselves from last year,” senior Rachel Martens added.

And they could, with the right approach and the right frame of mind.

“I really like this team and the way I know they can play,” Heugh said. “I think they realize what’s on the line now. We’re getting healthy, and with a little good luck, I think we match up pretty well with anyone out there.”

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