SPRINGFIELD — A soccer program that ended the 2021 spring short on players suddenly stared at another conundrum with the 2022 season about to kick off — no coach.
Stepping up to the sideline for Effingham County High, Tara Aiken.
Aiken, the mother of Rebels softball star Shelby Aiken, is a math teacher at the school and editor of the school yearbook. She took over on an interim basis after head coach Wade Wright left.
“I’m not a soccer expert by any means, but I know the sport and I spent my Christmas break studying the stuff I don’t know,” Tara Aiken said.
It’s been a whirlwind. She said she was approached with the job on Dec. 17. The first day of practice in accordance with Georgia High School Association rules was Jan. 3. The first scrimmage will be Thursday against Southeast Bulloch, a team that won two games at state last season.
First game for real: Tuesday against Savannah Arts, an 11-win team from a year ago.
Down the road are four games with region toughies Glynn Academy and Richmond Hill — teams that finished ranked in the top eight of Class 6A by ScoreAtlanta.
Sounds like a daunting task ahead. Aiken said she’s coached her children’s recreation teams and coached middle school softball for three years and cheerleading for four years.
But coaching high school varsity soccer? Aiken has a plan to tackle the new challenge.
“If I’m going to do something, I’m going to try to do it right,” she said.
First things first, Aiken kept 21 girls after tryouts — a larger roster than normal — because she doesn't want a repeat of 2021 when the Rebels, besieged by injuries, finished a late-season match with playoff implications against Statesboro with only nine players.
Aiken also has emphasized stretching in warmups in hopes of cutting back on injuries.
For workouts, Aiken said she has already reached out to Julie Montgomery, who coaches Effingham United’s under-17 premier team, and ECHS boys coach Austin Czachowski for ideas.
“I told the girls with the scrimmage and two non-region games (Savannah Arts and Metter to start the season), we’re going to have to find where everyone fits in,” Aiken said. “We have a lot of juniors and seniors coming back and a few new girls who are going to add a lot. We have a good core.”
A year ago, despite all the injuries, ECHS finished fourth in region play, advanced to the state tournament and posted an 8-7 overall record.
Fifteen of the 17 girls on last year’s roster were underclassmen, so there is experience coming back led by Dayanara Figueroa, a goalkeeper who started last season as a freshman. Shelby Aiken is a striker on the team.
Tara Aiken understands her coaching experience limitations but hopes to make up for it with almost limitless organization and passion.
“I’m trying to learn as much as possible,” Aiken said. “My goal is to make it the best for (the players). I don’t want them to have a crummy year because of the situation.”
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Effingham County High School girls soccer interim head coach