Lady Eagles look to repeat

Published 3:43 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Alexandra Dunn is one of the returning forwards hoping to lead Oak Mountain to a third-straight state championship. (File)

Alexandra Dunn is one of the returning forwards hoping to lead Oak Mountain to a third-straight state championship. (File)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – From 2012-15, the Oak Mountain Lady Eagles went a combined 100-9-4 on the soccer pitch, winning three state championships and losing a fourth in the state finals by a single goal over that span. In 2015, Oak Mountain won the inaugural 7A state championship with a 24-3-1 record and gave up just six goals all season in David DiPiazza’s first year as head coach. The Lady Eagles have established themselves as one of the most consistently exceptional programs across any sport in the county, and are one of the most decorated soccer programs in the state. The challenge for DiPiazza and company now is not to prove anything, but rather to stay at the top for as long as they can.

When looking at this team compared to last year’s, DiPiazza’s main concern was making sure the middle of the field was in good hands, or good feet. Sydney Jeter and Ansley Neeley, the center mids on last year’s state title team, both graduated, leaving two slots open in the middle.

“Solidifying the middle of the field, that was a key concern,” DiPiazza said in a March 1 interview. “The midfield is responsible for moving the ball between the lines, and a lot of the girls we graduated were in the middle.”

Stepping into those center roles are Lucy Thrasher, who has moved to the midfield from the defensive third a season ago, as well as Sarah Scherer and Allison Nix. Also back in the midfield is Julia Pack, who missed much of last year with a broken arm. DiPiazza believes Pack, just a sophomore, is one of the best players in the state of Alabama, and will round out the new look midfield for the Lady Eagles.

Also missing from last season’s team is goalkeeper Katie Denney. Denney graduated, and has moved on to Illinois-Wesleyan University, where she was named the Newcomer of the Year in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin. While her numbers were impressive in her senior season, they were in part due to a defense that allowed just 1.3 shots on goal per game. This season Alyssa Vess has taken Denney’s place in goal. Vess, a junior, played in 14 games last season and did not allow a single goal in her caps. DiPiazza expects Vess to have success similar to what Denney experienced a season ago.

The Lady Eagles offense benefits from the return of both Alexandra Dunn and Hailey Whitaker. Dunn and Whitaker a season ago combined for 41 goals and 14 assists, and will lead the offensive attack along with repurposed defensive back Julia Buckner.

“It’s great, it’s a great thing to have players like that up front.” DiPiazza said of his two returning forwards.”

Nealy Martin, a University of Alabama commit, will once again hold down the strong defensive line for the Lady Eagles as well.

For DiPiazza, the goal is as always to get back to the state championship and see if this group can maintain what has been done in the past. A third-straight state championship is the ultimate prize this year, although the road to get there will once again not be easy.

“Yeah, absolutely,” DiPiazza said, speaking of the goal of winning another state title. “Hoover is returning all its players, Vestavia is as good as always and Mountain Brook will be better. In my opinion it should be the same group as last year competing.”

As of March 1, the Lady Eagles were 5-0-1 and were ranked the No. 1 team in 7A.