Pitch Preview: Union County Lady Panthers
Returning nearly all of its starters and coming off an Elite 8 run bodes well for Union County, though the Lady Panthers and coach Tim Hunter will have to navigate 2023 in an all-new region with several new teams in the mix.
HEAD COACH: Tim Hunter (11th Season)
2022 RECORD: 12-4-1; Region 8-AA Champions; 2A State Elite 8; #4 State Ranking
RETURNING STARTERS: 9
KEY DEPARTURES: Loralei Skinner (4-year starter and captain)
KEY PLAYERS: Lara Turner (Region 8-AA Player of the Year, Kyra McKechnie (Region 8-AA Keeper of the Year), Zoe Crawford, Avery Murray, Kaylee Helton, Ariel McCarter
STRENGTHS: “We return the majority of our starting lineup,” states Hunter. “Most are players who have had varsity experience since their freshman seasons. We should be very solid top to bottom as we return key players from the keeper up to the forwards. Our two leading scorers return up front along with many midfielders with varsity experience. We will be looking to fill the void left by Loralei Skinner, Savannah Evans, and Melia Whitener who were graduating seniors who all were midfield players. Kaylee Helton will be returning in midfield as she missed most of the season last year due to a knee injury. Kaylee and Madison Torres will be looked at to keep our midfield one of the strong points of our team. We return five players who started on the defense last year: Alli Franklin, Alanna Franklin, Avary Smith-Foot, Maggie Delatte, and Avery Murray. They were a very solid unit especially with Kyra McKechnie anchoring the goal behind them.”
Going unbeaten in the region again won’t be a given, but this team has so much experience, and brings back the Player of the Year in Turner and Keeper of the Year in McKechnie. Last season, the defense was spectacular, which took pressure off the forwards to not have to force anything. This team feels like it has very few (if any) weak spots.
“Our region will probably be the toughest in AA after reclassification,” cautions Hunter. “Our expectation is to always compete for the Region Championship and make some noise in the state tournament. That’s going to be a mighty task with the strength of all the teams in Region 8-AA this season. With our two leading scorers also playing basketball, we have to fill that void until those players return. This, along with a tough non-region schedule, should have our girls battle-tested for the state tournament.”