echs soccer

File / The Observer Elmore County’s Bri Autrey makes a tackle during the Panthers’ win over Holtville earlier this season.

It took six games for the Elmore County girls soccer team to score its first goal of the season but the Panthers rebounded well to finish with seven wins, more than the program combined for in the last five years. The Panthers won five of their final seven games but a 2-1 loss to Marbury in the final match kept them out of the postseason for a second consecutive year.

“Considering our season last year, we could only go up but we still exceeded my expectations,” ECHS coach Angie Simmons said. “If you had told me we’d have seven wins and be one goal away from the playoffs this season, I don’t know if I would have believed you.”

The Panthers finished the year with a 7-10 record after an 0-9-1 season last year. Elmore County got its first win of the season with an 8-0 home victory against Chilton County to snap a 14-game losing streak.

Area play began three days later and Marbury knocked off the Panthers 1-0. However, a positive note was the return of Kendall Downey from a knee injury, which helped Elmore County flip the momentum of its season.

The Panthers defeated Valley 10-0 for their first area win of the season. After two more road losses, Elmore County returned home to avenge an earlier loss to Wetumpka with a 4-1 victory for its third win of the season.

“We worked together as a team,” Simmons said. “They were closer as friends and it showed on the field. There was a sense of unity.”

Elmore County finished the season with four wins in its final games, including finishing a season sweep of Valley and getting a shootout victory against Holtville. The Panthers had eight seniors on their team but gave plenty of playing time to the 12 players in 10th grade or younger as they hope to build the program for the future.

“The sky is the limit for this team,” Simmons said. “I hope we can make it to the playoffs in the next couple of years and I want to go there with a winning season. Those are our two biggest goals right now.”

The Elmore County boys team had an up-and-down season of its own. The Panthers opened the season with a 5-4 win against Sylacauga and quickly raised their expectations for the year.

“I knew we were a young team but I also knew other teams in the area lost some significant players,” ECHS coach John Hilbish said. “I expected we’d do well and I knew what we were capable of but we just weren’t able to put it all together. We couldn’t take things to the next level.”

The Panthers lost four of their next six games before starting area play on the road. The team lost 6-1 at Marbury but got its first section win of the season with a 2-0 victory at Valley.

Elmore County continued on the road with a 4-1 loss at Holtville. However, the Panthers responded with back to back wins for the first time of the season against PCA and Tallassee.

After upping their record to 5-6-1 on the year, the Panthers lost six of their final seven games of the season. They got their final four area games at home but grabbed only one win and were knocked out of the postseason with a 5-0 loss to Holtville.

“We have to be tougher, especially in the second half of the season,” Hilbish said. “I don’t think we wanted to win as much at the end as we wanted to in January and it showed.”

Elmore County missed the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons. However, its six-win total matched the most wins for the program over those six seasons. Hilbish said there is still plenty to build on moving forward but the Panthers have to do a better job of performing as a team.

“It’s about working together as a team instead of as 11 individuals,” Hilbish said. “That was our battle cry all season but we just didn’t live up to that every game.”