GHSA Girls Soccer

Early goals haunt Newnan in loss to Hillgrove

by Chris Goltermann


Jeffrey Leo

Newnan senior Rebecca Whitlock attempts to block a Hillgrove shot in the Lady Cougars' 4-0 loss to Hillgrove on Tuesday.

For 60 minutes of Tuesday’s second-round state playoff game, Newnan’s girls soccer team showed the resiliency of this year’s Region 3-AAAAAA championship team while once again playing without key pieces in the lineup.

But Hillgrove equally dominated at the start and finish of a 4-0 victory that ended the Lady Cougars’ season earlier than hoped at Drake Stadium.

Finishing in Area 4-AAAAAA behind only No. 1 state-ranked Harrison, which equally showcased its skill by eliminating East Coweta’s girls 5-1 in Cobb on Tuesday, Hillgrove (15-4-1) took advantage of two quick scores within the first seven minutes of play and then put the game out of reach with two more in the last nine while advancing to the Class AAAAAA state quarterfinals.

The Lady Hawks used a starting 11 that included six seniors and four juniors to jump on top early with goals in the fifth and seventh minutes of play. It came as Newnan was adjusting to a new defensive line while playing without junior sweeper Anna Lawrence, who tore ligaments in her knee during last week’s first-round win — the lone downer of a 10-0 blowout over Lovejoy.

This year’s Lady Cougars lineup finished 12-7 overall while winning an Area 3-AAAAAA championship.

“I’m just real proud of my girls. I’ve never gone through something like this in one season,” said Newnan head coach Frankey Henderson of this year’s injuries. “We may have had a full lineup for five games this year.”

(To view photos from this game, visit and click on Sports for the Photo Gallery.)

Henderson countered with three freshmen and two sophomores in the lineup while putting senior striker and team captain Jordan Ponce in Lawrence’s spot beside defenders Rebecca Turner and Lauren Hovey, both juniors.

Before the trio could get comfortable, Hillgrove has slipped two goals past Lady Cougar senior keeper Rebecca Whitlock on its first two shots to take an immediate 2-0 lead.

Less than two minutes after Lady Hawk Sydney A. Clark redirected a cross into the right corner, fellow junior Emma Dawson broke senior striker Maggie Gaughan free on a long pass inside the box. Gaughan tapped it on the run past a charging Whitlock to push Hillgrove further ahead with 33:47 still left in the first half.

From there, both teams experienced ebbs and flows while also equally adjusting to Tuesday’s turf, still a bit damp after a weekend of rain. Newnan put together its best rush in the 26th minute after sophomore Sierra Kellems spun her way free while pinned in her own zone. A pass ahead to team captain and senior midfielder Julie Whatley was quickly relayed up to forward Erin Bright, who only got a piece of a shot inside the box.

Kellems, playing with a sore ankle, couldn’t make it past halftime.

“She told me, coach I’ll give you everything I’ve got,” said Henderson.

Playing all but a handful of minutes late in the game, Whatley helped keep play heading in Newnan’s direction, setting up a corner kick in the 38th minute on a long shot that was dropped out of bounds by Lady Hawks keeper Breanne Dykes. The ensuing Lady Cougar cross bounded wide to the left after Bright got a head on it.

Newnan put together two more chances off corner kicks early in the second half, but Hillgrove slowly began to take control again as Henderson continued to juggle the lineup, putting Whatley on the back line with hopes of saving her legs for the finish.

Turner broke up a potential shot by Gaughan within six yards and nearly put away another when she headed the ensuing corner wide of the far post after it was initially deflected by Whitlock.

The Newnan senior keeper equally kept her team within range in the 67th minute on a diving stop to her left off a shot by Lady Hawks senior Maggie Post after Henderson pushed a third attacker to his front line.

But with Whatley off on a sub, Gaughan broke past Turner off a ricochet between players on the left side, breaking in alone in the 71st minute. A shot that rang off the crossbar deflected to the feet of Hillgrove’s Kaitlin Bek on the edge of the box and the sophomore fired it in before the defense could catch its footing.

The Lady Hawks tacked on another goal with 2:16 left on a volley by Gaughan while continuing to try and press at the other end.

“At that point, it doesn’t matter if its 2-0 or 4-0, you know. We had to press,” he said. “We’re going to miss those seniors. If we can get Anna back from this [injury], I think we could really have a good group to build on.”

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