By DAVE LINK
Ryan Radcliffe saw his 2020 Bearden girls’ soccer team accomplish a feat he hadn’t seen in his previous six seasons.
The Lady Bulldogs (21-2-0) went undefeated against teams in Knoxville and the 5Star Preps coverage area.
When was the last time the Lady Bulldogs ran the table on local teams?
“I think maybe you look back when coach (Eric) Turner was making his runs with some of the players that he had like his daughter, Sam (a senior in 2010), and Amy Porter (a senior in 2008), who played at LSU,” said Radcliffe, the 2020 5Star Preps Girls Coach of the Year. “At least in my memory it’s the last time a Bearden girls team has kind of dominated the Knoxville area like this group did.
“I think that’s telling in what I was most impressed with this group was we had five seniors, and really three seniors starting, so with almost a young group made of mostly sophomores and juniors, you look back on it and you want to be frustrated with not bringing home the state championship trophy, but like I told the girls, ‘We did this and had this kind of year starting mainly sophomores and juniors, and even two or three freshmen who played a ton of varsity minutes.’ ”
Radcliffe played for Turner at Bearden and was a four-year starter, was on the 2006 Class AAA state championship team and was all-state in 2007 when the Bulldogs were state runners-up.
Bearden’s only two losses this year were to Girls Preparatory School (3-1 on Aug. 22) in the second game of the season and to Franklin (1-0 on Oct. 31) in the Class AAA state semifinals.
The Lady Bulldogs opened the season Aug. 18 with a 2-0 victory over Powell.
After the loss to GPS in Chattanooga, Bearden reeled off 20 consecutive victories, a streak that included wins over Catholic, Oak Ridge, Farragut (twice), Greeneville, Hardin Valley Academy, Knoxville West (twice), and Maryville. The Lady Bulldogs won District 2-AAA and Region 1-AAA titles along the way.
It was quite a run considering Bearden had 12 seniors on the 2019 roster.
“By all means I think this is still a young group,” Radcliffe said. “I think with this group you saw a little mentality shift this year and I thought this group mentally and attitude-wise and character-wise is one of the best groups that I’ve coached, and that was the most fun part, was just seeing their attitude and the character they showed every game, especially in a year like this, 2020, wearing masks and social distancing and not even knowing if you’re having a season.”
The 2020 season was one Radcliffe will never forget for another reason.
His wife, Katlyn, gave birth to their daughter, Aubree Mae, on Nov. 9 at about 9:30 p.m. – the night the Lady Bulldogs were having their annual soccer banquet.
The Radcliffe couple was getting ready to go to the banquet when Katlyn went into labor. They spent state tournament week in late October apart with Ryan coaching the Lady Bulldogs in Murfreesboro and Katlyn expecting their daughter in Knoxville.
“It was scary. It was nerve-wracking,” Ryan Radcliffe said. “One side of you is the competitive part, and the other part is you’ve got some new things in your life that have to take priority. I understand that, and I’m lucky in that Katlyn was a soccer player too. She played at Western Kentucky, so she understands my competitive side.
“The weirdest part was not having her there with me. She’s usually very present at all of our games, and I think she was upset too not being able to be there, but we couldn’t risk putting her in a car and trying to get there.”
The Lady Bulldogs went to state with one of their top players, Becca Roth, sidelined with a concussion sustained in the state sectional victory over Farragut.
After beating McMinn County, 7-0, in the state quarterfinals, the Lady Bulldogs’ season ended with the loss to Franklin, their only game without a goal scored.
Bearden had five shots (three on goal) in the semifinal loss, while Franklin had four shots (all on goal). Franklin then lost by a 1-0 score in the final to Ravenwood, which beat Maryville, 5-0, in the state quarterfinals.
“Walking away from that field kind of left an ugly taste in your mouth,” Radcliffe said. “I felt like this group had the ability to go all the way. It was unfortunate we had a big injury sneak up on us when we made it through the whole season for what seemed like 100 percent, and we had an injury to Becca right before going to Murfreesboro.
“That was hard to adjust to playing without having her in the lineup, but with this young of a group and what they accomplished this year, there’s not a lot you can be disappointed about and I hope it kind of motivates this huge class we have coming back and the huge amount of talent and depth coming back to hopefully have an undefeated (season) and set their bar high for next year.”