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Franklin's Lady Panther soccer team has started its season strong by posting a 3-1 overall record and a 2-0 record in the 2-A WNC Athletic Conference.

The team's success could be due to the experience the players have on the field. The team has eight returning players from last year's team and five seniors.

“Our defensive line and keepers are top notch. They are experienced and some of the hardest working athletes I know, constantly trying to improve themselves and playing tough,” said head coach Rita Esterwood.

The back line and goal keepers are returning players – Christy Barton, Rachael Mathis, Lexi Kloeppel, Gracie Hornsby, Cassidy Zemmin and Kellie Trammel.

“They are working on communication and have really learned to talk on the field which is sometimes really tough but always necessary,” Esterwood said. “Our midfield is developing but this is the area with most of our first year varsity players. Hannah Hylton is our only returning midfielder and has been a great leader in the midfield.”

Shannon Esterwood and Maddie Gibbs will be up front this season and according to Esterwood are, “very creative in making the attack” as was evident in the game on Monday night when the team took on the Pisgah Sugar Bears at home. Within the first five minutes, the Lady Panthers began to score and they didn't stop until they had the win with a score of 7-0.

“They are working on combination plays and passing out to the wings and again are coaching our new varsity players to be ready for the bigger games that we will play later in the season,” said Esterwood.

Those challenges will likely come as they play more teams within their conference. In most high school sports, the WNC Athletic Conference is known to have some tough teams and women's soccer is no different.

“West Henderson, Tuscola and North Henderson will most likely be our biggest challenges but these other teams have a lot of off season players and clubs from the bigger towns that play on their high school teams. We have a great group of girls that are ready and excited about the challenge,” said Esterwood. “Our season goals are to be conference champions and to go further in the playoffs then we were able to last year.”

The team had the chance to take a step closer to fulfilling those goals yesterday when they played the 2-4 Smoky Mountain Mustangs in Sylva. The Lady Panthers will host their next home game on Monday against the North Henderson Knights.


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