Football seniors help steer a young team to future success

Just three years ago, the Dawson County women’s soccer team was a seasoned bunch, winning 13 games and finishing first in the 7-AAA region. After two seasons of adversity and rebuilding, three remaining seniors help lead the team back to success and foster a renewed team culture.

Under head coach Chess Hamby, the Lady Tigers have started this season much better than last, posting two wins, two losses and two draws so far.

Although the formations used and the roles of the players were fluid in each game, the team found a way to gradually build cohesion.

While most of the squad are young and relatively inexperienced, the anchors of the squad have been seniors Kenna LeBaron, Megan Dixon and Paola Ruiz.

LeBaron has had the most experience watching the changes the team has faced over time, having been the only varsity freshman to win the region three seasons ago.

His long football experience and playing with his older sister gave LeBaron a natural leadership instinct. Now more than ever, she applies those instincts as a vocal leader, whether on the pitch or on the bench.

“For the past three years…we have been slowly graduating [players] and made it a younger program, which I think is really exciting,” LeBaron said. “It certainly takes a lot of patience and understanding that [younger players] are not where I am. You have to take your time, teach them and make them understand that they have to be aggressive and stronger than they would have been in the past.

Despite a recent foot injury, LeBaron hasn’t ceased his vocal presence. She continues to give constructive feedback during practices, while a match is in progress and at the end of the day as well.

His pre-injury play and current input has obviously helped the younger members of the team adapt to the speed and instincts needed to play well at the high school level. These attributes are also displayed by Dixon and Ruiz.

Megan Dixon encourages Ruiz to gain possession against Lake Oconee Academy. Dixon helped the midfield and defense stay focused under pressure.
– photo by Rio White

Dixon played with LeBaron in the local recreational leagues years ago before taking a break for a few years. After LeBaron helped convince her to join the high school team, Dixon didn’t look back and became an important part of the team’s growth.

Playing as a defensive midfielder, Dixon plays a crucial role in keeping the team calm and collected while dealing with the opposition’s attack.

“Lead by example and show [young players] ‘that’s how to be more professional and that’s how we do things in the team’ show them what to do,” Dixon said. “They learn what high school is like and how to be mature.”

Another crucial leader on the pitch is Ruiz, whose influence shows up most on the pitch as an organizer of the offense.

His balance of individual skill and teamwork helps create scoring opportunities for the young forwards in the squad. With an ability to play from a forward or midfield position, she was able to build attacking momentum through her speed.

Along with LeBaron and Dixon, Ruiz also helps young players mature.

“We all get together and try to show [the younger players] how to do things,” Ruiz said. “[I want to] help others improve so that each time [the seniors] go, they can be the leaders.

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Paola Ruiz watches the field during the game against Lake Oconee Academy. Ruiz has helped bring the attack together this season.
– picture of Rio Blanc

The Lady Tigers will soon begin playing in the region, and these tough matches will continue to give the three seniors the opportunity to teach the team some important lessons.

Regardless of how many games the team wins at the end of the season, they will be stronger and more consistent than ever, thanks in large part to the dedicated seniors.

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