Ziniah Hardy leads the Southside defense

SOUTHSIDE – Defensive players don’t always get the same love as attacking players in football.

Especially in high school football, where limited resources prevent coaches from tracking defensive stats.

When Southside defensive star Ziniah Hardy had the chance to make an impact in the AHSAA Class 6A women’s soccer first round game, she didn’t miss out.

Hardy scored from a free kick after a handball to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead by the third minute.

Southside then beat Cullman 4-1 on Thursday to advance to the second round.

“It felt so good, especially coming from a defender,” Hardy said. “I was excited.”

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Alana Morton added two goals, while Camryn Davis finished with a goal and two assists.

The goal was Hardy’s third of the season. She also had three assists.

But his main responsibility has been defending Southside (16-3-3), which was ranked No. 3 in the latest coaches’ poll.

“I usually don’t get recognition,” Hardy said. “But that’s why I do my best to make people see this.”

Southside's Zinah Hardy (left) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a first-half free kick goal against Cullman in a Class 6A first-round game Thursday, April 28, 2022 in Southside, Alabama.  Ehsan Kassim/Gadsden Times.

The Panthers have allowed just 26 goals in 22 games. Of those, 12 have come in their three losses.

Southside ended the season on a 13-game unbeaten streak (10-0-3) and allowed only 10 goals during that span.

“(Coach Tiffany Cargrill) teaches us a good method called ‘pressure coverage,'” Hardy said. “So we just help each other and don’t leave each other behind.”

Ciara Flowers, who plays backline with Hardy, said she has been playing with Hardy since eighth grade.

“Ziniah is just a great all-around player,” Flowers said. “Her and I, we both team up in the back to make sure no ball goes past us. This is the last time for (goalkeeper) Anna Kate (Welch).”

Hardy, one of five successful seniors at Southside, is also a key team leader.

She’s been in college since eighth grade, with the Panthers making trips to make the semifinals three of four years, including the 2020 season lost to COVID.

“Ziniah is overwhelmingly positive,” Cargrill said. “She’s strong. She holds other people accountable and overall a very good leader. It helps keep the team flowing.”

Hardy’s talents extend beyond the football field. She will play volleyball at Snead State Community College next season.

“She definitely could have gone to college for football,” Cargrill said. “Looking at it as a whole person, she really loves volleyball. It’s her ability to be versatile, it’s the fact that she does so many things. She has a background in gymnastics. It’s a phenomenal volleyball player. While we have her here, we are going to continue to take advantage of her abilities.”

For now, Hardy is focused on the football field. After finishing second in Class 5A in its eighth-grade season in 2018, the Panthers finished second in 2019 and 2020.

Now Hardy wants to end his career with a championship, the first in school history.

Southside will face the winner of Randolph-Hazel Green next week.

“It would be so exciting,” she said. “That’s all we’ve worked for. We’re going to keep working for that. We’re excited to keep going.

Contact Ehsan Kassim at 256-300-5313 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Ehsan_Kassim.

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