On Monday, the Pillow Academy girls soccer squad starts its quest to duplicate its state championship from a year ago when they host perennial powerhouse Madison-Ridgeland Academy at 3 p.m.

Head coach Amy Coleman knows she has some significant shoes to fill as she has to replace four senior starters from a year ago, but feels her squad has the talent and the drive to get back to the finals for the fifth straight year.

“We have very high expectations with this super talented group of girls,” Coleman said. “These girls have a unique opportunity to be the first Pillow team to win back-to-back state titles. They want it bad.”

Anchoring the defense will be sophomore Madeline Mattox in goal. The strength of the squad is the highly experienced defensive line of Madeline Kelly, Kaylee Harden, Mia Cole and Julia Love Lyon. All have multiple years of experience as starters, and the quartet held a powerful Hartfield Academy offense to one goal last year in the state championship game.

Lillian Harvey returns after a one-year hiatus to start at defensive midfielder. Georgia Caroline Self and Sarah Presley Howard bring a wealth of experience back to the offensive midfielder positions. Madison Barlow and Avery Howard will attack on offense from the outside wing positions, while Caroline Brock will start at the center forward position.

Employing a 4-3-3 formation, the highly experienced squad surprisingly has no seniors, a harbinger of long-term competitive strength. The starting lineup has four juniors, six sophomores, and one freshman. Also expected to contribute varsity minutes to the squad are Elise Howard, Lola Ricketts, Virginia Harris, Katherine Geisbrecht and Holly Whitfield.

“The four juniors we have this year have stepped up to the plate as powerful leaders,” Coleman said. “They are ready to handle the task of leading this team for the next two years.”

Coming off a 12-3 state championship season in AAAA Division II last year, realignment has put Pillow in a 16-team Class 5A league. Pillow will play in the four-team North division, which includes the two teams that played for the Class AAA state title last year — St. Aloysius and Bayou Academy — along with regular rival Washington School.

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