Prior to the final regular season game for the Highland Regional High School girls’ soccer team, head coach Tiffany Strauss said she believed her team was capable of making a run in the Group 3 playoffs.
It’s not rare that a coach shows faith in his or her squad this time of year, but Strauss’ message did stand out for a simple reason: The Tartans had won three games all season.
Yet it wasn’t just “coach speak” from Strauss; she legitimately believed her No. 11 seed Tartans could go into No. 6 Burlington Township and walk out with a victory.
“I think that our record may not show how effective we are,” Strauss said on Oct. 25. “We are a very strong team and very competitive. We have a lot of talent so I think we have a very good chance to go pretty far in states.”
The Tartans showed what they were capable of last Saturday when they upset Burlington Township, 2-1, in the opening round of the Group 3 playoffs. The win not only shocked much of South Jersey, but validated the faith Strauss had in her players.
“I think that as coaches we tried to give them the motivation, reminding them that we had some good upsets throughout the year,” said Strauss. “We reminded them of the game against GCIT when we trailed 4-0 at halftime and ended up coming back to win, 5-4. They know they have the ability; it’s a matter of following through as a team.”
The Tartans now have another tough test in front of them as they are scheduled to take on Kingsway Tuesday, at East Greenwich Park, at 2 p.m. The two teams are certainly not strangers, as they met twice playing out of the Tri-County Conference. Kingsway has a 3-0 victory over Highland, but the Tartans also held the Dragons to a 0-0 tie after 100 minutes of soccer in the other meeting.
“Kingsway has a pretty fast defense and talented forwards as well,” said Strauss. “We know we have to look out for those forwards. We also know we have the ability to stick with them, if not beat them. We played them to a 0-0 double overtime game earlier in the season, so now it’s just a matter of following through. After the win (against Burlington Township) I think our girls believe they can do it.”
The weather, which has wreaked havoc on the NJSIAA playoff schedule, has forced the Tartans to spend an atypical amount of time between playoff games. Highland played Burlington on Oct. 29 and will not play again until Nov. 13. The break is the equivalent of an entire preseason training camp, which presents challenges to a coaching staff attempting to keep the players both loose and focused.
Strauss said everyone has been handling the situation as best as could be expected, adding that the time off allowed the Tartans to do some scouting.
“It’s difficult,” Strauss said. “The good thing was we were able to go over and watch the Kingsway (first-round) game and taped that and watched it (Thursday) as a team, and then did some light training. We have tried to change things up in practices to keep it fresh. We ask the girls for their input on what they need to work on and focus on, and that helps keep them interested.”
If Highland is to go into East Greenwich and knock off Kingsway, the team will amazingly find itself in the Group 3 semifinals. It’s a scenario that few outside of Highland could even dream up, but one the team is confident can become a reality.
“We were really competitive all season long when we worked hard as a team,” Strauss said. “We have some good talent on the team, and we know we can have success.”