Craig Harris/Macon County Times Macon County High junior forward Graci Scott is a first-year player for the Tigerettes.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

Macon County High junior forward Graci Scott is a first-year player for the Tigerettes.

A seven-member senior class has experienced success like no other group has in the Macon County High School girls soccer program.

However, the Tigerettes are hopeful that there's even greater success to come.

"It's our last year all being together," Macon County senior defender Sadie Morgan said. "It's fun. We want to go all out with a big bang."

Classmate KeLeigh Wilkerson added, "Coming in as a freshman, it's a big change from junior high. It's easier as a senior, because you're used to it. I think we can do pretty good. I think we can go and compete with (district foes) White House and White House Heritage. We just have to work extremely hard in training with high intensity."

Those seniors have combined for 27 victories over the past three seasons, winning the District 8 A-AA East Division in 2016.

"There's so many positives about them," Tigerette head coach Terrance Pryor said. "They are competitive. I don't know of any group as competitive as this group, and they're so athletic. They have a really high I.Q. (intelligence quotient), and they have picked up so much from the time Coach Liz (Spragens) was here. It's all because of them ... what they've done.

"We think a lot of all seven of them. They have improved Macon County High School soccer. They have set a work rate in intensity that we will strive to live up to. They play the game much better than we have in the past."

Macon County has 23 players this season, an increase from last year's 17.

Though there are many returnees with considerable experience, three newcomers are also expected to factor into the mix.

One of those newcomers -- Bryli Nichols -- is a senior who could serve as the starting goalkeeper.

"Bryli Nichols has stepped in and embraced what we wanted her to do, which is playing goalie," Pryor said. "She's new to it but is a pretty-good athlete who works hard. We expect her to make gains as the season goes on."

Morgan added, "This is Bryli's first year being goalie. I believe in her. Our back line is strong, so we trust in them."

Senior Olivia Belton is another newcomer, though she is actually returning to the program after playing two seasons and then not playing as a junior.

"We feel like we have added some people who will make us solid across the board," Pryor said. "You look at somebody like Olivia Belton returning to the team, a two-year starter coming back. Olivia is a talented athlete. She's big, strong and physical ... she is a good center back, because she can knock people off the ball. She can muscle people off the ball.

"We feel confident in what we have. We look pretty good right now ... but what do we look like when we get on the field (in the regular season)."

Junior Graci Scott is another newcomer, one who is expected to provide depth at forward.

Sophomore Macie Dillard and senior Keeley Carter are expected to start at forward.

"Macie Dillard has improved so much since last year," Pryor said. "She works so hard. She moves off the ball as well as anybody we have on the team. We're really excited about her."

Carter scored 31 goals last season, earning all-district honors.

"We have the talent to be able to press and counter high," Pryor said. "Keeley Carter is one of the best female athletes to come through Macon County High School ever. She's a pure striker. She can take just about anyone one-on-one and go score. She's just as naturally-talented in soccer as she is in basketball.

"Her touch is smooth. She obviously makes us go up front, somebody who takes a lot of pressure off the midfield and back line and puts pressure on the opposing defense."

Experience returns in the midfield with returning starters Jamie Ashburn and Emily Ashburn, a junior. Jamie Ashburn -- a senior -- was an all-district honoree last season and was selected as the team's most valuable player.

"Jamie Ashburn is the engine who makes us tick in the midfield," Pryor said. "She's so competitive and sees and understands things so well. She's very motivated and the leader you need in the midfield."

Junior Taylor Ward was a starting defender last season, but she's transitioning to the midfield this season.

Ward and the Ashburn sisters will be joined in the starting midfield by sophomore Josie McCall.

Senior Morgan Carter will anchor the Tigerette back line. Carter was selected as the District 9-AA Defensive Player of the Year last season.

"Morgan Carter is that vocal leader in the back," Pryor said. "Sadie understands the game very well. KeLeigh has played left back for Tennessee United (Soccer Club). She's been sharp there. KeLeigh is so talented on the ball and sees the game really well. She loves the game.

"Our organization defensively is an area we want to improve, and we want to be more versatile in our attack. We feel confident about our group with lots of experience, but can we stay organized? Can we not revert back to old habits? And can we just improve? If we'll buy in, the sky is the limit."

Carter and Belton will be joined on the back line by Morgan and Wilkerson.

"It's honestly just a lot easier," Morgan said of playing with other experienced players. "We know what's going on. We know what each other's moves are and the plan in her head."

Sophomore forward Chloe Carver is expected to provide depth, as is freshman Gabby Romero. Romero could play multiple positions.

"As a freshman, we sort of knew what we were going to get from Gabby Romero," Pryor said. "I knew what she was going to be, but how quick could she acclimate to the high-school level? She's going to see lots of minutes."

Entering his second season at the helm, Pryor feels that his squad is considerably ahead of where it was at this time last season.

"There's lot of reasons why we feel better off the bat," Pryor said. "We started May 6 this year doing voluntary workouts. We've seen a lot of younger players make a lot of growth in that time. That's imperative moving forward, because we are going to lose a lot (to graduation).

"We are as athletic as anybody we are going to play. The challenge is ... developmentally, how much can we make up? We have to stay organized. We have to stay disciplined and counter when we get opportunities. We have as much talent as anybody does, but can we keep them in the right positions and continue to improve? Athletically, we can play with anyone, but can we buy in? We've been able to work harder and more efficiently."

Wilkerson attributes much of the progress to the team chemistry.

"It is a bit easier since we've been playing since junior high together," Wilkerson said. "It's exciting when half the starting lineup is seniors."

District 9-AA was comprised of Beech and White House last season. White House won the Class AA state title in 2017, and Beech won the AA state championship last fall.

However, Beech is no longer in the district, having increased in enrollment enough to move up to Class AAA.

That leaves White House and White House Heritage as the district's likely frontrunners.

Macon County has lost in the district semifinals for three consecutive seasons.

The Tigerettes ended last season with a 7-6-1 record, placing fourth in 9-AA during the regular season before suffering a 3-1 loss to Beech in the 9-AA Tournament semifinal round.

"We want to improve to a place where we can compete with those two, or else, we are out in the district tournament again," Pryor said. "My focus is on improving. What can we do to improve? It's how ready we are in October."

Pryor believes that his squad will be challenged in the preseason, facing La Vergne, Warren Central, Harpeth, Merrol Hyde Magnet, Gallatin and Goodpasture.

"We have challenges in our preseason schedule," Pryor said. "If we don't get them ready for White House and White House Heritage, we're not doing them justice. It's a lot of opportunities to see where we're at and where we're headed.

"Let's just focus on improving and not getting too wrapped up in wins and losses. You look at top-tier programs, and it's just to get them ready for the (district) season."

Macon County opens the season with a match at Merrol Hyde Magnet -- which was the Class A state runner-up last fall -- on Aug. 19.

The Tigerettes begin district play with a contest at Greenbrier on Sept. 3.