Seniors Hannah Courtney and Olyvia Gass will lead a young, but talented Ridgeland team this season. (Messenger photo/Scott Herpst)

The Ridgeland Lady Panthers are hoping that experience and talent can overcome youth as they get set to raise the curtain on their 2013 soccer season this week.

Head coach Darren Crutcher has a total of just 19 players on roster, only three of which are upperclassmen. But he said early returns have been very positive as the team prepares for its home opener against Dade County on Tuesday.

“We have just two seniors and one junior, so there is a lot of youth on this team,” he explained. “But we’ve had three good weeks of practice so far. We just hope we can continue to mature and hopefully make some things happen.”

Seniors Olyvia Gass and Hannah Courtney will be counted on, both on and off the field, as the Lady Panthers look to improve on last year’s 6-11 record.

“It’s seems like they’ve been around forever,” Crutcher said of his seniors. “They’ve done a good job leading the team so far. Olyvia has pretty much started on the back line for four years now. We know what to expect from her and she does a good job leading the team.”

“The best thing about Hannah is that she can play any position on the field if we run into a problem,” he added. “She also does a great job of leading along the younger girls and helping get them to where they need to be.”

The team’s lone junior, wing player Sydney Brock, has dealt with several injuries in the last two seasons, and Crutcher is hopeful that she can avoid the injury bug this season and become a key contributor on the squad.

The sophomore class features several returning starters from last year, including speedsters Courtney Ketner, Ally Johnson, and Katy Phillips. Courtney Cross, Paige Sanford, and Saralin Stubbs also return, along with Abby Martenn, who will mind the net for a second straight season. Crutcher said that Dana Whittington, recruited from the softball team, has been a pleasant surprise so far.

Among the freshmen, Crutcher said Bailey West and Kaylee Adams could see a lot of playing time on the defensive side, which was hit the hardest by graduation.

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” he said. “We should be able to spread the ball around have a lot of people play a lot of minutes, which is always good. We’re still trying to figure out what type of team we’re going to be. What we want to do is play possession and use our speed when we can because it should pose some matchup problems.

“The question is, can we do that with Region 7-AAAA being as strong as it is, and with a team this young, it may take us a couple of games to figure it all out.”

Ridgeland will be tested early and often as they face subregion powers Dalton, Northwest Whitfield, Southeast Whitfield, and Heritage in the first month of the season, along with a test against longtime rival LFO.