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Soccer seniors help lead young team toward future success
Kenna Lebaron prepares to launch a long pass during the game against Gordon Central. Despite her recent injury, LeBaron has remained a vocal leader. - photo by Rio White

Just three years ago, the Dawson County girls soccer team was an experienced bunch, winning 13 matches and finishing first in Region 7-AAA. After two seasons of adversity and rebuilding, three remaining seniors are helping bring the team back to success — and fostering a refreshed team culture.

Under head coach Chess Hamby, the Lady Tigers have begun this season much improved on last season, posting two wins, two losses and two draws so far. 

Though the formations used and roles for players have been fluid in each match, the team has found a way to gradually build cohesion.

While most of the team is young and relatively inexperienced, the anchors of the team have been seniors Kenna LeBaron, Megan Dixon and Paola Ruiz.

LeBaron has had the most experience observing the changes the team faced over time, having been the only freshman player on the varsity team that won the region three seasons ago.

Her long background in soccer and having played with her older sister has given LeBaron natural leadership instincts. Now more than ever, she is applying those instincts as a vocal leader whether on the field or the bench.

“The past three years…we’ve slowly graduated [players] and made it into a younger program, which I think is really exciting,” LeBaron said. “It definitely takes a lot of patience and understanding that [younger players] are not where I am. You have to take your time, teach them and make them understand that they have to be aggressive and be stronger than they would in years past.”

Despite a recent foot injury, LeBaron has not ceased her vocal presence. She continues to give constructive feedback during practices, while a match is occurring and at the end of the day as well. 

Her pre-injury playing and current input have visibly helped the younger members of the team adjust to the speed and instincts necessary to play well at the high school level. These attributes are also being displayed by Dixon and Ruiz.

Megan Dixon encourages Ruiz to take possession of the ball against Lake Oconee Academy. Dixon has helped the midfield and defense maintain focus when facing pressure. - photo by Rio White

Dixon played with LeBaron in local rec leagues years ago before stopping for a couple of years. After LeBaron helped convince her to join the high school team, Dixon has not looked back and became an important part of the team’s growth.

Playing as a defensive midfielder, Dixon plays a crucial role in keeping the team calm and collected while facing the opposition’s offense.

“Leading by example and showing [young players] ‘this is how to be more professional and this is how we do things on the team’ shows them what to do,” Dixon said. “They’re learning how high school is and how to be mature.”

Another crucial leader on the field is Ruiz, whose influence presents itself most on the field as an organizer of the offense. 

Her balance of individual skill and teamwork helps set up scoring opportunities for the youthful forwards on the team. With an ability to play from a forward or midfield position, she has been able to build offensive momentum with her speed.

Along with LeBaron and Dixon, Ruiz also helps the younger players mature.

“We all get together and try to show [the younger players] how to do things,” Ruiz said. “[I want to] help others get better so that whenever [the seniors] leave they can be the leaders.”

Paola Ruiz looks down the field during the match against Lake Oconee Academy. Ruiz has helped bring together the offense this season. - photo by Rio White

The Lady Tigers will be beginning region play soon, and those challenging matches will continue to give the three seniors opportunities to teach the team important lessons. 

However many matches are won by the team at the end of the season, they will be stronger and more cohesive than ever, thanks in large part to the dedicated seniors.