Ernie Suozzi was sending a message.
The Hilton Head Island High girls soccer team entered the season as the odds-on favorite to capture the Class 3-A state championship for the third consecutive year. With nine Seahawks set to play at the college level, the goal this year appeared to be an unblemished season, let alone another title.
And yet, there Hilton Head High was on the losing end in just the second game of the season. The Seahawks squandered a 2-0 lead with 15 minutes to play Saturday against Dutch Fork in the Viking Cup, before falling, 3-2.
Suozzi won't say what exactly was said in his postgame speech, but acknowledges it wasn't pretty.
"(We can't) be complacent and think people are going to lay down for us," he said Monday. "We have to understand that people are going to give us their best shot. We have to be ready for that every game."
So he shook things up in the ensuing match against Nation Ford. With the Seahawks out of the championship, the majority of those nine future college players received some valuable rest while their younger teammates stepped in. What followed was a 4-0 win over a team that advanced to the state quarterfinals two years ago.
It's that sort of depth that still has Hilton Head High primed for another state title run. It's a group that hasn't earned much of the spotlight for the Seahawks, but could likely make a push at a championship in their own right.
"I think they could go pretty deep in the playoffs," Suozzi said. "That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to build from this year. They scrimmage every day (against future college players), and going up against them will help."
Unfortunately for Suozzi, the S.C. High School league doesn't make trophies for the best reserves. He'll just have to settle for the state championship instead.
The starters suggest the Seahawks (2-1) will get there. Emily Crick, last year's Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette Player of the Year, headlines the group. The senior, who was also a member of the 2012 SCSoccer.com Super XXII team, is heading to Wofford next year while three teammates are also traveling the Division I route.
Defender Jordan Haughton-James, a Charleston Southern signee, is one of three defenders also set to play in college. The quartet solidifies the strength of this year's roster, as Hilton Head High sets its sights on breaking last year's mark of 18 shutouts, which is believed to be a school record.
The Seahawks have already posted two in the early going against J.L. Mann and Nation Ford, and will get a shot at a third tonight at 7 against Bluffton (0-2-1). The Bobcats have not beaten Hilton Head High under Suozzi's watch.
"They're pretty stout," Suozzi said. "They take pride in posting those shutouts. For Dutch Fork to put three on them, that hurt their pride a little bit. But it was a combination (of factors)."
They'll need some help from their new goal keeper to reach that mark, as sophomore Samantha Womack steps in for incumbent starter Lauryn Bush, who was lost to an ACL injury during basketball season. Her replacement has already drawn rave reviews from Suozzi in this, her first season with the varsity squad.
"She's 6-foot-1 and when she puts her hands up she can touch the top of the cross bar," Suozzi said. "She's worked hard at conditioning this year. She's probably the most improved player coming from the JV team last year and stepping to the role with this group.
" ... She's made some very, very good stops for the defense."
In the end, overconfidence may be the biggest challenge for Suozzi and Co. this season. The Seahawks had their way with SCAD in a scrimmage and handed Academic Magnet, a state runner-up last season, a convincing 3-0 defeat in the preseason. But Hilton Head High can't rest on its laurels if the Seahawks have dreams of another title.
"That's the biggest thing, just complacency," Suozzi said. "It's easy to fall into that."
2013 HIGH SCHOOL SOCCER PREVIEW
Coach: Bill Dalton, 19th year (106-59-1)
2012 results: 5-8 overall, lost in first round of SCISAA playoffs
Assistant coaches: Tom Savage, Michael Morrison, Rob Mathai
Notable losses: D Jack Griffith, F Billy Dailey, F Michael Bible (F), D John Sturgis D
Top returning players: F Gibson Achurch, MF/F Conner Akers, MF Charles Sanford, MF George Sanford, D Finn Koppernaes
Key newcomers: D Gil Dyer, D Nicky Macuch, D/MF Andrew Gray
Strengths: A strong group of experienced returning players join up with a handful of newcomers to form what Dalton believes to be the best combination of size and strength that the Eagles have had in years.
Weaknesses: Two young prospects, Reyn Robinson and Ashton Guest, will compete to fill the void at goal keeper.
Burning question: The Eagles lost three games in penalty kicks a season ago and have trouble winning close matches the last two seasons, Dalton said. With the region growing from three to six teams, how will Beaufort Academy put away its late-game difficulties and repeat as region champions?
Coach's prognosis: "Very good," Dalton said. "We hope to go deeper in the playoffs this year than last."
Coach: Josh Fox, 4th year (30-29)
2012 results: 7-14 overall, 5-3 Region 7-AAA
Assistant coaches: Dan Waymont, Clint Austin
Notable losses: D Jake George, M Ryan Blizzard, D Mallie Sprouse, D B.J. Hill
Top returning players: D Adolfo Govea, M Omar Govea, D Davis Rosenblum, M Wanerger Velasquez
Key newcomers: M Will Holland, M Miguel Jiminez (M), F Johnny Escamilla, GK Richard Snyder
Strengths: The Bobcats are a disciplined group that should be strong in the middle and control possession.
Weaknesses: Fox still continues his search for a consistent scorer, which has plagued Bluffton for the last several seasons. The Bobcats also had no starting goal keeper of yet and are looking for Richard Snyder or Kevin Millan to run away with the job.
Burning question: How will the Bobcats fare in the deeper, more talented Region 8-AAAA?
Coach's prognosis: "I am excited to work with this group," Fox said. "It is the youngest group that I have had at Bluffton High. The team is already showing an impressive level of discipline and excitement for the season. If their work ethic at practice translates on to the field I feel that we have the opportunity to surprise some people at the 4-A level."
Hilton Head Island
Coach: Wayne Quinlan (328-205-22 overall, 58-27-3 with Hilton Head High)
2012 results: 17-4 overall, 8-0 Region 7-AAA, lost in state championship to Fort Mill.
Notable losses: D Tyler Betts, D Nick Karis, GK Mike Ritterbeck, S Ruben Romero
Top returning players: MF Eliot McPherson, D Josh Mousseau, Kenneth Gonzalez
Key newcomers: Steven Rendon, Alvero Concha
Strengths: The Seahawks bring back an experienced group that made it to last year's state final, as 11 seniors return from a season ago, eight of which were starters in the season-ending loss to Fort Mill. Chris MacMurray headlines the group, as the Georgia Southern signee scored 14 goals during a run that led him to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette Player of the Year honor.
Weaknesses: Leadership may be an issue early on, as Quinlan replaces all three captains from a season ago.
Burning question: Who will take over for Ritterbeck in the net? The senior was a stalwart defensively a season ago, and Conner Goulet has drawn the early task of replacing him. Should he play well, the Seahawks could be primed for another state title run.
Coach's prognosis: "Our players have worked hard since last year and are eager to win a state championship," Quinlan said. "We have the tools to get it done and now we have the experience of having been there. The only thing left is to see if we have the heart for the journey."
Hilton Head Prep
Coach: Matt Dakolios, 2nd year (11-6)
2012 results: 11-6 overall, lost to SCISAA quarterfinals to Cardinal Newman
Assistant coaches: Chris Della Rosa
Notable losses: D Campbell Goss, D Dan Chamber, S Aiden Hegarty, S Colin White
Top returning players: MF Logan Clark, MF Will Peterkin, GK Zen Wiggins, MF Andrew Spencer
Key newcomers: MF Ryan Henderson, D Teron Daley
Strengths: This year's edition of the Dolphins features a wealth of skill in the midfield and a strong presence in goal.
Weaknesses: Youth and depth
Burning question: What players will step up to replace the 45 goals lost in the turnover from last season?
Coach's prognosis: "The team is working hard to build upon and exceed last year's positive season, which resulted in Prep's first playoff appearance in five years," Dakolios said. "With a strong midfield, the team should challenge for a postseason run if it can defend well in the back and find composure near the net."
Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School
Coach: James Singleton
2012 results: Hardeeville -- 9-5 overall, lost in Elite Eight to Governors School; Ridgeland -- 4-7 overall, lost in second round to Blackville-Hilda
Notable losses: Cruz Romero, Jose Zambrano, Jerry Garcia, Estoban Pinta, Chris Mejia
Top returning players:F Martin Sotelo, F Adrian Morales, GK Marcos Cisca, Arnol Cisneros, Alan Cruz
Strengths: With the consolidation of Ridgeland and Hardeeville high schools, depth should be better for Singleton's soccer program.
Weaknesses: The merging of the two programs may cause "a few hiccups early," Singleton said, but the coach is hoping the Jaguars peak toward the latter half of the season.
Burning question: The Hurricanes started six freshmen during their Elite Eight run while Ridgeland handed their rivals two of their losses. What could be in store for the program now that the two schools have formed one team?
Coach's prognosis: "Our region may be the best in all of Class 2-A with defending state champion Academic Magnet," Singleton said. "Bishop England always is a top team in 2-A and Battery Creek has always produced good 3-A teams and now dropping down to 2-A they should be considered a top notch 2-A program."
Coach: David Byrne, 11st season
2012 results: 11-4 overall, lost in SCISAA state championship to Oakbrook Prep
Notable losses: Madeline Griffith, Shelby Mixson
Top returning players: MF Miranda Weslake, D Kiana Fortner, GK Charlotte Delfosse, D Xavia Lemott, MF Brynna Ferry
Key newcomers: Anna Dyer, Briley Langehans
Strengths: Midfield appears to be the strength this year for the Eagles, led by veteran Miranda Weslake and a young group of proven goal scorers. Lemott and Fortner will anchor the defense while Delfosse enters her third season in the net.
Burning question: Will the Eagles be able to return to the SCISAA state final and avenge last season's championship defeat at the hands of Oakbrook Prep?
Hilton Head Christian Academy
Coach: Ben Gerdts, 3rd season (20-21-2)
2012 results: 9-10 overall, 6-6 in region play
Assistant coaches: David Meeder
Notable losses: F Nicole Sicilia, MF Addy Bensch, D Megan Nadal, G Ashley Donaldson, D Reilly Malphrus
Top returning players: MF Rebecca Meeder, D Summer Johnson, MF Audrey Bensch
Strengths: Gerdts thinks this year's team will have a great deal of intensity and belief in one another
Weaknesses: Communication and youth
Burning question: Gerdts wonders if his Eagles will make every step they take on the field count this year.
Coach's prognosis: "I'm more excited about this team than last year's team, which is something I was saying about last year's team about this time in 2012," Gerdts said. "However, we have the most complete team we've had in our three years here, and I hope it can translate into a fulfilling year for our squad of players."
Hilton Head Island
Coach: Ernie Suozzi, 4th year (70-14)
2012 results: 25-2 overall, 8-0 Region 7-AAA, beat Eastside in the state championship
Assistant coaches: Ray Craver, Anthony Serpe
Notable losses: MF Jessica Bonilla, D Megan Farrel
Top returning players: D Elizabeth Wipper, D Alex Vinson, F/MF Taylor Bush, MF Emily Crick, MF Logan Danzell, F/MF Kelsey Fitzhugh, D Jordan Haughton-James, D Victoria Johnston, D Carter Julseth, MF/F Faith Lifer, MF Bridgette Noonan, D Nikki Schoning , F Amanda Green, MF Ashley Green, F/D Natalie Mlodzinski, F/MF Rebecca Johnston
Key newcomers: MF Leighton Grey-Smith, MF Rebecca Parent, GK Samantha Womack, MF Brennan O'Gorman, MF Jamie Danzell, D/F McKenzie Poplin, F/MF Claudia Murphy
Strengths: Senior leadership, speed and team depth.
Burning question: Will their be enough to go around for the deep Seahawks, which feature nine players signed on to play in college?
Coach's prognosis: "(We're) hoping to defend our state championship title and get through the season without any injuries," Suozzi said.
Hilton Head Prep
Coach: Chance Cook, 3rd year (22-11)
2012 results: 8-8 overall, missed postseason
Assistant coaches: Bryan VanGronigen
Notable losses: D Mackenzie Brown, M Amber Erkan, D Allison Frederick
Top returning players: F Halie Parker, M Hannah Parker, M Ellie Nixon, D Maggie Gasser
Strengths: The Dolphins are a cohesive group which has a great rapport with one another. Prep has a strong core of seniors supplemented by a talented crop of underclassmen.
Weaknesses: Inexperience may prove troublesome, as Prep will likely see a large number of underclassmen receive significant playing time.
Burning question: With almost half of the roster moving up from the middle school and junior varsity ranks, figuring out the best overall lineup may take some time for Cook.
Coach's prognosis: "I feel we are a very talented, yet relatively young, team that should be able to compete quite well in a tough region," Cook said. "Our overall schedule is demanding, but should prepare us to potentially make a run in the SCISAA playoffs if everything comes together the way I hope it does."