Natalie Dunn was a one-girl scoring machine for the Hume-Fogg soccer team last fall during its run to the TSSAA Class AA state tournament.
The All-State forward netted 18 of the Blue Knights’ 25 goals in a COVID-shortened, 12-game season. Hume-Fogg relied on then-senior goalkeeper Ana Boero and an experienced defense to keep scores low.
But the makeup of this year’s team is completely different.
After losing six starters to graduation, including several defenders, Hume-Fogg has shifted its strategy. The Blue Knights (10-4-1) have outscored their opponents 66-30 through 15 games this season.
“It’s definitely been a lot more fun and less stressful when you know you can get a couple of goals in,” Hume-Fogg coach Philip Lovell said. “The biggest adjustment has been going from a defensive-minded team to an offensive-minded team.”
Dunn (27 goals, 9 assists) is still a go-to offensive player, but now she has help in the final third. Freshman Silvia Shirey (32 goals, 11 assists) has teamed with Dunn to form a dynamic scoring duo.
“I can’t believe how fast we connected,” Dunn said. “I think we both play the same (way) since she also plays for Tennessee Soccer Club. We are both pretty excelled up top.”
Though they come from the same travel program, Dunn and Shirey have only been playing together for a few months and don’t cross paths at school due to their age difference.
Lovell said he splits practices into small groups to give players like Dunn and Shirey a chance to jell together. That move has paid off.
“Probably most of the goals that Silvia and I score happen when I cross to her and she scores or she crosses to me and I score,” Dunn said. “We like to assist each other.”
The emergence of Shirey has taken pressure off Dunn. Defenses can’t just focus on one player.
“This year (Natalie) has the ability to take the ball down and teams can’t put three or four (defenders) on her, which was what happened a ton last year,” Lovell said. “Having that other outlet frees her up a lot.”
The Blue Knights have never won a state championship but did finish as the Class A-AA runner-up in 1998 and 1999. Hume-Fogg’s 2020 semifinal appearance was the furthest it had advanced since those glory days of the late ’90s.
Getting back to that level this season will require some work. Hume-Fogg was missing several starters in a 9-3 loss at Merrol Hyde on Wednesday.
Lovell thinks the team is capable of another deep postseason run once its lineup returns to full health. The Blue Knights will need to be firing on all cylinders in the region tournament against White House or White House Heritage and in the sectionals against Central Magnet or Page.
“I think we’re definitely one of the top five teams in the state in our division,” Lovell said. “I always joke that getting to state is harder for us than the state tournament itself. But I think we can get there.”
The unlikely freshman-senior scoring combo of Shirey and Dunn may be the determining factor in how far Hume-Fogg goes.
“It would be the cherry on top of my senior year, especially if we won it,” Dunn said. “I want to do everything possible to make that happen. I really hope that happens.”