When Stratford’s soccer season began, head coach James Jordan was blunt, honest and strikingly straightforward when outlining objectives for one of his youngest players.
By season’s end, he wanted her to score 30 goals.
“I told myself, ‘Well, if he set it, he thinks I can do it, so let’s do this,’ ” freshman forward Allie Hale said.
She did it all right. After 18 games and as the end of the regular season had approached, the number “30” was found sitting next to her name in the statistics book. But it couldn’t stop there, with the playoffs looming and potentially four games remaining, more work had to be done.
So, a new target had to be set — Jordan wanted 10 more.
“We came down to the state championship game, and I had already gotten myself up to 38 goals, so I said, ‘All right, I need to score just two more goals; we’ve got to make this happen,’ ” Hale said.
Fate was on her side.
As the Eaglettes rolled to a 5-1 victory in the GISA Class AAA championship, the team’s hottest goal-scorer found herself — as usual — in the right places at the right times and put away a pair of scores that helped clinch Stratford’s 12th title and first since 2006. Not to mention, those two goals helped her reach Jordan’s 40-mark precisely.
All the points she racked up for the team this season also allowed her to earn the title of The Telegraph’s 2010 All-Middle Georgia girl’s soccer player of the year.
The unique thing about the mass of goals that Hale scored, the second-most for a player in the GISA this season, was how she got them. Sure, most came via the conventional foot-on-ball method, but others — including one of her state championship goals — were products of a host of other methods.
“The one in the state championship, she hit off her abdomen or chest,” Jordan said. “It was like the ball was deflected, bounced around and she like swiveled and got her body around to where it almost hit off her chin and went in.
“You just can’t coach that.”
What else can’t be coached?
“I’ve seen where she’s scored a goal with her shoulder, and there have been times where instead of just trying to get the ball to the ground and kick it in like most might try to do, she just puts her body in the way and finds a way to score it off her body and it’ll go in that way,” Jordan said. “When she first started doing it, it was amazing to see but you didn’t know if she just happened to be making plays or not. And then, as time goes on, you see she just keeps on doing it.”
In his nomination for Hale, Jordan called her “the most natural goal-scorer I’ve ever seen.”
Keep in mind, this is a man who has seen the game played in places where it’s called “football” and has coached current collegiate talents like former All-Middle Georgia recipient Alassane Kane.
He later clarified his statement, saying that Hale always seems to have a knack for ending up in perfect position to score and to score by whatever means necessary. For that reason, he had confidence that she could score 30 goals or more when the season began.
“As a sixth-grader, she was a good player and was there competitively, but I wouldn’t necessarily say she stood out immediately at that time,” said Jordan, who has overseen the development of even his youngest players the past several seasons.
A year later, that all changed.
He said he saw flashes of Hale’s promise when she was in the seventh grade, and when she scored 16 goals as an eighth-grader playing varsity last season, he knew he had something special.
“You could see then that she just had this habit of scoring,” Jordan said.
To Hale, however, that knack of perfect positioning isn’t necessarily the result of natural talent. It comes down to having savvy, knowledgeable teammates, she said.
“I had a lot of my teammates’ help with it all,” she said. “A lot of my teammates really did all the hard work getting the ball to me in the right spot and making those sometimes tough passes to set up a score.”
Among the more prolific setup players were fellow freshmen Elizabeth Fuller and Haley Tidwell. Fuller had 14 assists on the season, while Tidwell led the team with 25.
It also didn’t hurt having a pair of siblings and a parent on the field to assist in preparation, Hale said.
Her older sister, Lauren, was a junior this season and team captain. The heart-and-soul of the squad, she often was the player who riled up teammates when things were going well and when they were going poorly.
Twin sister Katie was a versatile player who scored five goals and had five assists, while also spending some time in goal. Their father, Jeff, serves as the goalkeeper’s coach for the team.
“When you have siblings playing with you, it’s easier to tell them what to work on, and it’s easier for them to criticize me because they know how to tell me without worrying about how it sounds,” Allie Hale said. “One of the things about having our whole family involved is that soccer really becomes something that brings us all together. Everyone does something with the game.”
As she gets ready for next season and continues to forge a path toward eventually competing at the collegiate level, Hale is keeping her goals in clear focus.
“Next year, I want to either break 40 (goals) or even 50,” she said. “I really just want to improve.”