‘She’s getting close’

Harmon nears record once thought unapproachable

It’s not that Pepe Fernandez thought Jennifer Windrow’s career goals record would never be broken.

“I wondered if Windrow’s record would ever be touched!” the Maryville College women’s soccer coach said.

Senior Sarah Harmon has proven relentless in her assault on one of Maryville’s most storied records the last three years. Windrow tallied a stunning 70 goals during a decorated career at the school in the mid 1990s. The previous mark had been 51, leaving many, including Fernandez, to speculate the record would never be approached.

With a pair of goals last week en route to being named Great South Athletic Conference Player of the Week, Harmon now stands at 55 career goals, second best all-time behind Windrow at Maryville.

“She’s getting close,” Fernandez said.

The Lady Scots (4-1-1) have 12 matches remaining, not including Tuesday’s visit from Spelman College, prior to postseason. Sixteen goals is a lot over that span, but Harmon plays in an offense that led the nation in scoring a year ago. The team around her is exceedingly deep, highlighted by sophomore jet Jessica Peterson.

In freshman Desiree Simmons, Maryville has the kind of a rare talent in goal that encourages an offense to be daring.

“I feel like we have as much talent as we’ve ever had,” Fernandez said. “Last year, we were the top offense in the country, and we added the Virginia state player of the year in goal. We’ve always been able to score goals.”

With Harmon, perhaps like never before.

Maryville burned opposing teams for NCAA-best 117 goals in 23 games en route to a 17-5-1 finish a year ago. Harmon knocked home 13 of those goals, along the way breaking the school’s single-season record for assists with 15, eclipsing the mark she’d set the previous year. The total put the two-time Great South player of the year at the head of the class in terms of career assists as well.

By season’s end, the Maryville single-season and career records for points — goals and assists combined — is likely to be hers, too.

And to think, all of it almost never happened.

McIntosh High is one of the Atlanta area’s best for prep soccer, so much so Harmon didn’t make the varsity there her first two seasons. Her junior year, she was all set to be promoted when the coach resigned prior to the season. His replacement relegated Harmon back to the junior varsity for another year of seasoning.

Frustrated, Harmon said she considered quitting.

“My best friend said, ‘If you don’t play, you’re going to regret it,’” Harmon said.

“My junior year, I had the tryout of my life,” she added. “I felt like it was my time. I tried to step up and do my best. I said, ‘If you’re going to do this to me, I’m going to prove you wrong.”

Harmon was one of the state’s best by the close of her senior season. She immediately proved quite the catch for Maryville as a freshman, scoring in her first game as a Lady Scot. She hasn’t stopped scoring since.

“We thought that she could score some goals for us,” Fernandez said. “We didn’t know she would score in record numbers like this.”

Where Windrow was a tall, willowy forward with a howitzer for a left foot, Harmon is a tough, tactical genius with a tireless work rate, one with a rare skill even the trendsetting Windrow didn’t possess.

“Windrow’s left foot was amazing,” Fernandez said. “Sarah’s great with both feet.”

On the field, he added, Harmon’s motor is always running.

“Sarah’s strikes the ball really well, and Sarah works hard,” Fernandez said. “She works really, really hard. That’s the trait that sets her apart, and her senior year she’s taken it to another level.”

Harmon has a real shot at 71 or better largely because of the team around her, Peterson, last season’s Great South freshman of the year, most notable. Where Harmon stalks goals in an almost methodical fashion, the quicksilver Peterson has the Division-I speed to simply run by an opponent, Fernandez said.

“You can’t go to too many Division I games and see someone faster than her,” he said.

Peterson sits atop the Maryville scoring tables with seven goals and five assists on the year, with Harmon matching the goal tally to go with a pair of assists. Neither of them would score very many goals without the work of players like junior Lauren Metts and freshman Haley Stegner in midfield, both said.

“(Metts) runs our middle,” Peterson said. “When she’s not in there, you can tell.”

Maryville may have never had a player between the goalposts like the dynamic Simmons. Division I Radford was all set to sign the budding Lady Scot star before choosing instead to go with another prospect.

Radford coach Ben Sohrabi is a Maryville alum, though. When he couldn’t find room for Simmons, he didn’t forget his old school.

“He said, ‘Listen. This girl is really, really good,’” Fernandez said. “I saw here play during the winter, and you could tell she was special.”

She’s also a master at team moral.

“She cracks herself up,” senior Sarah Powell said.

A fan of pop star Michael Jackson, Simmons said she once moonwalked in goal during a high school game. After a while, fans came to expect it.

“They used to hold up signs for me (saying): Dance for me, Desi,” she said.

“I’ve always got to be smiling in goal,” she added. “I have to make myself laugh. I just find little things funny.

Few are better at evaluating goal scorers than the players whose job it is to stop them. Harmon is a one-of-a-kind striker, Simmons said.

“On the assist side,” she said, “she has some of the nicest crosses I’ve ever seen.”

Harmon is pretty good with her left, non-dominant side, Simmons said.

If she gets it on her right foot, “It’s over,” she said.

If she catches Windrow, she won’t do it alone, Harmon said.

“I’ve encountered so many people — like coach Fernandez and (assistant) coach (Jon) Baker — that have pushed me to limits I never thought possible,” she said.

Now, more than breaking records seems possible.

Maryville advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament a year ago. The Lady Scots are looking for a much longer stay this time around, Harmon said.

“We’ve basically stepped out on the field and said to each other, ‘We could be a Final Four team,’” she said. “I’d like to show the U.S. that Maryville is out there and we have a great program.”

By season’s end, it could also have the greatest goal scorer the school has ever seen.

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