North Gwinnett's girls soccer team and forward Danielle Au both came into the season without much hype.
The Bulldogs lost eight seniors from the 2007 team, then lost five more players to season-ending injuries before their first game. They had seven freshmen contributors (five starters), two sophomore starters and no seniors.
Au was coming off a good freshman year, but she still wasn't the most heralded player in her own family - older sister Samantha scored 85 goals at North and plays at Kentucky.
By the end of the season, both North and Au had moved to the forefront. The Bulldogs pushed eventual state champ Parkview to the limit, emerging as one of the favorites for the 2009 state playoffs, while Au became one of the state's top scorers, earning Daily Post player of the year honors in girls soccer.
"(Au) just wants the ball," North girls coach Mark Karen said. "She truly believes our success hinges on her performance. That's a lot of pressure, more pressure than I'd like to see, particularly for a young player. But she puts herself in that situation. She wants the ball and feels our success each game depends on her play.
"She works so hard all year to be prepared. I don't know anyone who practices so hard on their own all year as her and her sister."
The work paid off with a huge sophomore season.
Au had 39 goals and 13 assists, finishing one goal shy of Christine Haman's school record. If she went into the season without the full focus of opposing defenses, she left just the opposite.
Even the state's top defense, Parkview, had some difficulties slowing down Au. The unbeaten Panthers, who allowed just six goals in 22 games, held North scoreless in a 1-0 thriller but had a few close calls when Au hit the post with one shot and narrowly missed over the goal with another.
That's two more good chances than most Parkview opponents got during the season.
"I think we did pretty well (against Parkview)," said Au, who committed to South Carolina following the playoffs. "People have been saying that was the championship game because we were (Parkview's) toughest game."
Au already has 52 goals in two high school seasons, so she's in range to catch both her sister Samantha (85) and Haman (87) for the top two spots on North's scoring list, maybe by the end of next season.
The 39 goals this season came against tough competition, with the biggest outburst by far against Norcross in the regular-season's final game. She scored a school-record seven goals in that 8-0 victory over the playoff-bound Blue Devils.
"I've taken a lot of flak for letting her (get the school record of seven goals)," Karen said. "But in that situation, you've got to win to get in the playoffs, Norcross is ranked ahead of you in the region and in the state. We've talked to Danielle about goals in big games. She scored five in the first half and I felt like she deserved a chance (at the record).
"I only gave her 15 minutes in the second half. I told her after that she was out."
Au, who maintains a 4.0 GPA, had fun in her huge-scoring day, but she was more excited about her young team's surprising rise to the elite level. Although not regarded highly in the preseason, North finished ranked fourth in Class AAAAA.
"I think we had a pretty good season," Au said. "People thought we'd be fifth in the region and we ended up fourth in the state. That's pretty good."
SideBar: ALL-COUNTY GIRLS SOCCER
Player of the Year: Danielle Au, North Gwinnett, Soph.
Scored 39 goals and had 13 assists
Coach of the Year: Judson Hamby, Parkview
Led Panthers to Class AAAAA state title, first undefeated season
Ashley Baker, Parkview, Sr.
GK had 0.30 GAA, 17 shutouts
Abby Batchelor, Parkview, Sr.
Marking back on team that allowed six goals in 22 games
Emily Bougas, Providence, Soph.
Team-high 16 goals for semifinalists
Megan Geiger, Parkview, Jr.
5 goals, 11 assists for state champs
Michelle Osborn, Brookwood, Sr.
Versatile player had 20 assists
Maria Petroni, Buford, Sr.
Team highs of 28 goals, 13 assists
Jessica Sapp, North Gwinnett, Jr.
Key defender for state playoff team
Kim Spence, Parkview, Soph.
Team-high 21 goals, 6 assists
Natalie Szlachetka, Grayson, Sr.
16 goals, 15 assists
Erin Tate, Brookwood, Sr.
Team-high 20 goals, 5 assists
Christine Watts, Peachtree Ridge, Jr.
23 goals, 9 assists
Samantha Abrahart, GAC, Jr.
Sarah Beth Anderson, Grayson, Sr.
Kelly Craft, Grayson, Soph.
Cherelle Jarrett, Parkview, Fr.
Alexa Jones, Collins Hill, Sr.
Chloe Kelly, Wesleyan, Sr.
Tori Lopez, Providence, Soph.
Kristina Pascutti, Parkview, Jr.
Paige Pickert, Wesleyan, Jr.
Catherine Roadcap, Buford, Sr.
Jordan Weaver, Dacula, Sr.