Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mill Creek's Lauren Tanner has been selected as the Daily Post's girls soccer player of the year.
For the better part of 19 girls soccer games this spring, the pressure to produce goals fell squarely on Lauren Tanner.
Nearly every time, the speedy Mill Creek forward delivered.
Tanner scored 37 goals and dished out nine assists this season, leading the Hawks to their first-ever region championship in girls soccer.
"I definitely surprised myself at times," said the Daily Post's girls soccer player of the year, who joins the Georgia Bulldogs' women's team this summer. "Some of the moments when my team needed someone to step up, I guess I did in those moments. I was in the zone sometimes, I guess."
More than a few times, according to Mill Creek girls coach Brent Leitsch.
Tanner played a role in 78 percent of the Hawks' goals this season, with a goal or an assist on 46 of their 59 tallies. She scored 18 of those goals in difficult Region 7-AAAAAA. Of the team's 15 wins, 12 came on game-winning goals by Tanner.
"She had a tremendous season and she did all that against teams that were geared to stop her," Leitsch said. "That's the biggest thing. Everybody knew they had to stop her to beat us and with the exception of Brookwood and Lassiter, nobody was really able to stop her."
The high-scoring efforts led to some satisfying moments for her team, like the program's first-ever win over North Gwinnett on Senior Night. That was followed up with a region title-clinching victory over Collins Hill.
"Throughout the season, we did a lot better than some teams thought we'd do," Tanner said. "If you'd asked me three years ago if we would be this good of a team, I don't know if I would have believed you. But we came together as one and did our best. We didn't end like we wanted to, but looking back, we made Mill Creek history and had a great season."
Tanner also had a breakthrough season individually, even though she had been one of the county's best players in previous seasons.
After a combined 17 goals and 16 assists her first two high school seasons, she had 23 goals and 11 assists as a Mill Creek junior. Then she took it to another level this season, when her mission was 40 goals.
She came up three goals short, thanks to Mill Creek's second-round playoff exit with an upset loss to Brookwood.
"She became more aggressive this season and began looking for her own shots more," Leitsch said. "Early in her career, she tried to be more unselfish. She realized after last year that we needed her to be more selfish and take her chances."
The tactic worked, boosting her career totals to a school-record 77 goals along with 36 assists.
"I finished three goals away (from 40), but I can't really get too upset about that," Tanner said.
The recent high school graduate is focused on new goals now. A strenuous schedule of offseason workouts with good friends Megan Gil, her Mill Creek teammate, and Georgia-bound striker Rachel Garcia of Greater Atlanta Christian keep her busy. She also plays with Garcia on the Atlanta Silverbacks Women, in more preparation for her debut college season later this year.
"(Georgia's) counting on the freshman class to come in and make a big impact," said Tanner, who plans a biology major and pre-med path at UGA. "I want to be a big part of that. I want to play as soon as I can and start scoring goals."
As excited as she is about moving forward, Tanner can't help but look back, too. She played on some great teams, one that reached the Final Four, but more importantly made great friends and memories at Mill Creek.
"I'm really excited about going to Georgia and having a big crowd out for soccer, but it's a big school," Tanner said. "When you're in a small community like (Mill Creek), everybody follows soccer. My classmates build me up, talking in the hallways about the big game coming up. I'll definitely miss the community here and our fans in the stands."
The Hawks will miss her, too.
"When she arrived, we had never made the playoffs and now it is an expectation to make the playoffs," Leitsch said. "That's the lasting legacy of her and the senior class. And they, Lauren in particular, did it the right way on and off the field, with class and hard work."