By Barbara Boxleitner
Brittiney Gardner has been a playmaker more than a scorer for the Erskine College women's soccer team.
Last year the Midlothian Heritage High School graduate took 21 shots, third on the team but more than twice as many as she attempted her first year. The 5-foot-3 center midfielder finished with three goals and one assist, fourth in scoring on the squad, in starting every game she played.
Erskine head women's soccer coach Robin Smith wants her to do even more offensively this season, which has been moved from the fall to spring because of the pandemic. "I've been trying to get her to gain more confidence in being able to do that," Smith said. "She can have a good shot."
In Gardner's first two seasons, opponents have outshot and outscored Erskine. The team averaged one goal a game her freshman season, when she finished with the second fewest shots among the seven Fleet who logged at least 1,000 minutes and had two goals and one assist.
Her position some of that year wasn't the best fit. "She (the coach) put me at outside mid for a while but realized that's not where I'm supposed to be," she said.
As an attacking center midfielder, however, she is in position to score. "One of her biggest strengths is being able to dribble with speed," the coach said. "She's able to attack into that open space and distribute the ball."
Gardner's goals last year came in the same game. She earned the coveted hat trick in a win over Piedmont International in the National Christian College Athletic Association Southeast Regional opening round. It was the team's first hat trick since at least 2012, the first year of statistics listed in the school's online archive.
"I had already scored two goals. There was a through ball up the side, I beat two defenders and kicked it off the goalie's hands," she said. "My biggest strength is beating people one-on-one."
She has prepared for this season by practicing her ball skills, including in cone and shooting drills, nearly an hour three to four days a week and conditioning three days a week.
Also from Midlothian Heritage, Hanna Larson is a freshman middle blocker for Texas A&M University.
Heritage alumna Karena Tipton is a redshirt freshman middle blocker and right side hitter for Texas A&M-Commerce.
JT Cavender is a freshman linebacker for West Texas A&M University. He played for Midlothian High.
Former Jaguar Konner Jones-Searcy is a freshman linebacker for Midwestern State University.
Send updates about area athletes to Barbara Boxleitner at firstname.lastname@example.org.