The local high school soccer season came to a close on Saturday, but not before Oneida and Scott High each made their mark on the 2018 campaign, playing for region championships and advancing to the substate as one of the final 16 teams standing across Tennessee in their respective classifications.
Scott High, which kept its season alive last week with one of the most thrilling finishes in school history at Livingston Academy, came up just short against Anderson County — the Lady Highlanders’ fourth showdown with the Mavericks this season — in the Region 3-2A championship game before falling to McMinn Central in the Class 2A sectionals.
The Lady Highlanders defeated Livingston, the champions of District 6-2A, by a score of 2-1 after Tori Sexton scored a goal on a corner kick with less than five seconds remaining. That kept Scott’s season alive, earning a rematch with Anderson County in the Region 3-2A championship game on Thursday. Although the two teams had split in the regular season, the Lady Highlanders had lost to the Mavericks, 3-1, in the District 5-2A championship game one week earlier. Thursday’s game saw Anderson County score a goal late in the first half and hang on for a 1-0 win.
The loss sent Scott High to McMinn Central in the substate round. The Lady Highlanders held on for a half, allowing just one goal, but were eventually worn down, as McMinn Central emerged victorious, 5-0.
“I have coached a long time; I think this would be 14 or 15 seasons with the girls, and I’ve had a few good seasons, and a couple that I would consider great. This one is in there at the top,” Scott High coach Eric Henry said. “To qualify that, it’s safe to say that I’ve worked these girls harder than I have other teams before. I’ve demanded more of them for longer than other teams. And they responded with more work and better effort.”
Henry credited his team for buying in and giving their all.
“You don’t get to two consecutive district championship games at this level, with the competition we face, if you don’t put the work in,” he said. “It’s more than a process. If the kids don’t buy in, then you’re banging your head against the wall. But they did. The seniors bought in two years ago. Many of them have played a lot during their four years. The success last year’s team had really proved that they are capable and worthy to be in those games at the end of the season.”
The Lady Highlanders won their first-ever district championship in 2017. They followed that up this year with the school’s first-ever unbeaten regular season in district play, and advanced to the region championship game and the substate for the first time ever.
“Now that we are here I think the girls realize that it’s not just possible, but expected,” Henry said. “That’s where you dream of being as a coach.”
Oneida, meanwhile, won its second consecutive District 3-A championship, avenging a regular season loss to Cumberland Gap with a 2-1 win over the Panthers. The Lady Indians followed that up with a 5-2 win over Greenback in the Region 2-A semifinals, but fell to Polk County in the region championship game, 3-2, in overtime.
The loss sent the Lady Indians to defending state champion Alcoa for Saturday’s Class A substate game. Compounding matters, Oneida was without leading scorer Macy Dunlap, who suffered a knee injury at Polk County. Dunlap, who was named Region 2’s co-offensive player of the year and was awarded the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals in district and region games, was a vital part of Oneida’s success. In her absence, Alcoa stormed to a 7-1 win. Senior Sarah Morrow, who received some votes for Region 2 MVP, scored the lone goal.
“I think this group exceeded the expectations and running into the defending state champions was always going to be a tall order,” Oneida coach Phil Newport said. “It will not surprise me if Alcoa repeats.”
Newport said his team was disappointed to see its season end, which is the right mentality.
“No one wants their season to be over, which leads me to think we have the right mindset,” he said. “Our seniors particularly invested their energy into keeping us relevant. Sarah kept things running when we had some struggles early in the year and kept up her stellar play all the way to (the substate game). Madi (Keeton) doesn’t have the stats that show up on paper but she was a rock in the back end. Cydnie (White) has basically played all year with one arm after shoulder surgery this summer, and she can fill in at any position out there.”
Henry also credited his seniors with helping his program rise to a championship level.
“Flora Mae (Ayers) lost some playing time and never complained,” Henry said. “She went in and played hard every time she had a chance later on in the season. I’d be hard-pressed to find a player that’s taken more hits than Lexi Storey. She’s dynamite in a very small package. Gabby Boles can run forever and I think dribbling at home around her little brothers have honed her skills. Makayla Babb got moved around this year, playing in the middle and up front, and she probably sees the field better than most I’ve had.”
A big part of Scott’s success was due to the District 5-2A MVP, Kyra Stanley.
“I can’t say enough about Kyra,” Henry said. “I put a lot on her. I even told her that a lot of her success rides on her foot and her work ethic.
“With that said,” he added, “I play several sophomores and a couple of juniors. Those girls have the attitudes of seniors when it comes to wanting to succeed. I’m looking forward to where those girls take us next year.”
Henry said the goal is to improve on the success.
“I hope the girls aren’t too disappointed in coming up a game short of state,” he said. “It was all new to us. We learned. Now we are ready for next year. One thing I did point out to them: we made it to the district championship and the region championship games . . . but no hardware. Next year we gotta get the hardware.”
Newport, too, is looking forward to what the future holds. Like Scott High, Oneida will have to replace some key pieces next year, but the Lady Indians also return several key players, including freshman Caroline Keeton and Alea Jones, who was named Region 2-A’s defender of the year.
“The kids made me a better coach and I demanded a lot out of them,” Newport said of his team. “I hope I have made them better players.”