Lady 'Cat trio laying strong foundation for team's success
Tyler Clifton | News-Telegram Sports Writer

Feb. 27, 2004 -- Sulphur Springs has come a long way in the four short years in which the girls soccer program has been in existence.

Seniors Danielle Smith, Yorri Franklin and Amanda McDonald have all been there from the start and have served as the cornerstone for a team that is finding plenty of positives during the 2003-04 season.

The play of Smith, Franklin and McDonald is a large reason the Lady Wildcats are currently leading District 14-4A with 11 points, and head coach J.J. Williams has blended a stellar group of juniors and seniors and blended them in with some talented underclassmen to form what has been a winning product.

Smith had never played soccer when she and her family moved to Sulphur Springs from Corsicana four years ago. She decided to try the game, and it slowly grew on her. She's now the team's catalyst and provides a tremendous amount of spunk.

"I wasn't really one to play softball, volleyball or basketball, and soccer looked interesting," Smith said. "I thought I might like it, but I didn't play much at first. We had too many players for a varsity team but not enough to field a j.v. team."

When she's not on the soccer field, Smith is vice president of FFA and shows her two pet goats. She missed the first half of Thursday's game to participate in the Hopkins County Junior Market Show and plans to attend Tyler Junior College and study radiology.

Smith now finds herself in one of the most important places on the field at the sweeper position. She's often one of the last obstacles between an opposing player and the goalkeeper. Smith relishes her role on the team, even though she can sometimes be in a difficult spot.

"It's a frustrating position to play at times," Smith said. "I have great teammates that back me up when the ball does get by me.

"We lost a few good players but replaced them with a couple of new faces. I don't know if we necessarily expected to be in first place at this point, but the whole team knew we could make it. "

Smith's favorite soccer moment came during a game last season in Terrell, and although her team was being picked apart at the time, she said its perseverance to come back and tie the game was what made it stick out in her mind.

"We were down 5-1 to Terrell in one of our first games of the season and came back to tie it," Smith said. "It was an awesome feeling and it showed even then that this isn't a team of quitters."

Franklin started her career as a stopper but was moved to forward last season and cannot wipe the smile off her face when thinking of this team's potential. She compared the four years as a picture that has gotten prettier once more glue was added to the paper.

Franklin stressed the importance of being role models, particularly to the younger players such as freshmen Gayle Grand-Lienard, Robin Grafton, Kai'la Petty and sophomores Maci Chester and Makenzie Kelty, who all have bright futures ahead of them.

"We have such a talented group of younger players," Franklin said. "We know we're leaving the team in good hands."

Williams has done a solid job of putting the pieces together and brought a new attitude to the team. The results have showed, and Franklin said an added bonus would be to go out on top her senior year.

"It would be neat to win our first district title, and we have a great chance of doing that at this point," Franklin said. "We're all pretty comfortable with each other and know what we can do, so I don't think we'll be caught off guard by anything that tries to get in our way.

"We are focused and prepared for the challenge that lies before us. It will be even more fun to win it knowing we earned it."

Franklin wastes no time in describing her most memorable game and can't help but let out a few laughs as well, referring to the team's district opener Feb. 6 at North Lamar in which she scored her first career goal.

"I've always wanted to score a goal, and I've been waiting for a long time," Franklin said. "It took me 1,500 shots to do it, but it was fun to help the team win our first district game of the season. Coach Williams and my teammates teased me because it was an ugly shot, but I didn't care."

McDonald has the most experience of the trio, having played soccer since she was eight years old and can be labeled as a utility player, moving all over the field, from stopper to center to her current forward position. She even played goalkeeper in a game earlier this season against Sherman.

Injuries can always take their toll, and having a multi-dimensional player such as McDonald is beneficial to the team with her ability to play multiple positions. She said the team's continuity can be traced back to Williams, who gave the team an ultimatum when it first gathered for practice.

"Coach came in, told us there was going to be no fighting amongst ourselves and that we were going to come together as a team," McDonald said. "He said if we can't do that, then we shouldn't be out here, because you can't win games yelling and getting mad at each other."

McDonald doesn't admit having a leg up on Smith and Franklin from an experience standpoint and said it didn't take very long for friendships to form. She said it helped knowing most of her junior teammates from playing city ball when they were younger.

McDonald plans to attend Lee University in Tennessee, where she expects to try out for the soccer team in April. She feels her four years of playing alongside Smith and Franklin as well as the team's ability to get along have been two deciding factors for the team's current standing. McDonald said the team's unselfishness and its willingness to make the extra pass have helped as well.

"Danielle and I clicked from the start, and Yorri is so fun to be around," McDonald said. "It's exciting to be with such good friends, and we want to go to the playoffs so bad, especially the three of us who have been there from the beginning.

"Every position on this team is important, and we've got girls in each spot playing their roles. We entered district not knowing what the other teams were capable of, but we've all gotten more confident as the season has rolled along and come ready to play every night."

Smith, Franklin and McDonald have each played an integral role for the Lady Cats this season, and perhaps no one has noticed it more than Williams.

"These three girls together create such a positive impact for our team," Williams said. "They lead by example and do such a great job in practice, which is where it all starts.

"It's important for them to stay focused, because they have a big say in how our team prepares for practices and games. If they're not focused, then our team isn't either, but when they're on their game, the team responds."

Smith, Franklin and McDonald will leave a mark on the Sulphur Springs girls soccer program that no one else will ever be able to match. They laid the foundation for the program and are the building blocks for what should be future success down the road.

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