Sad Senior Night, but playoffs loom
Tyler Clifton | News-Telegram Sports Writer

March 12, 2004 -- Danielle Smith did her best in trying to console a teary-eyed Yorri Franklin after Monday night's 4-3 shootout loss to Texas High, but all it did was cause Smith's eyes to water up as well with the chants of "Texas High" being heard in the background.

Robin Grafton had to be encouraged by fellow freshman Gayle Grand-Lienard after her kick was stopped in the shootout, as the Lady Cats lost for the first time since Feb. 19.

It says a lot about a team when its opponent relishes a victory in a game that was a meaningless one in retrospect. It could've been one of the major reasons for the Lady Wildcats to come out a little flat. After all, they had already clinched their first-ever district championship with Friday's 1-0 win at Paris, while the Lady Tigers were eliminated from the postseason. It says even more for SSHS that the girls took the loss so close to heart, because it means they hate to fall short. There's no such thing as a "good loss" to this team.

Monday's game was the final home contest for eight Lady Cat seniors, including Smith, Franklin and Amanda McDonald, the three players who started it all four years ago. With senior night comes distractions, and although head coach J.J. Williams would be the last person to make excuses, he said the pre-game activities took some focus away from the team.

"I think the emotion of this night got in the way of how the girls played," Williams said. "I don't think they could get their heads into this game, and that falls on the coach. I take credit for this loss."

Williams gathered the girls together and said a change of mindset is at stake. He gave them a day off today but told them in no uncertain terms that there will be some hard running in store Wednesday in preparation for the team's new goal -- an area championship.

The location and opponent are unknown, but the Lady Wildcats have almost two weeks to prepare for their new season and the all-important bye that goes along with it. It couldn't come at a better time, as SSHS hopes to be at full strength -- including the return of Smith, the team's catalyst on defense. The senior sweeper said she could've played Monday night but "stuff happens."

"I came in thinking I was going to play but didn't," Smith said. "It's important at this point that we pick each other up and bond as a team, and there's nothing that's going to stop me from getting in the next one."

One of those players who must keep her head held high is Franklin. The Lady Cats lost not one, but both of their goalkeepers, and all Franklin did was go out and post two consecutive shutouts against Mount Pleasant and Paris. It's funny how quickly a loss can make those accomplishments be forgotten.

Every team in the state of Texas opens its season with eyes on a district championship. If it doesn't, then there's no reason to even step out on the field. However, it's one thing to talk about it and another to go out and do it, and this group of girls got the job done. They refused to simply go through the motions.

That doesn't mean there isn't some unfinished business. This team wants to go out and make a statement for everyone to hear, and Williams said he feels he has the group to make some noise in the playoffs.

"No one can take away the fact that we're the 2004 district champs. It's now a one-game-at-a-time attitude for us, and I think we've got the tools (speed, ball control, defense) to get it done. These girls hate to lose, but I feel they'll bounce back. They haven't lost two games in a row all year long. Whoever we play in the playoffs will have some trouble on their hands."

Smith, Franklin and McDonald, along with Caroline Capobianco, Erin Baima, Denise Bautista, Kaleigh Thompson and Jessica Negrete had their time in the spotlight on senior night. It's now time for the team to focus on the bigger picture, as it has the talent and desire to go as far as it wants. The only question that remains is how hard it will work in the next two weeks in what will be the beginning of a new journey.

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