Foundation firm by SSHS soccer
Tyler Clifton | News-Telegram Sports Writer

March 27, 2004 -- HENDERSON - No Sulphur Springs athletic team has won a playoff game in the 2003-04 school year, and the Lady Wildcat soccer team was a mere four minutes away from becoming the first.

It took 28 shots, the last 18 of sudden-death variety, before the game was finally settled, and it's a shame either team had to lose, particularly this group of girls who gave it their all and much more.

Maci Chester said it best, when she told Yorri Franklin she couldn't be a senior forever, but it didn't take away the sting of a 4-3 loss that took over three hours to decide a winner. SSHS came out on the short end of the stick, but there was absolutely nothing more this team could do to give itself a chance to win, and the 60 loyal fans who made the trip certainly got their money's worth.

Junior captain Tess Bragg did all she could to help her fellow seniors, scoring two goals with her prized left foot, including a shot with less than five minutes to go in the second overtime period that sent the game into a shootout.

Not enough good things can be said about freshman goalkeeper Kai'la Petty, whose first year of soccer began and ended with a shootout. She was thrown into the fire early and overcame a back injury to return when the team needed her most. She matched a much more experienced goalie shot for shot.

The Lady Cats were inches away from being the first area championship team in school history, and there wasn't a more fitting example than Franklin's attempt in the shootout that glanced off the right goal post. Ashley Petty lifted a high-arching shot that went just above the net, but it would be the final chance for SSHS.

Head coach J.J. Williams talked about each of his seniors one by one and pointed out their contributions to the team. All eight of them played significant roles in its first district championship.

Smith, who finally seemed to be at least close to full speed after suffering an ankle injury, will be sorely missed up the middle. Franklin's speed will have to replaced, and Caroline Capobianco turned from what Williams called a mediocre forward into a top-of-the-notch defender.

Kaleigh Thomson and Amanda McDonald showed tremendous leadership on the field, while Erin Baima, Denise Bautista and Krista Chester all contributed throughout the course of the season.

Credit has to be given to Henderson, a team in only its second year of existence, who found itself behind late in both halves and came back on both occasions before eventually taking its first lead in overtime.

Bragg showed why she'll most likely be the team's focal point next season with her clutch performance, and although the team is losing quite a bit, Williams still has a lot of experience coming back that can keep the program's success intact.

Offensively, having Bragg for another year as well as the team's top scorer in Ashley Petty will pay huge dividends in getting this team back to where it wants to be next season. Junior Jennifer Moreland along with sophomores Maci Chester and Makenzie Kelty return on defense which will be the one area in which replacements must be found.

Williams is excited about the prospects of next season, especially with three freshmen in Gayle Grand-Lienard, Robin Grafton and Kai'la Petty performing as well as they did this season. The sky is certainly the limit on how far this team can go in the future.

"It's a great thing to have three freshmen on the field as varsity athletes," Williams said. "We didn't just put them out there to fill spots, they deserved to be out there. Gayle and Robin have tremendous leg ability, and for Kai'la to go out there and stop 13-of-14 shots the way she did ...I couldn't have asked for anything more out of them."

As for the 2003-04 Lady Cats, they went out on the field and took care of business with the utmost class. This group set goals and accomplished them on the field. They fell short of an area title, but not many teams taste success without hitting a few bumps along the way. If they do, then they should consider themselves lucky.

The foundation has been laid, and now Williams and the Lady Cats hope to continue to build toward the future in what they hope is a path to bigger and better things. The tears were finally wiped away Tuesday night, but the eight seniors who will soon go their separate ways know that no one can ever take away what they helped accomplish, and that's the program's first district championship.

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