For the first time since 2013, the Millbrook Women’s Soccer team was able to secure the Cap-8 Conference Championship. This year’s clincher came in what was hands down the most unorthodox manner. 19:31 of Friday’s conference championship game at Leesville was able to be played before officials evacuated the stadium due to lightning. After forty five minutes of waiting for the storm to pass, the Pride and the Wildcats (who both went 10-1-2 in conference play this season) were crowned Co-Champions of the league after it was determined that the game would not be able to be resumed.
Millbrook’s biggest play of the season may have come moments after the cancellation. Playoff seeding needed to be determined, and in order to break the first place tie, a coin flip was held behind closed doors. The winner of the coin flip would be awarded the #1 seed out of the Cap-8 which guarantees home field advantage in the early rounds of the playoffs. “I can’t recall the last time that I was this nervous” remarked head coach Matt Edwards. In a room with himself, Leesville Head Coach Paul Dinkenor, and Leesville Athletic Director Jack Rogers, a penny was flipped to determine playoff seeding. In what epitomizes the Wildcats season so far, Coach Edwards’ team got just the right bounce and they won the coin toss.
Stuck in a dark section of Leesville’s cafeteria, the team erupted in excitement as their coach came back to break the news. There were hugs all around, and pure joy from the twenty one girls that entered this season counted out by many. Coach Edwards says that going into this season in such a strong Cap-8 Conference, with no seniors, and so many question marks as to who would fill what roles, there is no chance that he could have confidently believed that his girls would be in this spot by regular season’s end. “You hate to see this determined by a coin flip, but for our girls to have earned the right to be in a position to win the conference is so amazing, especially given the state of the team at this point a year ago” says Edwards he also added that Friday showed him a lot about who this team is as the girls passed time during the delay by bonding over games and activities in the cafeteria.
Edwards points to the loads of adversity that his junior leaders have endured, as a driving force behind their desire to win. Sydney Parker, Brianna Morris, and the Griffiths’ sisters Lauren and Claire were all on the Varsity team as freshmen in 2014. “At that time, they entered with the weight of the world on their shoulders because we were ranked as one of the top team’s in the nation” notes Edwards, “we were traveling all around playing against the top teams that North Carolina offered night in, and night out, and we underachieved. Those girls had to endure the pain of not being able to meet expectations, and it has really made them stronger”.
After another sub-par year by the program’s standards in 2015, it’s safe to say that those juniors have finally reached those expectations. With 14 players returning from previous seasons in 2016, the Wildcats were able to win the most games in a season since 2013 when they took home both the Cap-8 Regular Season, and Cap-8 Tournament Championship. The firepower that returned to the field this season was greeted with new faces that immediately stepped in to contribute. 15 different players scored this season, and all three of the team’s freshman found the back of the net. After only appearing in two games as a freshman in 2015, sophomore goalie Hayleigh Pack established herself as one of the Cap-8’s top keepers.
She, along with Olivia Celetti, and Erin Mulligan combined for ten shutouts which is the most since Anna Shelden did so in 2012. The numerous saves in goal accompanied a juggernaut offense on the other side of the field. Millbrook has scored 56 goals in 18 games this season, the most since scoring 63 in 23 games in 2014. When you look at the Cap-8 leaders in goals scored, Brianna Morris sits second in the conference with 10. Right behind her are Claire Griffiths, and freshman Alexis Strickland who are tied for third with 9. If you scroll down the list a few more spots, you’ll see Gabby Sturla tied for the sixth most goals, and Maya Celetti tied for the seventh most goals scored in the Cap-8 this season.
“I didn’t see us making this jump so fast but I am so blessed to have this group of girls” says Edwards. Millbrook will host the first round of the 4A State Playoffs on Wednesday as what is expected to be around a #7 or #8 seed in the East. Brackets will be announced at the start of next week. Edwards closed by saying, “It’s always great to have that home field advantage, there’s a comfort level that allows us to go out and go through our routine. I can’t wait to see if we can carry this momentum for a few more weeks”.