The epitome of the youth movement on the Millbrook Women’s Soccer team stands between the goal posts for the Wildcats. Sophomore’s Erin Mulligan and Hayleigh Pack, along with Junior Olivia Celetti have combined to create a brick wall in what is a senior-laden group of Cap-8 goalkeepers. Together, they have combined for ten shutouts which is third best in the conference, and the most at the school since Anna Shelden was able to do so in 2012.
Celetti and Pack combined to see the field two times last season, and Mulligan wasn’t even a member of the team. Success at the highest level was always the expectation, but what has happened this year has far exceeded what they could have imagined, especially on a senior-less team this year. “I’m really motivated by the fact that I am an underclassman” says Hayleigh Pack, “every team you see has a junior or senior goalkeeper, and here I am. I have this drive to go out and prove myself every night because I know that people doubt what I can do”.
“The position that we’re in without seniors is so rare that we have just embraced that mindset, and with the group of players that we have, it’s worked perfect” adds Olivia Celetti. Millbrook started the year outscoring opponents 17-0 through their opening three games. In that span, Pack, Mulligan, and Celetti combined for 15 of their 88 saves this season. “We are in such a unique situation where we have three varsity level starting goalies on one team” says Head Coach Matt Edwards, “each girl has my trust, each others trust, and the trust of their teammates which is huge”.
In three of the team’s first seven games, Olivia Celetti found herself starting the second half between the pipes. Twenty minutes into her appearance, Mulligan would follow, and in each of those three games the Wildcats recorded a shutout. “When you see Hayleigh go out there and not allow a goal in the first half, it makes you want to do the same for yourself and for your teammates” says Erin Mulligan. “I absolutely love to see Olivia and Erin in the game, and at no point have I been disappointed that one of them has come in for me” says Pack. Knowing that she, and Erin Mulligan are varsity caliber starting goalies, Olivia Celetti adds “I may not start, but that’s okay. To some girls it may be a problem but there isn’t another school that I would rather be at than Millbrook”.
Despite allowing only half a goal a game, the Wildcats were still underestimated heading into the toughest part of their Cap-8 Conference schedule. That’s when the team turned things up a notch to establish themselves as not only one of the top teams in the area, but one of the top teams in the state. Heading into spring break, Millbrook beat Wakefield 1-0, and after break they opened with a 3-1 win vs. Heritage, before turning around to tie undefeated Leesville 0-0 two days later; all without one of their leading scorers Claire Griffiths.
“Once we got into the middle of conference play, and started winning big games, while still shutting people out, it dawned on me that this was actually happening, it was for real” said Hayleigh Pack, “at the start of the year we were just like, “oh we don’t have seniors, I guess this is our team”, and then these wins kept coming, and we were like, “oh my gosh, we don’t have seniors”, and from there we just started to fully embrace that mentality against all of these girls that are older, and more experienced, and girls that are about to go play college ball. This whole ride has been crazy”.
This crazy ride is heading to the 4A State Playoffs behind 88 saves, and an 0.64 Goals Against Average, but as much as the strong play in goal has been, it’s all stemmed from the ten girls that play in front of the keepers. “Communication is the most important thing at our position, and we all have the trust of the girls that play in front of us” says Mulligan. Brynn Lloyd, Sydney Parker, Hayden Trueheart, and Haley Flowers are just a few of the unsung defensive heroes on this years team. In many cases, they’re the driving force behind so many of the team’s shutouts according to Hayleigh Pack, “very few times this season have I stressed about making a mistake because I always know that one of them will be there to help out and make a big play on a top scorer before they even get a chance to take a shot my way”.
What makes Millbrook so balanced is the fact that offensively, the Wildcats are just as talented. You can’t shut a team out and win without girls putting the ball in the back of the net on the other end, and whenever the defense needs a pick-me-up, there is the offense with two or three goals to help lead the team to victory. “None of us worry about allowing a goal because you know eventually, somebody will score” says Celetti. Olivia’s sister Maya is one of five girls on the team that is in the top ten in goals scored in the Cap-8 Conference. Each day in practice, Millbrook’s trio of goalkeepers are having to face the toughest of shots from Brianna Morris who is third in goals scored, or Alexis Strickland and Claire Griffiths who are tied for fourth. Gabby Sturla and Maya Celetti are seventh and eighth in the league and they’re just ahead of Natasha Fisk and Jensen Emerline who are on the doorstep of the top ten with four goals apiece. “They’re all so fast, and you can never doubt their ability to score” says Hayleigh Pack, “when they do score, something just clicks with them and they go score another goal right away. In games and practices, they’ve all made me such a better player”.
Game planning to face the offense of the conference champion Wildcats is a nightmare to any coach, but to the one who finds a solution, there’s still one of those three goal keepers back between the pipes just waiting to shut down any scoring chance that comes their way. “We’re so closely knit” says Erin Mulligan, “I wouldn’t trade the team that we have, and bonding that we’ve done together for anything” adds Pack. Each and every girl pushes each other to improve in goal whether it’s from the sidelines during a game, or during one of many games that they play together in their pregame routine.
Hard work, and a drive to prove doubters wrong has been the cement to putting together Millbrook’s brick wall in goal. For all three girls, this will be their first real playoff experience, and the chance to continue making history is one that excites them all. “It’s time to show people what Millbrook Women’s Soccer is all about” says Hayleigh Pack, “nobody can tell us that we don’t deserve to be where we are now. If people saw the handwork that we’ve put in all season, there would be no doubt that we deserve that share of the conference championship, and with all of that motivation that we’ve built up, here we are with a chance to make some noise in the playoffs”.