LIVINGSTON — When the final whistle sounded in Livingston Academy’s 2-0 win over Scott High here Tuesday, the curtain fell on an accomplished career for seven Lady Highlander seniors whose indelible role will be recorded in the history of the SHS women’s soccer program.
The seven — keeper Allie Bailey, Abby Bridges, Julia Butts, Rylee Cotton, Alliyah Nagy, Tori Sexton and Dara Stanley — each played four years. They were a part of 35 wins, a district tournament championship, two regular season district championships, a substate appearance and four trips to the district championship game.
Most of those seniors did not play a significant role in the Lady Highlanders’ district championship in 2017, and some didn’t play a significant role in the program’s substate appearance in 2018. But they graduate as the first class in school history to never come up short of the district championship game in four years in any sport, not just soccer.
“These seven show forth every single day in practice what we’re supposed to be as Scott High soccer,” coach Eric Henry said after Tuesday’s game. “They have the past four years. Each of these seven seniors have unique qualities and abilities and they bring something to the table. Alliyah Nagy plays hard, wins balls, and has a heavy leg. Julia Butts plays hard every game and wins every ball she can. Rylee (Cotton) sees the field well. Dara (Stanley) is a great dribbler and can get the ball up the field. Tori (Sexton) never misses a ball on defense. Abby (Bridges) has been solid in the back for three years. All of those things, these girls do that.
“I’ve tried to pass that along to the younger guys the past few days at practice,” Henry added. “I want the younger ones to see that’s what you have to do as an individual for the team: Do what you do best.”
Scott had tied Livingston on the same pitch as Tuesday’s game early in the season, 2-2. But the Lady Highlanders entered the region semifinals in a bit of an offensive slump, having been shut out by a Kingston team they had defeated just two weeks earlier and struggling to get the offense going in a 3-2 win over Loudon in the district semifinals.
Still, Henry was not disappointed in his team’s effort in Tuesday’s game, which saw Livingston score in the final minutes of the first half before tacking on an insurance goal in the second half.
“We play hard most every game, but they played hard tonight, and they also played very well together,” he said. “We made some adjustments and the girls listened better than they ever have before. They did all the things we talked about. We talked about turning the ball, winning the middle, and we did all of those things.”
It was a hard-fought match and a rematch of the region semifinals in 2018, which saw Scott win on that field to advance to the substate. This time, though, it was Livingston that advanced. The Wildcats will face Kingston in Thursday’s Region 3-AA championship game. The Yellow Jackets defeated Cumberland County 4-3 on Tuesday.
In an ugly moment late in the game, as Scott sophomore was being examined on the field with a serious eye injury that would require her to be transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center after taking a ball to the face, a Livingston coach could be heard yelling, “Come on white team, show them how trashy you really are.”
With the season over and as his seven seniors made their way to the bus for a final time, Henry wanted to make one thing clear.
“I told them, Ben Garrett is going to ask me next summer about rebuilding,” he said. “Our program is built. We don’t rebuild. We’ve already got what we do. We win games, we go to championship games. That’s what we do. It’s up to the younger guys, and then Burchfield, Robbins, Huntsville, Winfield, Fairview, all of those schools will hopefully keep sending numbers every year.”
As for next year, the Lady Highlanders will return the front half of the field nearly intact, though Stanley has played a not-insignificant factor on offense and both Butts and Cotton have been instrumental on offense at times as well. The real impact of the seniors’ graduation will be felt on defense, where the Lady Highlanders will be playing a lot of fresh faces next year. That includes replacing a four-year starter in the goal in Bailey. The team’s recipe for success this season — and for the past few seasons — has been its defense.
“We’ll be fine,” Henry said. “We’ve got people that have played in the back. Kaitlyn Butts, Morgan Shelton, Brianna Jeffers. All of those girls have gotten minutes here and there. We’ll see where Kaelyn (Jeffers) falls as keeper. I’ve got Higgy Baby back and I can put her in the middle or up front. I’ve got Zoey (Terry) and Chloe (Tucker) on the wings. We’re still gonna have Liv (Rector) and Katie (Tucker). We’ll be fine. We may take a couple of lumps here and there, but that’s just like every season.”