ATHENS — Grace Morgan hasn’t forgotten what happened May 12, 2012.
The date is not a pleasant memory for Morgan, this year’s senior captain, or for the rest of the Athens High girls soccer team, after losing to Chelsea 3-2 in the Class 5A state championship game.
“At least once a day I think about it,” Morgan said. “We were just so close. You can taste it, and it’s gone.”
Looking to prove they belong, the Golden Eagles (3-4-1) met on the first day of practice and decided on a single goal: taking the state title.
“It’s kind of like there’s a missing piece of the puzzle, and that’s the state championship,” said Miranda Hudleston, a junior midfielder and co-team captain with Morgan and Klaire Phillips.
With a schedule weighted with Class 5A and 6A teams, Athens already has taken steps to ensure it will be able to compete with the state’s elite.
“All of these games are coming together as just another piece of the puzzle, and we have never been able to finish that,” Hudleston said. “State championship is that centerpiece you’re looking for.”
“Hashtag redemption” is the other catchphrase that rolls around the Athens soccer field, echoing the team’s single goal.
“One day I just happened to say, ‘Hashtag redemption,’ and it has just kind of stuck,” said Hudleston, explaining the Twitter-inspired statement. “We’ll be down and we’ll say, ‘Alright guys, hashtag redemption.’ It’s kind of like a little pump-up statement.”
“Hashtag redemption” hasn’t been easy. In the Lakeshore Shootout in late February, the Golden Eagles went 0-2-1 in tournament play, falling to top-ranked Oak Mountain and Spain Park. But the losses and the tough competition — marked by players with more speed and more experience — are all part of the plan to get the team where it wants to be.
“They wanted the challenge, and we wanted to try to improve,” Athens coach J.B. Hutchison said. “We want to try to take care of our unfinished business we left in Huntsville last year.”
The team already is encouraged by results. On Saturday, when Athens shut out Fort Payne 4-0, the team saw some of the work pay off.
“That was our hardest game last year. This year, we blew them out,” Hudleston said. “It wasn’t really on the scoreboard where we blew them out of the water, but it was so much easier. It wasn’t really as physical because we were just passing around them.”
Morgan leads the Athens offense with six goals on the season, including two in the win against Fort Payne.
Sophomore Ashley Ward follows with five, while Riley Ridgeway, a junior defender, totals two goals and three assists. Morgan and Phillips, who plays midfielder, have both signed to play at Alabama-Huntsville next year.
With the state title in the back of their minds, the girls say progress is a good feeling.
“It’s fun when you just can play the ball, and you’re winning,” Hudleston said. “The thing about it is because we’re playing all of these 6A (teams), at least we’re seeing now it’s not just that we’re playing and we’re losing and we’re bad. It’s making us better.”
Meredith Qualls can be reached by phone at 256-340-2395 or by email at email@example.com.
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