Listen: Interview with Coach Eric Henry
HUNTSVILLE | For four consecutive seasons, Scott High's Lady Highlanders either got to or won the District 5-AA championship game. In terms of postseason success, it was the best run in the program's history. Then came the 2020 season, and the loss of seven seniors to graduation. And the 2021 follow-up season saw Scott High win just three games and fail to make it beyond the district tournament for the first time since 2016.
The three games won by Scott High last season were the fewest wins in program history. That's the bad. The good? Almost every player who was a part of that team is back, and many of them are veteran players with a lot of experience under their belts.
Scott High lost only three starters from last year's team due to graduation: Gracie King on the wing, Makayla Higginbotham in the middle, and Morgan Shelton in the back. Everyone else is back, including a large senior class that has played for district championships in the past.
That's what Scott High coach Eric Henry hangs his hat on: The seniors, plus the other young players who were thrown into the mix a year ago due to a lack of experience and depth. Throw in some new players that he's excited about — like first-year sophomores Brittany Morrow, Kynlie Frogge and Autumn Brummett — and Henry is anxious to see how his team competes in 2022.
“All three of those girls are basketball girls and they immediately add some athleticism and length for us on the field,” Henry said of the three sophomores who joined his team.
Ahead of those sophomores, at least in terms of experience, are a couple more sophomores who saw key minutes as freshmen last year: Alyssa Crabtree, Riley Lantz, Abby Henson and keeper Bella Sharpe. Juniors Ellie Lowe and Rachel Garrett have played since they were freshmen. And then there is the large senior class, which includes players like Katie and Chloe Tucker, Zoey Terry, Kaitlyn Butts, Olivia Rector and Abby Reynolds.
But in spite of the experience and the promising newcomers, Henry recognizes one key problem that his team has: too many breakdowns on defense. The team that last advanced to the district championship game two years ago made its mark on defense. If defense was a struggle at times last year, it hasn't gotten any better with the loss of players like Shelton and Higginbotham.
Just because it hasn't gotten better doesn't mean it can't get better. It just means Henry needs some players to step up in key roles.
“I still can't find somebody to fill in one spot,” he said. “We're leaving people unmarked and we've got a little bit of a new line-up.”
Henry said his boys' team adjusted in the spring, finding ways to improve and get to the first substate in the program's history.
But on the girls' side, he said, players are floating back too much.
“Instead of having five people across the middle, I've got five people across the back and we're losing the midfield,” he said. “We're still trying to figure out some of our new spots.”
Chloe Tucker moved from the front to defense last season to help shore up things in the back, and she'll play there again this season. Henry said she's a valuable player in that she can adapt to any position on the field.
In the goal, Sharpe was thrown to the wolves as a freshman, and Henry expects improved play this season.
Butts is a third-year starter in the back, and is the savvy veteran of the defense. Lantz saw minutes defensively as a freshman, winding up in a starting role, and Henry needs her to find her stride as a sophomore.
Crabtree and junior Angel Cooper are among other players that Henry is rotating in an effort to find a lineup that works.
Garrett will also provide help defensively, playing stopper along with Tucker.
Katie Tucker will see key minutes in the middle of the field, as will Frogge, Rector, Terry, Henson, Reynolds and others.
Lowe is returning from a knee injury she suffered during travel ball in the spring, and Henry expects her to return to a starting position at forward once she knocks the cobwebs off.
“Once we get it figured out, I think we'll be fine,” Henry said. “A lot of the girls are bought in. Some of them are still trying to figure out if they want to be serious about soccer or not, and that's fine. But we've got a couple of freshmen that are here and ready.”
Among those freshmen is Emily Fladie. Her brother, Josiah, played a key role on the boys' substate team in the spring, and she'll see minutes right away.
Henry hopes last season's lack of success is fresh in his team's mind. When they showed up for summer workouts in June, he immediately reminded them of last year's three-win season.
“You learn from those things,” he said. “You move forward and we'll compare amongst ourselves the girls' season last year and the boys' season, and they know the boys really came out last year and did a good job. So they're going to be trying to get back to the tradition of Highlander soccer in the fall, playing to mid October and for district championships again.”
The rest of the district stacks up well. Kingston is good enough to get to Murfreesboro after winning the district a year ago. Clinton lost a good keeper in Sarah Burton, which will be an important factor for them. And then there's Anderson County, which has a strong tradition.
“Each team has some outstanding players that we have to be aware of,” Henry said.
Ultimately, Henry said, he has plenty of players who know how to get to district championship games. His seniors and juniors have all been there. Now they just have to work on leading their younger teammates back to that point.
“These seniors know what it takes,” he said. “They were around good leadership themselves. So they know what leadership needs to look like, and they're finding their way and they know what it takes to win.”
The Lady Highlanders' roster features 23 players. Henry said that doesn't mean he has 23 players he can put in a district match and feel confident about. But he does have more potential depth than he did a year ago.
“We've just got to get some people grown up,” he said. “We've got to get some people in and as soon as we figure out our lineup and our new positions, I think we'll be fine.”
At the end, though, Henry circles back to his seniors.
“Their role is a lot more important now,” he said. “They have to make sure they're being the positive role model for the younger girls that they need to be. Once we do that, we'll work out some kinks and bumps and bruises.
“There will be some losses,” he added. “I hope we don't have any lopsided losses like we did last year, but you know everything rises and falls on leadership. That's Dr. Lee Robertson. There's just so much that I can do from the sideline. I can put people in and in position and stuff like that, but as far as winning games, that falls to that senior group, and I've got them spread out all over the field. I've got them in the back, I've got them up front, and I've got them in the middle on the wing. It's a good bunch of girls.”
Henry is already starting to miss his seniors, as he starts to imagine his team without them next year. But he hopes they make an impact before they're gone.
“We've got to get back to hanging stuff on the wall and not sitting at home waiting for basketball season or something,” he said.