Oneida’s Class A substate appearance on Saturday marked the fifth straight year that the Lady Indians finished in the sectionals. And as they pack up their jerseys, balls and nets following a 5-2 loss to Alcoa, they have plenty of reasons to think that they’ll be right back in the same place next season, making it six straight years.
It’s not that Oneida doesn’t lose any seniors from this year’s team. In fact, the Lady Indians lose six of them, and most of them contributed varsity minutes. But they will also return nine starters, meaning that the nucleus of this year’s region championship team will be back.
The two starters who will be graduating are Caroline Keeton and Savana Shepard. Both started every game this season, and Keeton was an important part of the Lady Indians’ offensive attack. Oneida coach Phil Newport called her a “tough customer,” adding that she was a fixture in his lineup for all four years.
Also leaving the program are Jaden Terry, Maddie Jones, Anastasia Harness and Karmyn Krahn.
“They all will be missed because they regularly showed up and made us better by delivering a push each day in practice,” Newport said. “They are all great kids that are going to thrive when they graduate because they are very high-character individuals.”
As for the players who are coming back, the list is long.
It starts with Oneida’s seniors-to-be. It’s a deep class that was heralded when the players moved up from the middle school program as freshmen. So, it would be only fitting, perhaps, if it was next year’s seniors who finally “broke down the door” — to steal a phrase from Newport — and led the program to its first-ever state tournament appearance.
“Break down the door” is what Newport said he wanted to do prior to the start of the 2021 season, referring to how the Lady Indians had been knocking on the door for so long, having advanced to the substate four consecutive seasons.
That didn’t happen in 2021, as Alcoa again slammed the door shut. The Tornadoes advanced to their fifth consecutive state tournament on Saturday, and the last four have come at the expense of Oneida, which Alcoa has beaten in the substate.
But next year? Next year is going to feature an explosive Oneida team with plenty of options.
It starts with Aliyah Douglas. She didn’t get to play in Oneida’s substate game against Alcoa, due to injury, and her absence was obvious. After bursting onto the scene as a freshmen, when she complimented Macy Dunlap on the offensive end, Douglas has been Oneida’s most consistent offensive weapon. She was the team’s leading scorer this season, and consistently finds ways to get the ball into the net.
But joining her up front will be an equally important piece of the puzzle. Alexea Jones wasn’t a first-year starter, but the junior emerged in a big way this year, and became Oneida’s second-leading scorer.
Kamryn Kennedy also became an increasingly reliable offensive weapon as the season progressed. She saved her best for last, with a hat trick to lead Oneida to a 5-3 win over Cumberland Gap in the region championship game.
Claire Burress converted from goal to the field and also scored several goals as the season progressed, including one of the Lady Indians’ goals against Alcoa on Saturday.
Kenlee Duncan, another of those upcoming seniors, was a reliable defender on the back half of the field for Oneida, and is a multi-year starter.
Then comes this year’s sophomores, who will be juniors in 2022. Rory Blevins and Ali Smith became the capstones of Oneida’s defensive approach this season. Blevins moved from forward to the team’s sweeper position, while Smith also converted from offense and, by the end of the season, she was being used to mark Cumberland Gap’s best player — quite effectively — in the district and region championship games.
Another of the sophomores, Jailyn Anderson, was a sometimes starter on defense who played significant minutes.
Ayla Sims, the team’s goalkeeper, is yet another of this year’s sophomores and grew into that position as the season progressed, becoming one of the region’s most reliable goalies by the time all was said and done.
Emma Hamilton is another sophomore who played appreciable varsity minutes this season.
Three freshmen saw plenty of playing time this year, including Jillian Cross, Lydia Kline and Presley Queener.
As Newport reflects on a 12-8 record, he doesn’t regret scheduling any of the teams he scheduled in 2021.
“I can go back and reschedule differently and make our record shiny and great looking but I would rather we learned to grow through some tough battles,” he said. “If you look at Alcoa’s schedule, they were very similar by scheduling tough matches early, then winnable games late. It kinda builds their confidence as they go. I guess the difference is ours never really got easier as we played.
“I’m super proud of our kids and the support we are given by the community,” Newport added. “I hope we give them something to take pride in.”