KINGSTON — The preseason favorite to win District 5-AA showed why on Thursday, scoring a 9-0, mercy-rule win over Scott High.
Last October, the same two teams were fighting neck-and-neck for the district championship. But Scott High lost the bulk of its starting lineup to graduation, Kingston return the bulk of its starting lineup, and on Thursday the Yellow Jackets dismantled their old rival by jumping to a 6-0 lead before scoring the game-ending goal with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Lady Highlander coach Eric Henry was not happy with his team’s effort.
“It doesn’t hurt as much when you don’t care,” Henry said.
At one point, when Kingston had jumped to a 4-0 lead less than midway through the first half, Henry yelled to his team from the sideline.
“Why are you surprised?” he asked. “Nobody is playing secondary defense. Nobody is winning balls.”
Indeed, Scott High — which has been the most consistent program in District 5-AA for the past four seasons but is starting new this year with a young lineup that is learning on the fly — appeared timid and often intimidated in the face of Kingston’s fast-dribbling offense.
“I wish we had a water break so I could talk to them,” Henry said. “Soccer is a lot different than a lot of other sports because you’ve got 40 straight minutes. The only way you can do any coaching from the sideline is to pull them out and put them back in.”
Henry said last year’s team benefited from its experience and leadership, and could make changes on the fly. This year’s team doesn’t benefit from the same depth. Still, Henry said, the effort was missing in the season’s first district game.
“Collectively tonight, across the back, was probably the worst display of defense I’ve ever seen,” Henry said. “In the first half, we weren’t rotating, we weren’t making the right calls, we weren’t playing secondary defense at all.”
Henry told his team that they were playing intimidated because of Kingston’s dribbling skills.
“You know they’re faster than you and they can dribble around you, so you’re giving them a cushion and all you’re doing is giving them a running start at you,” he said.
Senior Mikayla Higgenbotham, one of just three seniors on the Lady Highlanders’ roster, missed the game with an injury but implored her team to step up its effort from the sideline. Junior Olivia Rector did the same from her midfield position.
“Liv was playing her heart out,” Henry said. “She was trying to get her teammates to play and to just try. And no one really did. So, not caring is really the only explanation. You gotta have some backbone and some pride.”
Henry challenged his team at halftime, telling them that the Lady Highlander soccer program had never been mercy-ruled.
For much of the second half, it looked like Scott might avoid that fate. Kingston put two goals on the board in the first 3:30 of the second half, then the Lady Highlanders began to find a rhythm, sustaining possession and getting several good looks at the goal, while keeping Kingston off-balance on the other end.
“We started looking like we wanted to be there and all that stuff,” Henry said.
But the two goals to start the second half ultimately doomed the Lady Highlanders, when Kingston capitalized on a breakdown with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game and scored its ninth goal of the evening.