HUNTSVILLE — It was by all accounts a disappointing season for Scott High, in more ways than one.
The Lady Highlanders, who lost seven starters from last year's team that went undefeated in district play in the regular season, knew they had their work cut out for them. But after an impressive, 5-0 win over Campbell County in the season opener, Scott High had difficulties finding a rhythm through much of the rest of the season.
Scott was mercy-ruled for the first time in program history against rival Kingston, 9-0. They fell 7-1 to Oneida in what was the team's most lopsided loss ever to the Lady Indians. And, perhaps the low point, they fell 3-0 to a much-improved Clinton team.
But there were also bright spots. One week after that disheartening loss to Oneida, Scott High rebounded to defeat the Lady Indians, 4-3. There was a 3-2 loss to Anderson County that, although it ended in defeat, showed that the Lady Highlanders were talented enough to play with any team in the district.
In some ways, perhaps, the final game of the season, a loss at Kingston in the district semifinals, summed up the entire season. With 30 minutes remaining in the contest, the Yellow Jackets were clinging to a 3-2 lead. The Lady Highlanders had dominated possession for the first 10 minutes of the second half. They had just missed an opportunity to tie the game when Rachel Garrett's shot sailed wide off a corner kick.
From there, Scott's lack of depth and Kingston's talent edge took hold, and the Yellow Jackets showed no mercy in scoring six goals in the final half-hour of play to pull away for a 9-2 win.
It was that kind of topsy-turvy season for the Lady Highlanders: one where flashes of potential were mixed with disappointment. To add to the frustration, Scott only played nine games. That's roughly half the number of games many teams played.
“I never questioned our skill talent. That was never our problem,” Henry said. “It was being aggressive and winning balls. Which is really the hallmark of what my teams have to be, because we don't have a lot of control touches. We usually have some athletes out there, we usually have two people that have a little bit of speed. We just don't play great possession ball.”
Henry was often frustrated with his young team. The frustration peaked after the lopsided loss to Oneida. His team spent the rest of the week running bleachers instead of taking the practice field.
With its loss to Kingston on Tuesday, Scott High's streak of four consecutive district championship game appearances was snapped. But the Lady Highlanders seemed to find something to build on in the final 10 days of the season. There was the win over Oneida, a 4-1 win over Oliver Springs that wasn't as close as the score indicated, and a strong effort against Kingston for the first 50 minutes of play.
“We turned it around,” Henry said. “We made a lot of improvement with the way that we played.”
With the 2021 season in the rearview mirror, there's reason for optimism in 2022. The Lady Highlanders do lose three seniors, and all of them were full-time starters. Mikayla Higginbotham has been an integral part of the club all four years, while Gracie King was a multi-year starter and Morgan Shelton moved into a starting role at fullback this season.
But the Lady Highlanders also return loads of experience and most of their starters as they head towards 2022, which will begin with conditioning in June.
Among the returning players will be a big senior class that includes players like Olivia Rector and Chloe Tucker. Rector has been a force for Scott High for the past three seasons. She's settled into a midfield role and is usually the most aggressive player for Henry's teams on any given night. Tucker made a big change amid the 2021 season, going to defense, where she proved to be one of the team's better players.
Tucker's twin sister, Katie Tucker, is a speedy player who scored two goals in the season-opening win against Campbell County, though she was slowed for most of the season by a bout with Covid-19. Another of those up-and-coming seniors is Zoey Terry, who proved to be a force as a sophomore but only played the final four games of the season after missing most of the year while she rehabbed an ACL tear.
So, with a healthy Tucker and Terry available in 2022, Scott High will automatically have more skill on the field, as well as more depth.
Another senior-to-be is Abby Reynolds, who spent much of the season coming off the bench, but who impressed Henry more than just about any other player in the final 10 days of the season, with her toughness and tenacity.
Finally, Kaitlyn Butts is a two-year starter in the center of the defense.
The upcoming junior class includes two more full-time starters in Ellie Lowe and Rachel Garrett. Lowe emerged as the team's top offensive weapon down the stretch, scoring four goals in the final three games. Garrett moved from defense to midfield as the season progressed and appears to have found a home there.
This year's freshmen included several players who saw significant minutes throughout the season, including Alyssa Crabtree, Riley Lantz and Bella Sharp. Both Crabtree and Lantz started part of the time, while Sharp started most of the season in the goal. Crabtree scored multiple goals during the season, while Lantz emerged as a strong defender.
“Bella feels like crap because she had a lot of goals scored on her (by Kingston), but she's young, she wants to learn, and she has a lot of room for improvement,” Henry said. “But she also has a lot of upside. Bella's tough as nails and she doesn't care for me fussing at her. She wants to do better, and that's what you gotta have.”
Other freshmen who saw varsity minutes included Praylee Sexton and Abby Henson, though Sexton missed the last several games of the season with a concussion.
“There's a lot of upside in a lot of my players,” Henry said. “We lose three seniors, all of them starters and all of them integral parts of the team. But we've got a lot of people coming back, and a lot of people who played different positions. We'll be alright.”