HUNTSVILLE | Twice Eric Henry attempted to get his thoughts out before having to turn away to compose himself.
The long-time Scott High soccer coach had just watched his team’s season come to an end after a 3-0 loss to rival Kingston in the District 5-AA semifinals Saturday evening. But it wasn’t the loss that had Henry choked up. It was what the loss signified: the final game for six Lady Highlander seniors who have been a big part of the program for the past four years.
“To me they’re more like daughters than anything,” Henry said.
Among the seniors are Kaitlyn Butts, Olivia Rector, Abby Reynolds, Zoey Terry, and twins Chloe and Katie Tucker. All six were starters by the end of the season. Five of them started every game this season, and all six played significant minutes for four years.
Together, the seniors represent more than half of Scott’s 11-person lineup, which will leave huge holes to fill next season. But for Henry, who had coached several of the players since their AYSO days in elementary school, the loss of the seniors extends beyond that.
“I’ve known Liv, Katie, Chloe and Kaitlyn since they were little,” he said. “They’ve grown up with y own son, I’ve coached AYSO with them, I go to church with Kaitlyn’s family, and I’ve got a picture of Liv and Hugo when they were about three at a UT soccer game. It’s one of the dearest things to my heart. I can’t say enough about those four.”
Just two days earlier, Henry and Scott High had paid tribute to the seniors before the start of the final game of the regular season, a 7-0 win over Fulton. But Henry had been dreading Saturday since the season began back on a scorching hot Saturday in August.
“I’m already thinking about next year and dreading the loss of those seniors,” he said at the time.
After Saturday’s game, Henry took a moment to reflect on the players he’ll be graduating.
“The whole group is classy on the field, they’re classy in the school, and they’re all good Christian young ladies,” he said. “They’re a different breed. If I ever have another class like them, I’ll try to enjoy them more because I’ll miss this bunch more than anybody else.”
As for the game itself, it was rather anti-climatic. Kingston jumped to a 2-0 lead after a first half that saw the Lady Highlanders fail to play their best soccer. The second half started better; even though Kingston tacked on another goal, Scott High was getting numerous looks. But then the game was called with almost 32 minutes remaining due to darkness.
Henry had known the lights at Highlander Stadium weren’t working prior to the start of the game. It was first thought to be a problem with the still-new LED lights themselves; technical assistance was sought from the manufacturer, and the electrician who installed the lights was summoned to the stadium, as well. It turned out that the problem was a faulty transformer behind the field house.
By halftime, it was obvious that the lights couldn’t be fixed in time to finish the game. The officials said they’d play the game until it was too dark to see. Henry asked that the game be suspended, with the second half played on Sunday. He was over-ruled by TSSAA.
“I was really furious that we left 31 minutes on the clock,” he said. “It was out of my control. I hate it for my seniors more than anything. If I were in Kingston’s shoes, I’d be like no I’m not coming back tomorrow either.”
Henry called TSSAA assistant executive director Gene Menees to seek guidance.
“He checked with some people and he said well if you’ve got a half in, you’ve got an official game,” Henry said. “I knew that was true in the regular season but I thought in the postseason you had to finish it out. It sucks all the way around. I hate it for my girls especially.”
The referee told the Independent Herald after the game was called that it was not his decision to end it early, saying that ruling came from higher up.
“The nine minutes we did get in the second half, the girls played like they were on fire,” Henry said. “We lacked some of that in the first half.”