By Blake Ells
The Vestavia Hills girls soccer team just missed repeating as state champions last season, falling to Mobile’s McGill-Toolen in the finals 2-0.
They had another shot at the Yellow Jackets in March at the McGill-Toolen Classic, but again they fell 2-0. The budding rivalry has become motivation for the Rebels.
“They want McGill to get to the finals, because they want to play McGill again,” said Vestavia Hills coach Brigid Littleton. “They want their redemption. They want to beat them in a fair game.”
The Rebels are trying to earn a shot at that redemption without a major part of the squad that went to the state finals a year ago. Anna Hogewood was the Birmingham Metro Player of the Year as a senior. The big shoes she left behind are being filled by freshman Kaylee Dressback.
Six seniors returned, however, and all of them remember the triumphant 2016 run and the disappointment of a year ago. Faith Hauberg, Mary Hogewood, Taylor Korn, Sara McCurry, Sophia Sabri and Katherine Savage understand what it takes to be champions.
“That was their goal – to make it back to state, to win state,” said Littleton. “They work hard every day in practice and they worked hard in the off-season.”
This year, they are learning what it takes to be leaders.
“Having that many seniors that can mentor their younger teammates plays a huge role in our program,” said Littleton. “Teaching them what it means to be a part of a team, not just an individual. It’s priceless having that kind of leadership on the field; saying the things that I’d like to say and now I don’t have to say them because they’re saying it.”
The group knows the team’s path requires maintaining the same effort when they are playing against themselves that they expect to have when they face opponents.
“It’s good to have them there to show the younger players what kind of level of intensity we expect at practice and in games. And that we expect practice to be just as competitive as a game,” Littleton said.
This team’s lineup has rotated a lot – about 15 girls rotate in the starting lineup. Everyone is fighting for playing time, and most everyone is getting a shot at it. It’s a blessing and a curse; the Rebels have plenty of depth, but they have talented athletes who don’t get as much playing time as they would like.
But that depth sets them up for their ultimate goal of redemption.
“I think that loss to McGill (this season) was a good wakeup call,” said Littleton.
If the Rebels have a successful post-season run, it’ll be because they improved on finishing.
“We generate a lot of opportunities, but we don’t capitalize enough,” said Littleton.
They’ll try to remain unblemished in conference play as they host Hoover April 6. They’ll host two more conference games before trying to make a postseason run: Tuscaloosa County on April 10 and Thompson on April 17. ❖