Spain Park girls clinch section championship with win over Vestavia

Spain Park High School coach Robert Starr relies on senior goalkeeper Lauren Arnold’s stealth hands to keep opponents off the scoreboard.

In the Jaguars’ final Class 6A, Section 5 match April 20 against Vestavia Hills, Starr needed Arnold’s hands and her strong right leg to lead Spain Park to a section championship.

Arnold came through, as she fired a penalty kick into the net before blocking a game-tying attempt by the Rebels seconds later to give the Jaguars a 2-1 win over Vestavia Hills in a game decided by a penalty-kick shootout.

Starr expected nothing less from his star, who continues to add to her storied playing career at the school.

“That’s why she’s the Gatorade Player of the Year (in Alabama in 2009),” Starr said. “She’s okay with the pressure.”

The Clemson University signee clinched the game for the Jaguars despite playing with seven staples in her head after an injury in a game against Mountain Brook last week.

Arnold was determined to not let her team down with a section championship on the line.

“I’m supposed to make one save in a penalty-kick round,” Arnold said. “I had to do my job.”

Arnold’s game-clinching penalty kick gave the Jaguars a 5-4 edge before her save sealed the win for the defending Class 6A champions, who improved to 18-4-2 overall. Annalika Steyn, Lakin Eddy, Cavanagh Baker and Courtney Newton also scored penalty-kick goals for Spain Park.

Steyn scored the regulation goal for the Jaguars after heading a shot into the net off a corner kick by Baker.

Oak Mountain shared in the celebration just beyond the fence at Spain Park High School. The Eagles clinched the runner-up spot and final playoff berth in Class 6A, Section 5 with the Spain Park victory.

Arnold said she was relieved the Jaguars kept Vestavia Hills out of the playoffs. The Rebels handed Spain Park one of its four losses this season.

“It’s either beat Vestavia Hills now or beat them later,” Arnold said. “I’m glad we did it now.”

Starr said he was proud of the Jaguars’ section championship.

“We feel like this is the best section in the state,” Starr said. “If you win it, you’ve done something.”